FILE – In this Sept. 3, 2016, file photo, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, center, runs the ball in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Auburn, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Urban Meyer was giving the abridged version of the core values he has instilled in Ohio State football, the pillars upon which he has built the Buckeyes.
There is 4 to 6, A to B, in reference to the effort expected on each play. Power of the unit focuses on each position group. Competitive excellence, which sort of speaks for itself.
“You mean the game-day underwear, that’s not the key ingredient?” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney chimed in, getting a smile from Meyer.
“I’m not saying I don’t wear them,” Meyer responded.
Swinney and Meyer shared the stage Friday morning for the final news conference before the second-ranked Buckeyes (11-1, No. 3 CFP) and Tigers (12-1, No. 2 CFP) face off in the Fiesta Bowl. The coaches exchanged handshakes and kind of a half-hug, pat-on-the-back thing before posing for photos with an ostentatious trophy that goes to the winner of Saturday night’s game — along with a trip to the College Football Playoff championship game.
The 52-year-old Meyer has a resume few who have ever coached college football can match. No current coach who has at least 10 seasons of experience has a better winning percentage than Meyer’s .854. He has won three national championships, including the first College Football Playoff title two years ago.
At the beginning of this week in Arizona, Swinney compared Meyer to Notre Dame legend Knute Rockne and joked about how he needed to quickly read Meyer’s book to gain some insight.
Swinney, 47, talks about Meyer with reverential deference, but he is on the short list of current coaches who can claim Meyer-levels of success. Clemson needed more work when Swinney took over during the 2008 season than Ohio State did when Meyer became coach in 2012. But since 2011, Swinney is 68-14 (.829), including a victory against Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl, one of only two postseason loses on Meyer’s record (10-2).
The only thing Swinney and Clemson have not accomplished during this run, the greatest in the history of the program, is a national championship. Deshaun Watson and the Tigers came up just short last year against Alabama. Watson, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, was fabulous against the Tide and followed it up with another spectacular season (3,914 yards passing and 37 touchdowns).
“I would think that you would see his poise,” Swinney said about Watson. “And to me his poise really makes him incredibly unique, because he just — he just never changes.”
Clemson returns to the playoff for a semifinal in the stadium where they lost 45-40 to Alabama in January. University of Phoenix Stadium is also the site of Meyer’s first national championship victory. His Florida Gators won the 2006 BCS title in Glendale, routing Ohio State.
“That was the first one, and I still, to this day remember, everybody on the sideline celebrating, screaming it’s not over yet. And it was pretty much over. And then we ran a bubble screen with about a minute and a half left to Percy Harvin, and he nudged the ball past the first down marker, and I thought, even us, we can’t screw this up now,” Meyer said. “The knees started shaking and it was a special moment, though.”
Swinney can relate. He played on the 1992 Alabama team that won the national championship.
“So I can definitely see it and visualize that and hopefully we’ll have our opportunity to hold the trophy up one of these days,” Swinney said.
“And we’ve got a chance this year. But they don’t give those things away, man,” he added. “You’ve got to go earn it and play well and you’ve got to beat the best. And that’s what we’re playing, the best of the best.”
Things to know about the third, and by far most important, meeting between Ohio State and Clemson:
AS GALLMAN GOES: Wayne Gallman has a Clemson record 17 100-yard rushing games in his career and the Tigers are 17-0 in those games.
“Once he gets to the next level, it’s hard to take him down,” Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan said about Gallman.
GROUNDED BUCKEYES: Redshirt freshman Mike Weber has 1,072 yards rushing for the Ohio State, but when games get tight the Buckeyes like to let quarterback J.T. Barrett carry the ball.
Barrett had 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a come-from-behind, overtime victory against Wisconsin. He ran for 125 yards and a touchdown in the double overtime win against Michigan.
DO-IT-ALL SAMUEL: Ohio State All-American Curtis Samuel is the only player in the country with at least 800 yards receiving (822 on 65 catches) and 700 rushing (730). He has 15 touchdowns (eight rushing and seven receiving) and the key to stopping the Buckeyes is to identify where Samuel is lining up. It’s like playing Where’s Waldo, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
“Everybody’s focusing on the quarterback on that little read power play, well, who has Waldo out here on the edge?” he said.