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December 5, 2013

Miserable with purpose

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In one of the dark, shadowy film rooms that line the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Tom Herman sits with his tired eyes bound to video tape of arguably the nation's best defense.

For Ohio State's ever-observant offensive coordinator, such confines have become a dungeon and the things he sees on the screen before him serve as a unusual form of torture.

"It's miserable," Herman said. "Have you watched that tape? They are really, really good."

Of course, Herman -- who along with head coach Urban Meyer have ushered what could be called an offensive renaissance for the Buckeyes -- was mostly kidding.

But that doesn't make the arduous task facing him and second-ranked Ohio State funny.

It's easy to simplify Saturday's Big Ten championship bout with Michigan State as a contest that could be decided by a strategic tug of war between Herman's explosive and intricate offense and Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's commanding defense.

"This is why you coach. These are the games your competitive nature can come out a little bit and say, I'm going to have my offense, my checkers, my pieces are going to be more prepared and play harder and longer and with better technique and effort than yours," Herman, a member of the high-IQ society Mensa International, said.

Against an asphyxiating, battering Michigan State outfit that's stifling teams to just 11.8 points and 238 total yards a game, it seems obvious as to why Herman is exhausting himself in the week leading up to a game that could very well seal the Buckeyes' spot in its first BCS national championship game in six years.

"Probably the best-coached defense we'll have played in two years including them last year I think that like a fine wine, they get better with age and they are know the strengths of their defense, they know the weaknesses of their defense," he said.

"They try to compensate for it. I think they are extremely gap sound, I think they understand what you're trying to do offensively and where the pressure points are in terms of the plays that you're running and the ways that you're trying to attack them."

It also might be fair to suggest that Ohio State is the best offense the Spartans will face this season.

The Buckeyes average 48 points and 531 yards a game.

And behind the legs of quarterback Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and what Meyer likes to call perhaps the nation's best offensive line, they've been simply unstoppable, totaling 321 yards a contest.

Of course, such production will be challenged this weekend in Indianapolis.

"As fine a defense as there is in America. Very good players, excellent scheme, well coached," Meyer said.

"This style of defense, I can imagine there's been many, many people trying to copy it and that's a credit to the coaching staff and the players, because they are at a different level right now."

But Ohio State -- winners of 24-straight games under Meyer's direction -- might be too.

"I think coach Meyer has a great phrase where he says, preparation doesn't stop until foot hits the ball. And once the foot hits the ball, you're in adjustment mode and you're constantly adjusting and adapting throughout the course of the game whether it's the first quarter, the first drive, the first drive of the second, the third drive of the fourth quarter," Herman said.

"You're constantly adjusting and trying to figure out where the defense is trying to attack you and how they're trying to attack you."

Herman, of course, will toil underneath dimmed lights and in front of projector screens until the foot hits the ball at about 8:17 p.m. Saturday.

"At the end of the day, there's only a few reasons to live this crazy life that we do. One of them is for the love and betterment of young men and trying to, again, turn boys into men," he said.

"And then the other one -- I say it all the time -- bankers don't get to do this.

"They don't get to go compete in Indianapolis against the number one defense possibly in America and come out hopefully on top and say, 'My guys did that.' That's fun, it really is."

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