The guy who thought Ohio State would lose to Penn State on Saturday night is the same guy who helped win the game by establishing a high bar for recruiting six years ago.
Urban Meyer is that guy. Doubter and deliverer both.
As the Ohio State coach considered the situation — the Buckeyes trailing Penn State 26-14 with eight minutes to play in Not-Just-Happy-But-Ecstatic Valley — optimism was not his greatest attribute.
“There was a time you looked up and saw those white pompoms, and I thought it was over,” Meyer said in the aftermath of a hard-to-believe 27-26 win against the Nittany Lions.
Meyer briefly went doom and gloom. Luckily for him, the guys in uniform saw it differently. Play to the whistle, play to the gun, and there’s a good chance you’ll play to mid-January.
“It was satisfying to see the guys just fight,” Meyer said of the Buckeyes. “That sideline was not giving up.”
Why would they? Ohio State has talent, and talent decides close games.
Certainly, it took guts for the Buckeyes to pull off their comeback. But mostly it required having talent such as Binjimen Victor. When the 6-foot-4 receiver performed an acrobatic catch and dazzling 47-yard touchdown run that made it a one-score game with 6:42 left, Meyer’s master plan came to fruition: recruit the best players and let them live out their genetics.
“Ben Victor changed the whole dynamic of that game,” Meyer continued, smiling slightly while describing the touchdown. “The stadium felt it, too.”
So did all of college football. The Buckeyes used Victor’s score as an emotional slingshot to the winning touchdown — a beautifully blocked 24-yard bubble-screen catch and run by K.J. Hill with 2:03 left that capped a 96-yard drive — and finished the game off when defensive end Chase Young tackled PSU tailback Miles Sanders for a 2-yard-loss on fourth-and-5 at the Ohio State 43-yard-line.
The rest, as they say, is his story; that is, Meyer’s story. Without Victor, the Buckeyes don’t defeat Penn State. But without Meyer, Ohio State probably does not sign Victor, or the quarterback who threw the passes that Victor and Hill turned into six points. Meyer saw Dwayne Haskins Jr. throw at his Maryland high school and said go get him. Haskins originally committed to Maryland but eventually switched to Ohio State.
Meyer laid the groundwork for OSU’s fourth-quarter rally by recruiting players with the ability to rally. And that is how Ohio State flipped the script against Penn State. The playmakers took over.
It’s a collaborative effort, of course. Offensive coordinators Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson made second-half adjustments — those bubble screens, for example — that helped nullify the blitz. And over the third and fourth quarters, the offensive line did a better job of keeping PSU off Haskins, which allowed the redshirt sophomore to do what he does best.
“We started protecting (Haskins) and keeping him upright,” Meyer said. “And when he’s upright, he’s very good.”
Haskins was not quite very good on Saturday. He didn’t have to be, because so much surrounding talent picked up the slack.
“Our guys made plays, man,” Meyer said, marveling not just over the late touchdowns but also the blocks by receivers Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, Austin Mack, Johnnie Dixon and Rashad Berry that made the scores possible. Tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber also contributed big plays on the winning drive.
“That was one of the best plays,” Meyer said of Victor’s cutback touchdown. “Happened right in front of me. He went and attacked the ball, and our receivers got in the defenders’ ways and blocked. That gave the sideline hope.”
The Buckeyes kept the faith. And converted their coach in the process.