By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – While Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said his star running back Ezekiel Elliott will not face any kind of disciplinary action for questioning Ohio State’s play calling in a 17-14 loss to Michigan State, he thinks Elliott could have made a better call himself than going public with his feelings.
“Frustration, anger, all of that, probably mounted up a lot. I couldn’t disagree with him, his comments, that he should have gotten the ball a little bit more. But that’s not the place to do it. He knows that,” Meyer said on Monday at his weekly press conference.
Elliott, who went into the Michigan State game averaging 22 carries and 142 yards a game, rushed for 33 yards on 12 carries against the Spartans and had only two carries in the second half. His 33 yards ended a streak of 15 games of Elliott rushing for more than 100 yards.
In addition to criticizing the play calling of Ohio State’s offensive coaches in a post-game press conference, Elliott announced he will leave OSU for the NFL after this season.
Monday, he issued an apology on Twitter that echoed Meyer’s words that he chose the wrong time and place for what he said.
“I don’t care if I rushed for 20 yards or 200 yards, I just wanted to win that game,” Elliott said in his statement. “I agree it was the wrong time and place to say that I was going to leave after this year.
“I am not leaving because we lost that game. I could have told you a month ago that was going to be my last game in The Shoe,” he said.
Meyer said subject of Elliott’s post-game words was “squashed.”
“We squashed it as a team. We squashed it with Zeke,” he said. The OSU coach said he welcomes input and opinions from established players but in private rather than public settings.
Meyer said Ohio State’s play calling against Michigan State was “not very good,” but appeared to be trying to deflect criticism from offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck when he said, “I have to do better.”
By the time Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) takes the field against Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) at noon Saturday in Michigan Stadium, what Elliott said will have faded into the background, Meyer and several players said on Monday.
It certainly won’t have the staying power of some of the classic verbal blasts of the 1980s and 19902, like current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh guaranteeing a win over Ohio State as a player in 1986.
Or OSU’s Terry Glenn saying, “Michigan is nothing,” in 1995. Or the Buckeyes’ David Boston saying they would win by two or three touchdowns in 1997 and taunting Charles Woodson by saying he played against better defensive backs in practice.
Or Michigan’s Walter Smith saying in 1994 he wanted to beat Ohio State so John Cooper would get fired.
Coaches and the sports information departments at OSU and Michigan have both schooled players on how to avoid inflammatory comments since then.
But the rivalry still burns brightly. Ohio State against Michigan remains the biggest rivalry in the Big Ten and maybe in college football.
It will start a new chapter on Saturday when Harbaugh and Meyer coach against each other for the first time. Rock star coach against rock star coach. Grand slam home run hire against grand slam home run hire.
Meyer’s teams are 48-4 at Ohio State, including a 12-0 record in his first season in 2012 following a 6-7 record in 2011.
Harbaugh has also changed the direction of Michigan football immediately. Michigan’s nine wins this season are more than every year but one since Lloyd Carr retired in 2007.
Both Ohio State and Michigan still have a chance to win the Big Ten East Division if they can combine a victory Saturday with a loss by Michigan State at home against Penn State.
Meyer said he is “not surprised” how well Harbaugh has started.
“I’m not surprised at all. I think they have excellent players. They are well coached. I remember hearing, ‘They just don’t have the personnel,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, they have great personnel.’ They always have great personnel,” he said. “Whether they are always playing great or whatever, that’s a different answer, and obviously, they are playing very well right now.”
Michigan’s two losses were to Utah and to Michigan State on the last play of the game when the Spartans recovered a fumbled snap by punter Blake O’Neill and scored a touchdown as time ran out.
The main story line was expected to be Ohio State trying to remain unbeaten and moving on to the Big Ten championship game in pursuit of back-to-back national championships.
But now OSU hopes that last Saturday’s loss to Michigan State can be converted to even more incentive to get a win over its biggest rival and needs some other things fall right for them.
“You still hold on to the feeling but I think you use that as motivation. We’ve still got games to play and anything can happen,” senior linebacker Joshua Perry said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.