Event plus response equals outcome.
That philosophy is drilled into the heads of Ohio State football team members under Urban Meyer. Brought into the team by Tim Kight and his Dublin-based firm Focus3, it’s a simple concept – a person has no say over the events that come their way in life, but they can control the way in which they respond. That, in turn, will result in the outcome.
To make that calculus happen, the program not only teaches its players that lesson, they make them live it.
“Our program, everything we do is built around giving you challenging E's in order to teach you,” Kight told BSB over the summer. “So we're equipping you with tools to have a strong R. Our purpose is to make your R stronger than any E you face.
"That's the phrase we keep using – we're training you, training you, training you. So we're going to give them to you, a never-ending flow of challenging E's that require you to step up above the line."
That has served Ohio State well this season, a year in which a young team has bounced back from the loss of a Heisman-contending quarterback to injury, pushed aside an ugly early-season loss, has come back from deficits in a pair of road night games, and won on the road in one of the coldest games in recent college football history.
This is a team that might as well wear resiliency as its middle name.
“This team has been through a lot,” Meyer said in Indianapolis Friday. “They keep grinding and they keep winning.”
That, of course, will be put to the ultimate test Saturday night as Ohio State takes on Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes, as everyone knows, not only lost starting quarterback J.T. Barrett in the win vs. Michigan a week ago but also had to attend a funeral Wednesday after the body of walk-on Kosta Karageorge was found Sunday, the result of an apparent suicide.
One of those is a lot more difficult and impactful than the other, of course, but the reality of the situation is that even after the Buckeyes got an unfortunate dose of real-life adversity, there will still be a football game that kicks off at 8:17 p.m. Saturday night that the team must play in.
The past week has been full of challenging events, as Kight might say, and the Buckeyes will see if their ability to respond is ready Saturday night.
“I think that's a big part of it because we have gone through so much of that type of training,” senior wideout Evan Spencer said. “We're kind of trained to learn how to deal with adversity. Some of the hardships that we've faced, I think that's almost become a strength of ours if that makes sense because we know how to handle tough situations and then at the end of the day we know how to win in tough situations."
When it comes to dealing with both instances of adversity that have hit the team over the past week, the Buckeyes will look to the same thing – the closeness of the squad. During the offseason, in addition to the leadership classes, Meyer preaches “small-unit cohesion,” the thought that the way to make a team into a family is to break it down into units in order to foster relationships.
There are nine natural units on the team in the form of position groups, and the team did activities such as ziplining and waterskiing to come together.
“I’ll tell you one thing about this team; it’s so unselfish,” linebacker Curtis Grant said. “Everybody’s stuck together through the tough times and it’s crazy just to see a team do that. It’s kind of like we have so much confidence, even the kids that don’t play. We have so much confidence in each other that (whomever) will be ready by game time if something was to happen to anybody.
“Just like, for instance, J.T. went down and it’s Cardale’s time. We have the upmost confidence in him and he doesn’t need any negativity. All he needs is positive things and that helps a player out a lot, just to know his team is behind him.”
That carries over to the situation with Karageorge, offensive lineman Patrick Elflein said, because he was an embodiment of those qualities.
“In the locker room, you can feel it,” Elflein said. “In each unit, you can feel it. On the practice field, you can feel it… just guys coming together. He was a huge part of that. What he put into everything is like the model of what we want – of effort and toughness and being passionate and loyal. That’s who he was, and that’s kind of what everyone tries to be. That’s the model.”
We won’t know truly how Ohio State will fare tonight, and in many ways, what will happen pales in comparison to the real-life impact this week will have on the team and players going forward.
But the Buckeyes know there is a game to play, and they will do their best to respond. After all, that’s how they’ve been trained.
“I just believe it’s our confidence level in each other and how we stick together,” Grant said. “It’s all about how you, like they say, respond. We have a lot of leadership training sessions throughout the year and it works. Coach said the players will follow us, so we believe in it and we rally behind him and he believes in us and that’s a big thing. When your coach believes in you and you believe in him and everybody sticks together and has the team unity that we have, I mean it’s kind of hard to stop somebody like that.”