COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Halftime is working just fine as an adjustment period.
Sooner would be even better for Urban Meyer.
The Ohio State coach has watched an almost identical scene play out over the last two games with his defense, which has been gashed on the ground, struggled in pass coverage and been pushed around in falling behind at intermission in consecutive outings. And while there hasn’t been all that much to complain about after the No. 4 Buckeyes have had a chance to regroup and possibly rearrange a few things in the locker room, Meyer clearly wouldn’t mind if those tweaks could be made before the game is halfway over.
“I do feel at times when people give us something new, we will sit back and react and get it figured out,” Meyer said. “And it's the intelligent way of doing it or you might give up fast points.
“But I'd much rather take a more aggressive approach when something bad is happening. Let's go try to disrupt. And we've had that conversation.”
Without the ability to rewrite the script at intermission, the Buckeyes might be having those discussions after a loss instead, so the outcomes can make it hard to criticize the recent approach too much.
But they have at least appeared to be flirting with disaster defensively after falling behind against both Northwestern and Iowa, teams that found relatively easy success in the early stages of those games thanks in part to some offensive wrinkles that were installed during bye weeks to catch the Buckeyes off guard.
Like those two previous opponents, Penn State also has had an extra week to prepare for Ohio State, and it may well be borrowing some of the concepts in the play-action passing attack or from the three tight end set that have worked in the opening quarters over the last couple of weeks. But the Nittany Lions almost certainly will need more than that up their sleeves, because the Buckeyes have proven they can come up with a counter to new looks once they’re given a bit of time, allowing a total of just 17 points after halftime in the comeback wins that kept their record perfect.
“I think the thing we have to understand both as players and coaches is that it doesn't always go how you draw it up,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. “You go out and work on something all week and you prepare. And I think as a player you go out there and it's not always roses. It's not always you dominating somebody.
“Certainly we don't want to play like that, but there's times during the course of a season or game where it's not going well and you have to find the will to go win a football game.”
The Buckeyes have done that 19 times in a row now, and the defense has played a critical role in building that streak and keeping it alive with solid play down the stretch.
Despite some of the first-half woes, Ohio State still ranks No. 15 in the nation in total defense. In both games, a secondary that had been picked on at times responded to come up with a crucial fourth-quarter interception. And after allowing 101 rushing yards through two quarters against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed only 29 more for the rest of the game and still rank seventh in the country in shutting down the run.
They would obviously prefer to get that type of performance earlier, and that message has been delivered from the top of the program. But the adjustments are at least better for the Buckeyes at halftime than never.
“We've got to get [the information] to them and make them go out there and understand and play it with confidence, play against new looks with confidence,” Vrabel said. “We understand they're not professional football players. I think the learning curve might not be as steep for them, but we've got to adjust.
“We've got to do it quicker.”