PHOENIX — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was critical of his starting receivers after the Buckeyes’ opener against Bowling Green. Same thing with most of the offensive linemen and Ohio State’s kickoff coverage unit. The defensive backs “did OK.”
This after Ohio State set a school record with 776 yards and won by 67 while scoring the school’s most points in 86 years.
The Buckeyes did what they were supposed to by rolling an overmatched opponent, but Meyer is one of those coaches who can find criticism in a crushing.
“It was good, not great,” Meyer said.
Blowouts are inevitable in the early portion of the college football season.
Elite programs often have trouble finding opponents willing to play them and will pay up to $1 million to lure a lower-tier team for the chance to host another lucrative home game.
The result is usually lopsided games like in the first weekend of the 2016 season: Ohio State 77-10 over Bowling Green; Miami 70-3 over Florida A&M; Michigan 66-3 over Hawaii; Illinois 52-3 against Murray State; Oklahoma State 61, Southeastern Louisiana 7.
Coaches react to these blowouts in different ways.
Some are seemingly never satisfied, always finding something critical to say in hopes of pushing their players to get better and avoid complacency. Others use the lopsided wins as confidence-building springboards toward the rest of the season.
Most fall somewhere in between, offering praise for winning a game they were supposed to with a dash of you-can-do-better criticism.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took the pat-on-the-back route after the Wolverines’ blowout of Hawaii, offering effusive praise up and down the roster for their most lopsided victory since 1975.
Seventh-ranked Michigan has another expected walkover this week against Central Florida, which didn’t win a game last season, and Harbaugh is predictably taking the rah-rah approach again.
“We’re building and attacking at the same time,” he said. “We have a tremendous opportunity and we want to make the most of it.”
Arizona State coach Todd Graham went on the offensive after his team’s rout against Northern Arizona in its opener.
Not toward his team. At the criticism that was hurled toward it.
The Sun Devils beat the FCS Lumberjacks 44-13, but got off to a slow start, leading 10-3 at halftime, 13-6 until the final minute of the third quarter. At his news conference two days later, Graham took a discussion about his team’s offense and pointed it toward the negative comments about the Sun Devils’ performance in an effort to defend his team.
“You know, it AMAZES me,” he said. “We’re 1-0. We won 44-13. We gave up THIRTEEN points, so we’re going on to the next week. That’s kind of how I feel about that. I just don’t get it.”
Oklahoma State’s coaching staff took the good-but-you-can-do-better route after the 22nd-ranked Cowboys blew out Southeastern Louisiana.
The Cowboys turned it into a rout early, with the starters beginning to get rest by the second quarter, so the game ended with a score in the to-be-expected range. But there also were a few breakdowns, particularly on defense, mistakes the Cowboys will not be able to get away with against a stronger opponent.
“There’s an old adage that things are never as good as they seem and they’re never as bad as they seem,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “Between some missed tackles we had in the open field, some bad reads and some guys relaxing a couple of times, it was very close to getting those guys to realize how close we are to being very average, or how close we are to having a good defense.”
Miami’s coaches followed Meyer’s suit — after watching film on the Hurricane’s blowout of Florida A&M.
Miami scored 10 touchdowns and had a school-record 42 points in the second quarter, allowed 22 yards rushing and had two interceptions. Yet after looking at the film, Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said he was “horrified.”
“I think most of our guys, the more mature guys anyway, understand when they make a mistake,” said coach Mark Richt after his first game at Miami. “They know we can get better.”
This week’s schedule will include numerous other chances to get better against what should be overmatched opponents.
Top-ranked Alabama plays Western Kentucky, No. 2 Clemson faces Troy, No. 8 Washington plays Lamar, No. 9 Georgia has Nicholls and No. 10 Wisconsin faces Akron, among other potentially-lopsided matchups.
Even if those go as planned, expect a wide range of reactions from the winning coaches.