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Ohio State tries to shake lingering semifinal shutout cloud as new season dawns

CHICAGO -- It followed Ohio State here like a stalker.
Perhaps the biggest goose egg in Ohio State history.
The only shutout in Urban Meyer's career.
Clemson 31, Ohio State 0 in last year's College Football Playoff Semifinal.
Unacceptable and -- until the season starts -- Velcroed inside the collective Scarlet and Gray consciousness.
"It was awful," said Meyer, who went 193 games and 15 seasons before being skunked.
"Man, I'm tired of talking about that game," center Billy Price said.
Such is the fallout from Zero Dark Thirty-One. No sixth-ranked team coming off an 11-2 season may have ever felt worse. If it is possible to get a court injunction against a bad dream, the Buckeyes were filing papers Monday by the end of opening of Big Ten Media Days.
"Oh, absolutely," Price said. "Ohio State doesn't lose 31-0 and not have anything happen."
The senior was referring to the almost immediate departure of offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck. Were they fired? Conveniently took new jobs? Run out of town by angry villagers with pitchforks and torches? It's not really clear. 
Then again, does it matter? Changes had to be made after Ohio State's first shutout in 23 years spanning 295 games. The offense had stagnated with a quarterback who had once finished in fifth the Heisman Trophy voting. (J.T. Barrett)
The offense looked absolutely listless despite having one of the top playmakers in the game. (H-back Curtis Samuel). The team that would become the current defending national champions was good that day too but no one in Buckeyeland really wants to hear about Clemson.
The Buckeyes have two new offensive coaches -- coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day -- and sort of a new offense.
"One thing they have focused on is hitting the long ball," Price said. "To stretch a defense and make sure there aren't 11 players on the line, you've got to hit the long."
That's basically what has evolved at Ohio State. The defense is able to cluster in the box. Without the receivers and backs he had in the 2014 championship year, Barrett isn't able to stretch the field.
Averaging 39.4 points (13th in the country) never looked more misleading.
Consider the Buckeyes are only here because officials were able to stretch those chains just enough after Barrett's fourth-down run against Michigan.
It worked out in Ohio State's favor but kind of summed up the season. The offensive line was suspect. Beyond Samuel, there weren't many playmakers. That may be nitpicking an 11-2 team, but it is one that was favored to win the Big Ten last year and this year.
"It forces you to reevaluate everything you do and make sure it doesn't happen again," Meyer said.
Before Ohio State becomes an offensive force good enough to win the Big Ten, here are five things to consider.
Oct. 14: That's the day the Buckeyes travel to Nebraska. That also may be the first legitimate test of this new offense.
There are few if any challenges until then. And don't say Oklahoma in Week 2. The game is at home. Ohio State dominated the Sooners in Norman with the same offense in question last season. Oklahoma returns the game with rookie coach Lincoln Riley.
If not the Nebraska game, then Nov. 25 at Michigan. Once again, we may not know a final verdict until the Big Ten title game or beyond.
What if Barrett has peaked? It's entirely possible. The fifth-year senior came off the bench to lead the Buckeyes to the 2014 title, finishing fifth in Heisman voting that year.
The numbers of one of the most decorated players in Ohio State history have declined since then, due partially to injury.  Sure, the talent around him has declined as well, but one pro scouting source told me Monday: "He's a college quarterback. He's not a pro."
Take that to mean anything you want. Barrett's running ability is well documented. Meyer wants to go downfield more with Wilson. Will Barrett -- and is arm -- be able to step up.
Changes brought by Wilson: Besides two Heisman Trophies on his resume? Well, that's a good place to start. As Oklahoma's coordinator, he helped lead Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008) won The Stiff Arm. Those are two huge reasons Wilson was snatched up quickly by Meyer despite allegations of mistreating players at Indiana.
"Offensive tempo," Price said describing the new offense. "Push the ball vertically."
Yeah, but what do defenses not know these days about tempo? Everyone does it.
"I really think at the beginning of the game you let the refs know, 'Hey, we're going to be running tempo and not slow the game down,' Price added. "That makes it difficult to get those [defensive] packages on the field.
"J.T. is a great decision maker that you have seen. It's a good thing I'm giving him the ball because he can do some special things."
We'll see. Barrett is a career 63 percent passer but completed only 12 passes last year of 30 yards or more (89th nationally).
In his six seasons as Indiana's coach, the Hoosiers never finished higher than fourth in their division. But since 2014, they have generally given Ohio State a tussle. Meyer admired that.
"What makes him unique is that he has [had] two 1,000-yard rushers and he's had guys who can throw the ball," Meyer said. "He adapts to what he has to do."
Wilson opens the season against his old team in Bloomington.
"Everybody would agree he's a really good offensive coordinator," said Tom Allen, who replaced Wilson at Indiana after being his defensive coordinator last year. "I've not been around a guy who can stand there and verbally talk through a scheme without drawing it up. It's all in his head."
Meyer called Wilson the first "established" OC he has ever hired.
The Chip Kelly factor: No, Meyer didn't ask Kelly to be his offensive coordinator even though the former Oregon and NFL coach was available. "To be honest with you, I can't remember [why]," Meyer told reporters.
However, he did hire Day as his new quarterbacks coach. Day spent the last two seasons with Kelly at the 49ers. He also played under Kelly at New Hampshire and was a grad assistant for Meyer at Florida in 2005.
Don't forget Florida: This is Meyer's sixth year at Ohio State. His sixth year at Florida in 2010 was his last. There are parallels. After Season No. 5 in 2009, the year ended in similar offensive disappointment to 2015. The regular season concluded with a 32-13 SEC title game loss to AlabamaTim Tebow cried at the game, which marked the end of a near-dynasty for the Gators. 
There were similar offensive concerns at that point. Tebow was leaving. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and quarterbacks coach Scot Loefler were going into their second seasons together in 2010. That 8-5 season was Meyer's last in Gainesville.
There are no signs Meyer is going to burn out again and leave. But he is coming off his "worst" season record-wise at Ohio State.
A changed man: We already know Meyer was pissed after Clemson. "Coach Meyer was very angry after that loss," Price said. "Not like tantrum and flipping out angry, but there was a lot of accountability that he took on his behalf."
Price saw something different in his coach when he recently became a grandfather. A few hours before the Bucks were officially placed in the CFP in December, eldest daughter Nicki gave birth to a baby boy, Troy.
"What do babies do to men?" Price said rhetorically. "When Coach Meyer is holding that child, it's like holding a national championship trophy. It's the cutest thing in the world. I mess with him all the time, 'The last time you smiled that big, was when we [hoisted the trophy].'
"He has become more … quote-unquote, mild. A head coach is a CEO of a business. He's running one of the top businesses across America now."
One that has to get better offensively to keep a bad dream from returning.

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