It’s doubtful that anybody was happier to labor on Labor Day than Urban Meyer.
The Ohio State football coach returned from his month-long absence on Monday. He arrived at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center about 6:15 a.m. Except for one meeting with the team the day after his three-game suspension was announced Aug. 22, Meyer had been barred from the facility since he was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 1.
“We had a meeting earlier this morning,” acting coach Ryan Day, “and he's been meeting with some of the players, so things are back to normal.”
Well, not exactly. Under terms of his suspension, Meyer cannot coach the team the next two Saturdays against Rutgers and TCU. Meyer is also not handling the normal media availabilities until his suspension ends.
Still, the Buckeyes were happy to have him back.
“A lot of the coaches hadn't seen him much,” Day said. “So (there was) embracing and, ‘Great to see you back,’ but we got back to our meeting. It was business as usual.”
Meyer is not exactly the type for a cake-in-the-cafeteria welcome back, after all.
“Excited to have him back,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “Everybody is. Coach is a very focused guy, as you know, and we hit it running, got back to it.”
Day won his head coaching debut easily on Saturday in a 77-31 victory over Oregon State. The offense gained 721 yards — second most in school history. Mike Weber ran for a career-high 186 yards, and sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors in his first start.
So even if Meyer wanted to hone in on problem spots, the offense provided little ammunition.
“I think the comment he made was, ‘You only had to punt once, huh? That's a pretty good day,’” Day said.
Meyer’s critique of the defense probably wasn’t as glowing. The Buckeyes were repeatedly gashed for big plays. Schiano said that 82 percent of the Beavers’ 392 yards came on seven snaps.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said.
Ohio State’s defensive line, led by ends Nick Bosa and Chase Young and tackle Dre’Mont Jones, mostly dominated. But the back seven showed its inexperience. Middle linebacker Tuf Borland played only 10 snaps in his return from an Achilles injury, and safety Jordan Fuller was held out because of a hamstring injury.
This week, Ohio State is a 35-point favorite over Rutgers, which won its opener 35-7 over Texas State. The Scarlet Knights, coached by former Buckeyes assistant coach Chris Ash, are expected to be improved this season, but they’re still unlikely to pose a real threat to Ohio State.
Rutgers’ quarterback is true freshman Artur Sitkowski, a blue-chip prospect who showed both promise in completing 20 of 29 passes for 205 yards and inexperience in throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six.
For the Buckeyes, though, it’s back to the grind of preparation, and Meyer is now back to lead it. Day said he doesn’t expect any logistical issues now that his boss has returned but is unable to be on the sidelines during games.
“I said it last week, that so much of coaching is done during the week,” Day said. “Today, the game-planning, the decisions that are made up to the game is really where most of the coaching is done. And then once we get on the field, the game plan is in and now it's just a matter of calling the plays and going from there.
“So it's kind of, coach is back, and we're going with coach, and once we get to the game the decisions are almost made before we get there.”