COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The turning point is still front and center in Urban Meyer’s memory, right down to the minute.
Every week, the Ohio State coach stands in front of his players and relives the championship toast, the one on Sept. 29, 2012, at 11:22 a.m., the one that was exactly what his first team with the program needed to finally come together as one.
And while what it represents when the Buckeyes put their glasses in the air before each game doesn’t have anything to do with him specifically, it’s a reminder nearly four years later of Meyer’s knack for pushing the right motivational buttons -- particularly on the road.
The inspirational hydration that day lit a fire that produced a hard-fought win over Michigan State in a hostile environment, and it hasn’t stopped burning since: Ohio State takes a perfect 18-0 record in true road games under Meyer with it to face No. 14 Oklahoma on Saturday.
“One thing I do like, you’re away from the noise, you’re away from all the stuff that you do at home games,” Meyer said. “You’re away from 115 players, now you only have your 70 that are really invested, so there’s a part of me that really loves going on the road.”
Meyer has obviously been plenty successful at home as well. Indeed, his Ohio State teams have been flat-out hard to beat anywhere since he arrived and started building a 52-4 record.
His Buckeyes have lost twice at home, and the other two defeats came in neutral-site matchups. But when it comes time to invade another school’s campus, Meyer has been known to cook up a special theme and unleash a fired-up roster that has taken particular delight in silencing opposing fans.
“Michigan State was our first true test as a unit on the road together, but the Penn State environment that year was a little bit different and unique, a little more hostile,” former Ohio State right tackle Reid Fragel said. “So that was really our first true test as a team going into an environment like that. The fans are waking you up at 3 in the morning with air horns at the team hotel, they’re banging on the walls as you’re walking out from the locker room, banging on the fences.
“It was kind of cool going into an environment like that. I remember we called them Black Flag cities, that was one of them where we had our backs against the wall the entire time as a unit.”
Like the visit to Michigan State, the Buckeyes battled out of that tight spot for another victory that helped propel them to a perfect record in Meyer’s first season.
And eventually, the Black Flag city would go down among the toast, the season-long slogans like “The Chase” and even daily reminders like issuing a “Code Green” to identify game-ready players as part of Meyer’s inspirational playbook.
“He always has had that ability -- always,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “He just always finds this thing that sticks, like 'Code Green.' I mean, he finds something and latches on. And it’s impressive, because everybody is all in.”
Those tricks are never more valuable than when the Buckeyes are away from the Horseshoe, and so far they have consistently resonated and had the desired effect.
Meyer kept any plans for the Sooners under wraps early in the week, indicating that he and strength coach Mickey Marotti would wait until closer to kickoff, when they could “get a feel for what’s going on.” Marotti, through a spokesman, didn’t want to reveal any secrets “until after the game,” perhaps not wanting to jinx the no-hitter the Buckeyes have working on the road.
But either way, the veterans expect there will be something special cooked up for them heading into one of the most anticipated games on their schedule. And the best-case scenario, of course, is that the message and the outcome become immortalized in Meyer’s memory bank.
“It’s all Coach Urban,” former cornerback Travis Howard said. “I mean, he sat up there [before Michigan State] and talked to us, basically told us the platform and what we needed to do, how we needed to do it to win the game. Then he told us, 'If you’re with us, take this glass.'
“It basically means you’re going to rip your chest open for the brother next to you. If you aren’t going to do that, don’t take that toast. It was a real defining moment, and the emotions built up. Since this guy put his toast up, we’re going to fight for each other.”
And since doing it for the first time on the road, it hasn’t failed yet for the Buckeyes.