During the season when they worked together for the University of Utah, Urban Meyer and Gary Andersen never lost.
One of them was bound to lose Saturday night in this Ute reunion, staged in front of the third-largest crowd (105,826) in Ohio Stadium history and a prime-time television audience.
In keeping with the unbeaten theme of that 2004 season, Ohio State’s 31-24 victory over Wisconsin made Meyer 17-0 in his second year in Columbus.
Meyer said he couldn’t imagine a better college football environment. Andersen also enjoyed everything about competing against his old boss on such a big stage — other than the outcome, and some defensive lapses that contributed to it.
"We gave ’em too many layups," Andersen said. "We have to be able to make it more difficult. … That’s when it gets extremely frustrating."
The No. 4 Buckeyes (5-0) were overwhelming at the start. No. 23 Wisconsin (3-2) kept battling back, only to be undone by a 40-yard touchdown pass — a routine play, not even a Hail Mary — with one second remaining in the first half. That sequence took away any thoughts of a Wisconsin upset, even though the statistics were virtually even.
Leading 24-14, the Buckeyes turned a third-quarter interception into a short touchdown drive. Wisconsin answered with a touchdown early in the fourth period and added a field goal with 2:05 remaining, but could not do anything with a final possession that started at its 10-yard line.
In his return from injury, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller threw four touchdown passes. Wisconsin’s passing game was even more effective. BYU will want to remember this name in November: Jared Abbrederis, who caught 10 passes for 207 yards.
This Big Ten contest was the first meeting of ex-Utah and Utah State head coaches, while also involving Wisconsin assistants Andy Ludwig, Dave Aranda, Bill Busch, Chad Kauha’aha’a and T.J. Woods, who formerly worked for either the Utes or the Aggies — or both.
Because of the conference’s expansion and realignment, Meyer and Andersen could meet only in the Big Ten championship game in 2014 or ’15.
Meyer recently labeled Andersen "one of the top two, three hires I’ve ever made." That’s saying a lot, considering Andersen is one of his former 10 assistants who have become head coaches.
Here’s how it happened: After coach Ron McBride was fired by Utah in November 2002, Andersen landed Southern Utah’s head coaching job prior to Meyer’s arrival in Salt Lake City. In early 2004, after defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo moved to Arizona, Meyer interviewed Andersen at the urging of Kyle Whittingham, then Utah’s defensive coordinator.
Meyer had another candidate in mind and Andersen was not sure about leaving SUU and returning to his old job, but each won over the other. The Utes proceeded to go 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl victory. Andersen then chose to work for Whittingham as Utah’s defensive coordinator when Meyer departed for Florida.
Meyer remains appreciative of Andersen, citing "his direct impact on our program," specifically in terms of motivating and relating to Polynesian players.
The ’04 Utah staff blended well. Maybe because the Utes always won, there weren’t "a lot of confrontational times," Andersen said. "I was on the defensive side, and we never lost. So [Meyer] probably came in the defensive room five times. So it makes it easy."
While working at Florida, Meyer split two games with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who had coached the quarterbacks during Meyer’s two years at Utah. There have been other meetings of former head coaches of Utah schools in college football history, but not on a stage like this.
Andersen believes the two of them would have approached their competition just as intensely if they were "coaching 8-year-olds in little league," and he’s probably right.
Let’s just hope Andersen’s kids would have covered the home team’s receiver better on that 40-yard touchdown pass.
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