The storyline for the 2014 season shifted for Ohio State on Monday.
The senior quarterback from just down the road in Huber Heights was supposed to lead the Buckeyes to the Big Ten championship and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, along the way joining the pantheon of Ohio State players who have won the Heisman Trophy. Ohio State would have somehow found room for another giant national championship banner at its indoor practice facility — the banners hanging there now could cover an elephant — and cleared space in the crowded trophy case for a variety of new hardware.
Most of that could still happen, of course. The only difference is Wayne High School graduate Braxton Miller will no longer be the featured player in that script. His season-ending shoulder injury means J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who has never taken a snap for the Buckeyes, will likely start the season Saturday against Navy with the offense on his shoulders.
As of Wednesday, the Buckeyes were still adjusting to that reality. This was only two days after the devastating moment when they realized their star player probably wouldn’t play a down in 2014, a worry confirmed Tuesday when Ohio State announced Miller would miss the season.
“You automatically go into panic mode,” senior linebacker Curtis Grant said. “That’s the human element. But you can’t think about it. It’s there, but what can you really do now? It’s already happened. Are we going to dwell on it, or are we going to move forward?”
The answer is the latter. Las Vegas odds-makers may have downgraded Ohio State’s chances, but the Buckeyes believe they can win their first Big Ten championship since 2009 and their first national title since 2002.
Asked Wednesday if his or the team’s goals had changed, third-year coach Urban Meyer said, “You know the answer to that. We have practice 21 (Thursday). I still like our team. After today’s practice, I really like our team.”
The offense has gotten the majority of the attention, and rightfully so after leading the Big Ten in scoring (45.5 points per game) and total offense (511.9 yards per game) last season. There’s no doubt the team’s success will hinge just as much on the defense, which ranked fifth in the conference in scoring defense (22.6) and seventh in total defense (377.4).
Meyer brought in Chris Ash to work as co-defensive coordinator with Luke Fickell. Ash will also coach the safeties. He’s expected to bring a more aggressive look to the defense.
“What it does is it allows me to jump short routes really quick,” safety Tyvis Powell said. “We basically pattern match all kinds of stuff, so once I see it, I can react to it right then and there. Last year, I was in the zone, so I (reacted to) whatever came to my zone. Now I have a responsibility, and it’s real quick. It allows me to be more aggressive on stuff.”
Powell remembers the disappointment last season when the Buckeyes allowed 45 points and 576 yards in an Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.
“At times, when we were in the Orange Bowl, when we saw all those screens being completed, it got kind of frustrating to keep watching it,” he said. “We were questioning why we weren’t switching it up. Now you go out there and you see people making more plays on the quick, short stuff. You’re more confident in the game plan. You know the coaches know exactly what they’re doing.”
The defense may need to carry the Buckeyes early in the season as the offense adjusts to life without Miller. That’s another shifting storyline. If there’s one thing that never changes, it’s the fact that the Buckeyes are expected to win — no matter what happens.
“The expectations are still the same,” cornerback Doran Grant said. “We’re Ohio State Buckeyes. We’re going to move forward and get it going.”