Eleven months ago, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer to come in and rebuild the Buckeye football program that was coming off an embarrassing year on-and-off the field. Everyone knows the story about tattoos, e-mails, lies and seven losses but what Meyer has done to put the past behind Buckeye Nation is truly astonishing.
Now, not even a year later, the Ohio State Buckeyes are back on top of the Big Ten, ranked sixth in the latest AP Poll and the nation's only 9-0 team.
However, despite the perfect record it hasn't always been pretty for the Buckeyes in 2012. Ohio State has trailed in eight of their nine games—Central Florida never led Ohio State, but the game was tied late in the second quarter—including fourth quarter comebacks against California and Purdue.
You don't have to be perfect to have a perfect record
Adoption agencies say "you don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent." Ohio State is once again proving you don't have to be perfect to have a perfect record, much like they did in 2002, except this time they won't be playing in a bowl game.
The "Silver Bullet" defense hasn't lived up to the fans, coaches or the players expectations. The Buckeyes' defense ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total defense and 12th in pass defense. At times their tackling has been horrendous and they have yet to show they can consistently pressure the opposing team's quarterback.
The offense hasn't been magnificent either. While their statistical standing is better than the defenses the Buckeye offense has had their times to struggle as well. However, the offense has come a long way since Meyer referred to them as a "clown show" in the spring.
With Heisman candidate Braxton Miller at QB, the Buckeyes are second in the conference in points per game. However, there is a lack of consistency that leads to far too many three-and-outs, which puts more pressure on the already short-handed Buckeye defense.
But it is the third phase of the game that is more worrisome.
The Buckeyes' special teams under former head coach Jim Tressel were almost always flawless. So far this season, that has not been the case. Penn State and UAB blocked punts to get the lead over Ohio State and a big kickoff return gave Purdue the lead.
The Buckeye kickers are also not having great seasons, which is rare. Punter Ben Buchanan has the eighth best net punt average in the Big Ten and kicker Drew Basil is only 3-5 on field goal attempts and has also missed an extra point.
So why is Ohio State still perfect?
In the words of Urban Meyer it is because "this is a special team."
This 2012 Buckeye football team has shown that they simply posses the ability to win, any way they can. They've won the in defensive slugfests at Penn State and at Michigan State. They have won in shootouts against Nebraska and Indiana. They've won in comeback fashion against Cal and Purdue. They've also survived games against weak opponents when they just didn't play up to their potential. There are a few key reasons why Ohio State is 9-0 and not struggling like last year.
Leadership and Accountability
Last season Ohio State played without their coach, without their star player—Terrelle Pryor—and without a handful of their seniors due to suspension. When hard times hit, Ohio State basically laid down, there was no leadership and no accountability. You may not like the way Meyer goes about his business calling out players in public, but one thing is for sure, players know where they stand and who they answer to.
Also, some of the credit belongs to the players, namely John Simon and Zach Boren who have proven to be the heart and soul of this football team. Meyer referred to Simon as the "one percent of the one percent." And all Buckeye fans know what Boren has done for the team by switching from fullback to linebacker.
Talent was not the issue for Ohio State last season. Go back and look at recruiting rankings from the past five years. On paper, Ohio State was more talented than pretty much every team they played last season and it showed.
Despite the circumstances—a rookie coach, suspended stars and a freshman QB—Ohio State lost their seven games by a combined 48 points and six of their losses were by a touchdown or less. What that proved was talent can keep you in games, but it takes execution, leadership and discipline to win close games.
To be honest, Ohio State's new coaches haven't changed all that much about the team. They didn't make significant changes to the lineup. The only two are Jake Stoneburner playing receiver instead of tight end and Orhian Johnson playing nickleback and Christian Bryant staying at deep safety—but the results are drastically different.
Most expected a huge change in the offensive scheme, but the only real change is Miller is in the shotgun basically 100 percent of the time, which frees him up to make more plays.
Despite the lack of huge schematic changes, this season is going in a drastically different direction than last and that is largely due to the confidence this staff has instilled in the players. These players don't expect to win, they know they are going to win and have been able to stay calm, even if they are down to 50 seconds and their star is in an ambulance.
The situation doesn't matter, they have a faith in themselves, their teammates and their coaches that they will remain perfect no matter how many flaws they have.
Coach Meyer is right, enjoy the last three games of this season because this Buckeye team is special.
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