August 28, 2012

Saturday will bring debut of Meyer's 'Freak Show'

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - In his six seasons as Florida's head coach Urban Meyer saw his Gators teams block a combined total of 32 punts, kicks, and extra point attempts.

Now entering his first season as Ohio State's head coach, Meyer is hopeful that his Buckeyes teams will find similar success. But in order to do so, it's going to require some freaks.

"The punt block team is called 'The Freak Show,'" senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "It's a whole bunch of freaks out there. Any one of them can block it."

Sabino, himself, is not a part of 'The Freak Show,' but he did reveal that first-team cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard are members of this year's OSU punt block unit. That confirms what Meyer said on Monday, when he announced that the Buckeyes' best players would play on special teams, regardless of what their other duties on the team entailed.

"We want to come after it. We want to be a punt block team," Meyer said. "That kind of tells you what the mentality that we have, our best players are on it."

Whether it was referring to the punt as football's most important play or settling for field goals after entering the red zone, the emphasis placed on special teams under OSU's former regime was crystal clear. But despite Jim Tressel no longer donning a scarlet sweater vest on the Buckeyes' sideline, Meyer said that special teams will be just as important to his success in Columbus- even if they're utilized differently from the way his predecessor did.

"The best place to start would be punt block," Meyer said when asked about his special teams strategy. "We want to change the game. We play the game of field position, which means that any opportunity we can to go force a punt or after a bad punt, we will."

While Meyer's aggressive approach may bring more excitement than the conservative style of Tressel, it also has the potential to cause more harm than good for the Buckeyes. With more players now coming after opposing punts, roughing or running into the kicker penalties seem more likely to be called on the Buckeyes, which could result in their opponents gaining a field position advantage or ultimately keeping the ball.

Meyer said that he's already explained to his defense that the risk of putting it in a worse field position is worth the reward that comes along with blocking a punt.

"I have the field position chart that we live by," Meyer said. "I had that meeting right away with our players. Understand, I don't need any complaining by the D- if we run into a punter, here's why we do that."

If charts can't convince the Ohio State players that an aggressive punt defense is beneficial to their success, perhaps numbers will. Meyer's Florida teams went 16-0 in games where they blocked at least one punt, and in his six seasons in Gainesville, the Gators never failed to block multiple punts in a season.

Combined with success in other facets of special teams- such as leading the Southeastern Conference in net punting in five of his six seasons at Florida, Meyer's superb special teams play resulted in an overall 65-15 record, three SEC East championships, and two BCS National Titles. Only time will tell if Meyer can find similar success with the same style while coaching in the Big Ten, but as a player who spends every day with the Buckeyes' special teams unit, there's little doubt in kicker Drew Basil's mind that his coach's efforts can be replicated.

"If we don't set the NCAA record for blocked punts this season, then once again, it's going to be hard to believe," Basil said. "It's going to be a freak show."


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