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Here’s how Urban Meyer is handling changes to the kickoff rule

The rule change will assuredly affect Meyer’s special teams strategy.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“If we have an advantage, we’ll do it. Advantages are a missed kick, maybe we feel like we’re better than them in the return game.”

-Urban Meyer, via Tom Orr, The Ozone

There is certainly a valid reason behind the NCAA’s change to the kickoff rule which will be instituted this fall. The new rule, which allows return teams to fair catch the ball within the 25-yard line and results in a touchback, is aimed at preventing many of the injuries caused during kickoffs. The change is very much in alignment with other rule changes that both the NCAA and NFL have instituted previously, including shifting the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line and moving possession after a touchback to the 25. Both of these changes were similarly put in place to increase the proportion of touchbacks in order to reduce injuries on kickoffs.

Urban Meyer and company have been highly successful at exploiting the previous kickoff standards, resulting in some of the best coverage units in the NCAA during his tenure at Ohio State. Last season, Ohio State was 10th in the nation in average kickoff return defense, giving up just 17.41 yards per attempt. The Buckeyes were also No. 1 in 2014 in opponent’s average starting field position, with drives starting at the 25.6-yard line on average. In 2015 they were No. 2. Meyer achieves this success by kicking the ball to the corner of the field, often within the 5-yard line. His coverage team would then concentrate on that corner to contain the receiving player while eliminating most of the field of play.

The rule change, however, looks to force teams to move away from what has been Meyer’s competitive advantage. Now, when teams get similarly pinned in a corner with focused coverage on its way, they’ll simply be able to call for the fair catch and start play at the 25. While it might shake things up from how Meyer has previously operated on special teams, there is little doubt that he will ultimately find a way to use the new rule to his advantage in the future.

“The good thing is, we didn’t play Ohio State last year, but we all coached for Greg at some point. When you have that you kinda know his personality and tendencies, so that helps a little bit, but they have incredible players and schemes. That’s gonna be tough.”

-Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, via Bill Landis, Cleveland.com

Urban Meyer had gotten a lot of credit for his coaching tree over the years. Dan Mullen, Tom Herman and Chris Ash, all now head coaches at major programs, owe at least some of their start to Meyer. Now, Greg Schiano seems to have built his own lineage from his time as head coach at Rutgers and Tampa Bay, and some of those prodigies are coming back to haunt him this season.

Chief among this group is second-year Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck, formerly of Western Michigan fame. Fleck was the wide receivers coach at Rutgers from 2010-11 under Schiano, and followed his head coach to Tampa Bay in the same role for the 2012 season. Previously, Fleck had started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under Jim Tressel in 2006. Before heading to Rutgers, Fleck returned to Northern Illinois, his alma mater, from 2007-09.

Fleck’s first head coaching role at Western Michigan, where he stayed from 2013-16, put the young coach on the map both for his talent--he led the Broncos to an undefeated regular season in 2016--and his eccentricity. Given the latter, it is somewhat shocking to imagine Fleck coming from the lineage of such a serious coach as Schiano.

This season will mark the first time Fleck has faced his former mentor as a head coach. Previously, Fleck had brought Western Michigan to Ohio State in 2015, but Schiano had yet to arrive on campus. In addition to the head coach, Schiano will also oppose a group of former Tampa Bay and Rutgers assistants who Fleck himself has brought on at Minnesota, including offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, defensive coordinator Robb Smith and special teams coordinator Rob Wenger.

Minnesota is scheduled to come to Columbus on Oct. 13. Fleck went 5-7 in his inaugural season with the Gophers last year.

Despite all eyes being on football currently, Ohio State basketball is getting ready for its summer practice schedule. The biggest highlight of the season is the team’s 11-day trip to Spain to kick off August, but fans in Columbus will have something a little closer if they want to see the team in action before the season. The Buckeyes are hosting an open practice tomorrow afternoon at Value City Arena from 5-6 p.m., with select players available to address fans for about 30 minutes after. For fans, this will be the first chance to see incoming four-star recruits Luther Muhammad, a shooting guard from New Jersey, and Jaedon LeDee, a power forward from Houston, live. It will mark the final of 10 practices that the Buckeyes will have in Columbus in preparation for the trip.

Currently, the Buckeyes have three games scheduled to be played in Spain during their trip. They will open in Madrid, facing the hometown Madrid Generals on Aug. 4. The team will then travel to Valencia for a matchup with the All Stars on the 7th before their final game versus the Catalan All Stars in Barcelona. In addition to practices and games, the team will have a chance to tour the country and enjoy cultural experiences, including sailing and time on the beach, before heading back to Columbus.

Heading into his second season in Columbus, Chris Holtmann is facing the issue of managing expectations after a better-than-expected season in 2017-18. The team has lost most of its offensive weapons with the graduation of Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams and faces the tall order of rebuilding. Holtmann will have to rely on his young roster to carry the load moving forward. However, players like Kaleb Wesson, who emerged as strong players last season and should provide a strong base for the young unit.

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