Notebook: Depth Rankles OSU Head Coach

This week Urban Meyer called for more youngsters to step up and become contributors. We have that and Tom Herman talking quarterback progression and play calling in e premium notebook.

If there is such a thing as a frustrating undefeated season, Ohio State seems to be having one.

The Buckeyes are 8-0, but at various times they have seen their once-proud defense struggle to stop teams both on the ground and through the air.

The offense is second in the Big Ten in scoring and rushing, but it is not quite the high-octane, dominating unit either head coach Urban Meyer or an anxious fan base envisioned when Meyer was hired late last year.

Meyer himself has on a nearly weekly basis had to remind reporters at his postgame and week-opening press conferences that "the best thing about being (insert number here) and oh is the chance to go (insert next higher number here) and oh" while acknowledging various shortcomings he sees with his first Ohio State squad.

And, of course, the most frustrating part of all could come at the end if the Buckeyes are able to navigate through the rest of their schedule without a loss but are unable to go to a postseason game.

This week, though, the biggest complaint seemed to center on roster size, or more accurately, the number of available players for Ohio State as it heads east to face Penn State on Saturday night.

Injuries, transfers, dismissals and an NCAA-mandated scholarship reduction have relegated Meyer to only about 60 able-bodied Buckeyes, a number that is deceiving based on the continued struggles of some youngsters the staff hoped would be ready to contribute by now.

"Not everybody's playing, obviously, so the call to arms is still there," Meyer said. "I'm rather disappointed in several handfuls of guys that haven't contributed. You start throwing those kind of numbers around, that's why you're seeing issues on kickoff. We had, I think, a nickname for the (kickoff team), the piranhas. The piranhas are all out. Those were some really good young players that beat out some older players to be on there, so some guys got to really step up."

There are exceptions. While some young (or maybe not-so-young) players languish on the bottom of the depth chart, Meyer reported progress by a pair of offensive linemen and two wide receivers.

"Chase Farris and Taylor Decker have had two really good weeks of practice," Meyer said of a sophomore guard and true freshman tackle, respectively, before adding that sophomore receiver Verlon Reed and junior Chris Fields "are active" now.

Reed recently joined the kickoff team while Fields broke into the regular rotation at wide receiver last week and caught the touchdown pass that set up the game-tying two-point conversion in the final seconds.


Guiton's Improvement Physical and Mental

One non-starter who has stepped up is Kenny Guiton, and that started long before the junior came off the bench to lead a game-winning drive against Purdue last week.

The local media's introduction to the new era of information in the Meyer Ohio State era came in January when the new head coach identified Guiton as a player who had already found his way into and out of his doghouse.

Fast forward 10 months, and the staff still raving about the progress Guiton has made mentally and physically. His willingness to dive into the playbook was already well-documented, but offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman identified this week how he has gotten better as a thrower as well.

It starts with the feet.

"I think Kenny always had it in his mind that he was not a strong-armed kid, so when we first got here he overstrode quite a bit and tried to really muscle every ball," Herman said. "That caused his ball to spray around a little bit, so we compacted his feet a little bit and he worked on getting his hip strength a lot stronger so that by being compact he could still get some zip on the ball."

A shorter motion leaves less time for things to go wrong. Starting quarterback Braxton Miller has also benefited from improved footwork, and both signal callers are showing the signs of a strength and conditioning program geared directly toward their position. That includes work on strengthening the rotator cuff and deltoid.

"Technically all that stuff he's gotten a lot better on just focusing in the offseason," Herman said of Guiton. "Then the mental side of it had always been there. It was just a matter of him being engaged and focusing."


Above The Noise

When asked to review the conversation he had over the headset with Meyer about what to call on the two-point conversion play at the end of regulation last week, Herman said he has to pick his battles against the head coach.

Herman wanted to run the tight end throwback pass, but Meyer was on the sideline hearing from the offensive linemen about wanting to ram the ball in from two yards out. Herman was steadfast in his belief the pass was a better option, though, and he won the debate.

"I think that's one of the reasons you sit in the box, a sterile environment so you don't get caught up in the emotion as much and you have the ability to think clearly and say this is what we practiced, this is what we're confident in, and this is what works," Herman said after the game.

"We had known that they were playing man coverage basically the whole game so with the sprint-out action, that guy who had the tight end in man coverage would get lost in the action. Jeff (Heuerman) took a little bit longer than we expected to get out there, and Kenny did a great job of buying time and the guys did a great job of protecting."


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