The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics on Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Urban Meyer? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Impact of Urban’s absence during the preseason on the depth chart as well as coach accountability. Nobody is talking about this and its lasting impact on this season. I feel like he’s been playing catch-up with this team all season.
— Will Krueger (@willkrueger) November 7, 2018
There won’t be any suggestion coming here that removing a three-time national champion from the equation didn’t come with some cost for Ohio State. But just how damaging was it for the Buckeyes to not have Urban Meyer around for training camp or on the sideline for the first three games? That’s tougher to evaluate for a variety of reasons — including the distinct possibility that there isn’t anything truly wrong with the program.
Now, that’s obviously a completely different conversation. And whether the issues that popped up in the loss to Purdue and a couple closer-than-expected wins are real signs of problems or if there’s no reason to complain about an 8-1 team with a chance to win the Big Ten, there will likely be an answer on Saturday afternoon at Michigan State. But in terms of looking back at August and the early weeks of September, there might not have been all that much that played out differently.
Based on what has transpired with Brendon White, it’s fair to wonder now if Ohio State missed on key evaluations at times with its own personnel. Would that have been different if Meyer was around? The Buckeyes had been wrestling with that second safety spot dating all the way back to spring practice when the entire staff was in place, and it’s not like there had been a tremendous amount of buzz for White in that role going into training camp. His situation could easily be one where a guy who has bounced around to a couple different positions simply needed time to develop and get comfortable.
From there, the conversation tends to shift to freshmen who Meyer would have been seeing for the first time. Using somebody like Chris Olave who was turning heads during training camp, that’s another case where everything probably would have played out in the same fashion thanks to the depth, talent and production of the wide receivers ahead of him. The same is likely true for Teradja Mitchell or Dallas Gant at linebacker, especially if Meyer wasn’t meddling in those personnel matters — which he largely still isn’t.
“Sure, I think [it was a disadvantage], especially with the freshmen and also the improvement of others,” Meyer said. “But I don’t think so [that it impacted playing time]. Because once again, I don’t micromanage too closely.
“I’ll have my opinions because I get to watch practice and all that, but I don’t think so.”
Those workouts in August without him were also widely praised as Ryan Day took the interim role and maintained a business-as-usual approach by keeping Meyer’s program rolling along the way he’s designed it. Maybe it’s possible that added scrutiny has taken a toll on Ohio State or that the early parts of the season were more stressful than it let on at the time. But Meyer’s suspension obviously didn’t have anything to do with Nick Bosa’s injury, and when it comes to impactful absences, it’s hard to argue that wasn’t the most critical one for shaping Ohio State’s season.
Meyer’s own health lingers over all of this, of course. And it’s a valid question to wonder if he’s perhaps given his defensive staff too much leeway, both in terms of scheme and with personnel decisions as White again springs instantly to mind.
But in the end, from here it’s hard to really make a connection there with Meyer’s suspension. And if Ohio State wins on Saturday, there won’t even be a reason to try.
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