Ohio State Football: Will Back-to-Back Losses Help or Haunt Buckeyes in 2014?
When the Ohio State football team reported for fall camp on Monday, head coach Urban Meyer gathered his players at midfield and addressed the Buckeyes' disastrous finish to the 2013 season with two simple questions.
"The past?" Meyer asked, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "Who gives a s--t?"
The memories of devastating back-to-back losses should be fresh in the mind of every Buckeyes player. Just nine short months ago, Ohio State was one victory away from punching its ticket to Pasadena, California, for a spot in the national title game.
Michigan State dashed those hopes with a 34-24 upset win in the Big Ten Championship Game. A month later, the Buckeyes were pushed further down their road of despair with a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Those losses came on the heels of a historic win streak. With Meyer at the helm, Ohio State had won a school-record 24 consecutive games before running into the Spartans in Indianapolis.
Will the Buckeyes bounce back this season?
Embracing A Fresh Start
Credit: David Regimbal
Following Ohio State's loss to Clemson, Meyer spoke bluntly about the pain of coming up short.
"It's going to sting for a while, probably a long while because we didn't finish," Meyer said, according to Steven Wine of The New York Times. "It was right there."
Falling short of a national title can create aftershocks that effect the following season. Ohio State experienced that firsthand in 2007 after its devastating 41-14 loss to Florida in the title game.
Searching for ways to get past the crippling defeat and focus his team for the upcoming season, then-head coach Jim Tressel tried to morph disappointment into motivation. He changed the door code to Ohio State's workout facilities to "4114" to serve as a daily reminder for his Buckeyes squad.
That strategy seemed to be working. Despite a November hiccup against Illinois, the Buckeyes worked their way back to the national title game—this time against LSU.
The memories of their implosion against the Gators hadn't faded, though. Instead of fueling the Buckeyes, it rattled them. They fell to the Tigers in convincing fashion.
"We feel like we're a lot better than what we played tonight," safety Anderson Russell said, according to The Associated Press (via CSTV.com). "I'm not really sure what it was, if we were nervous or what."
"We should have learned from our mistakes," defensive end Vernon Gholston added. "Came back here, kind of almost had the same results, so the blame's on us."
Meyer is trying to steer his team away from a similar fate.
Finding the Fuel
Credit: David Regimbal
Meyer's best teams were angry about something.
In January of 2007, it was Meyer coaching the angry Gators that bulldozed Ohio State in the national championship. He came to Columbus with the mission of installing that same attitude, and in year one, it worked.
The Buckeyes were coming off a 6-7 campaign when Meyer took over in 2012. On the first day of fall camp, he laid the ground work.
"You're the Ohio State Buckeyes," Meyer said in a speech to his team, televised by ESPN. "You're an angry football team, and you've got an angry staff. You've got a bunch of guys who are getting ready to start a journey. You're a hungry football team, and I'm proud to be your coach."
That team went on to record just the sixth undefeated season in school history, but because of a bowl ban, the Buckeyes were shut out of postseason play.
The 2013 Ohio State team picked up right where the 2012 squad left off, but it all fell apart once postseason play arrived. Since then, the coaching staff has been trying to find the right way to motivate their team.
"Harness this feeling and use it to your advantage.”
At Big Ten media days last week, Meyer's message evolved.
"Every coach's dream is to coach a hungry, angry team," Meyer said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors.
But how does a team use its past failures as motivation without having a crippling effect?
Meyer and the Buckeyes are searching for that balance now.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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