“The mind,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer once famously quipped, “is a fragile thing.”
I was thinking of that Meyer quote the other day as I watched the post-Sugar Bowl press conference. Specifically when the Buckeyes coach reacted to the news the Oregon Ducks had thoroughly cleaned Florida State’s clock earlier that same day in the Rose Bowl.
A reporter wondered if the two-time national championship-winning coach had heard the Ducks destroyed the Seminoles by 40 points (it was actually “only” 39, but you know how reporters like to exaggerate).
“Oregon won by 40?” Meyer sputtered, a strained smile on his face.
“Oh, oh,” chimed in his star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, shaking his head next to Meyer.
As virtually everyone in the free world who follows college football now knows, Meyer then quipped, “I gotta go. We gotta go and get ready for that one.”
The assembled scribes laughed.
Instead I harked back to another presser, this one held in those lazy, languid days of last July, when the very same Urban Meyer faced yet another gaggle of sportswriters during the Big 10’s media day. During the course of his comments Meyer extolled the virtues of his team, and gave much of the credit … wait for it … to former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Seriously. He said he’d learned more during a three-day stint with by then-Philadelphia Eagles head coach Kelly than he had in his entire career.
And that wasn’t Meyer’s first homage to the Chipmeister. Prior to Meyer’s visit to the City of Brotherly Love, during his wanderings through the media desert after quitting his post at Florida, the man who can’t stop coaching paid a visit to Eugene while Kelly was still with the Ducks. Chip rather obligingly opened his playbook kimono, immortalized in an ESPN video segment.
As USA Today‘s George Schroeder has pointed out, while much of the football-crazed country continued to sip the SEC-is-best Kool-Aid, Meyer was squarely focused on what was going down in that distant, rain-shrouded, hippy-infested corner of the nation that produced (or attracted) quirky types like Steve Prefontaine, Bill Walton, and Ken Kesey. While the rest of America was riveted to Duck Dynasty, Meyer tuned in to Portlandia.
“Everyone talks about their shovel passes, or whatever,” Meyer shared with Schroeder in reference to the Ducks. “It’s not that. There’s a culture out there that has been started.”
“I think they’re cutting edge,” he added. “They play fast and hard … I watched them practice, spent time with them, and brought a lot of things back.”
Indeed he did. Which brings us back to that fragility of the mind thing.
For all his college coaching success, and the obviously terrific job he has done with the Buckeyes this year, the fact is Meyer has made it clear he has consciously built his team up based on the Oregon model. Somehow the ringing mantra, “We’re No. 2, we’re No. 2” doesn’t resonate as a team approaches a national championship game — against the team that invented the very structure and approach your team is based on.
“It’s just impressive,” said Ohio State redshirt sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones of the Ducks’ dismantling of last year’s national champions. “A team to go out there and beat a great team like Florida State.”
OSU senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett added, “I think we have the same speed as them, but their tempo is hard to prepare for, so that’s going to be the biggest thing. But once you’re ready for it, I mean it’s just another team.”
Did you catch the catch there? The Ducks’ tempo makes it virtually impossible to be truly ready for the tsunami about to engulf you (ask Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles, who had nearly a month to brace themselves). But if you could be ready for it, then they’d be “just another team.”
Except you can’t.
And they’re not.
“We want Oregon,” delirious Buckeyes fans chanted at the conclusion of the Sugar Bowl, egged on by Ohio State players waving their arms like they were conducting the Cleveland Symphony. For anyone who watched the merciless beat-down in Pasadena, the old saying, be careful what you wish for resonates.
The mind is, after all, a fragile thing.
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