SvoNotebook: Orange Bowl Edition

We're just hours away from the Orange Bowl, so it's time to empty out the notebook for one last time during the 2013 season with our pregame SvoNotebook. BSB editor Jeff Svoboda on how Urban Meyer can have his team ready, notes on the offense and defense, and the ties between the two programs.

The Urban Meyer-coached team was one win away from completing an undefeated season and earning a bid to the national championship game only to finish short with a disappointing effort in the league championship game.

2013? Yes. 2009? Well, that too.

Meyer's Florida Gators were unbeaten and looking to make a return appearance to the BCS title game in '09 when they suffered a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. With that, there would be no championship finale for Florida legend Tim Tebow, no chance at the crystal football.

Yet that Florida team came back with a vengeance, dominating Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl by a 51-24 final that wasn't even really that close considering the Gators held a 30-3 lead at the half behind three Tebow touchdown passes.

In other words, Meyer is no stranger to the situation in which the Ohio State Buckeyes find themselves – needing to rebound from the Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State and recover in time to find the motivation to win tonight's Orange Bowl vs. Clemson.

Can the Buckeyes do it? Well, Meyer has the blueprint, at least.

"Sure," the head coach said. "I went back and looked at all the practice schedules. I always keep notes, pretty detailed notes of the approach to the game. So much of that is personnel based. Actually, (former Florida lineman) Mike Pouncey was with us last night at practice, and I grabbed him and kind of chatted with him for a minute."

The formula might be a tad different this time considering the drama that enveloped the Florida program after the 2009 game. That's the one that led to the famous health issues for Meyer, who announced on Dec. 26 that he would step down as Florida's coach, one day before he changed that to a leave of absence.

Either way, there was the potential for significant change at Florida after that game, something not at play with Ohio State this time around. So it is a different scenario, but Meyer thinks he knows the key to getting a good performance out of OSU this time around just like in 2009.

"We use the term competitive spirit," he said. "If there's a competitive spirit, then you're going to go play your heart out. And I would anticipate, from everything I've seen with this team, the competitive spirit is there. Now it's just are we good enough, in certain spots, to go defeat this team?"

That remains to be seen, but Meyer likes what he's gotten from his players since the Michigan State loss. The Buckeyes struggled to get over the devastating setback for a few days, the head coach said, but that has since turned around in the halls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the field at Nova Southeastern University.

"The feeling inside of you the whole three days, you had to go walk in with a smile, and it was the phoniest smile you've probably ever seen," he said of the days after the MSU loss. "And you get back, and you see the players you care about and see the pain on their face.

"We had a real emotional meeting. I don't know if emotional is the right word, but just like you would with any type of family members going through a hard time. From that point forward, they've been fine."

Offense Seeking Redemption
Going into the Big Ten title game with Michigan State, Ohio State had already set school records for points and yards in a season, boasting an average of 48.2 points per game and 530.5 yards.

Against Michigan State, the Buckeyes scored 24 points and finished with 374 yards.

In other words, it just wasn't a good showing. Now, one has to keep in mind that Michigan State boasts a defense that might be the best in the nation, so it was fair to expect those per-game totals to dip a bit. But the fact that Ohio State couldn't get the job done against the Spartans – especially considering the game ended in a loss – means there is room for improvement going into the Clemson contest.

"The last game was one we have to play better," Meyer said. "Just go out and work your tail off and play better. Our receivers had a pretty good week of practice, too."

That sounds like a statement senior Corey Brown would agree with. The Buckeyes haven't topped 160 yards through the air in each of the last three games, and the receivers want to be a big part of the offense getting back on track vs. Clemson.

"Obviously we came out flat (in Indianapolis) and that's what it came down to at the end of the day," Brown said. "It took us to be down 17-0 for us to be like, ‘OK, we're playing in the game.' I can see us coming out fast in this game like we normally do."

Defending The Defenses
Ask anyone about this game and the prevailing opinion seems to be a shootout is in store when the Buckeyes' high-powered offense takes on Clemson's dynamic passing attack.

In other words, it's a rough week for defensive coordinators.

Clemson's Brent Venables, though, is not taking the talk about how the Orange Bowl will be dominated by offense lying down.

"I don't like that one bit," The Tigers defensive coordinator said. "It doesn't matter if it's Ohio State, if it's the Pittsburgh Steelers, it doesn't matter. Your job on defense is to stop people.

"So when somebody says – everybody wants to say it's a shootout, you take offense to that. But that's not just this game, you know."

Venables pointed to the way offenses have started to take over the game of football. Even last night, Alabama's stout defense – thought to be one of the best in the nation over a multiyear span – gave up 45 points to Oklahoma, which came on the heels of UCF's 52-42 win in the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor.

That, of course, is little solace to either coach, including Ohio State's Luke Fickell. The second-year defensive coordinator has been at the focus of intense criticism among Buckeye fans, especially as the team allowed a combined 75 points in the last two games vs. Michigan and Michigan State.

"We don't listen, to start with," Fickell said of the criticism. "My kids are … getting to that age where they start to ask you questions. I've got my own son, ‘Dad, maybe you should do this. Maybe you should do this.' He's only 11.

"The reality is you can't let those things affect you."

Fickell's players, though, have heard the talk both about their position coach and about Clemson's prowess and want to channel it in the right way.

"I don't think it's very fair at all," linebacker Joshua Perry said about the criticism. "Especially after the Team Up North game, that's a rivalry game, so you know you're going to get their best shot. He's taken some criticism, and I think that's part of the profession, too. We all understand that, but as players, I think we get a chip on our shoulder, too, because that's my coach. That's a little extra motivation for us."

For either coach to silence the pregame talk, their defenses will simply have to go out and get the job done.

"We know that, if we don't do things right, we turn the ball over, we give up big plays, we don't stop the run, we don't have somebody in the A-gap when we need to, they'll break the scoreboard," Venables said. "But that's not any different than any other week when you're playing a quality offensive opponent."

Football Family Ties
Coaches are outsized personalities with outsized jobs these days, and there's no difference with the Ohio State and Clemson staffs.

Of course, Meyer is one of the titans of college football, having won two national titles, and he's either loved or hated by just about everyone who watches the blunt but driven coach dominate the college level.

On the other hand, Clemson's Dabo Swinney is sort of a breath of fresh air in the coaching ranks, a self-created dynamo who isn't afraid to answer a reporter's questions with five-minute long replies.

This game even has one of the most intriguing assistant coaches in the game in Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the highest-paid assistant in the game at more than $1 million dollars.

As a result, there are plenty of ties and storylines between the two staffs. Morris said Meyer tried to hire him at Ohio State when he got the job two years ago, something Meyer somewhat denies, saying there was only chatter about offense between the two but no job offer.

Meyer and Swinney are also friends, a result of them spending time together on a Nike offseason trip the past few years.

"Dabo and I have become very close the last five years," Meyer said. "There's a great relationship. We actually studied together in the offseason, offensive football. We share very similar approaches to the game and a mutual respect. I mean, we're going to go as hard as we possibly can to try to beat each other, but this is a game of mutual respect. We actually have some cut-ups of them during the season we'd watch, and real impressed with some of the things they do."

Swinney agreed, even though the two shared awkward conversation as they took a photo with the Orange Bowl trophy on Thursday.

"it's always good when the guy on the other side, you got a decent relationship with him and it's not awkward or uncomfortable or anything like that," he said.


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