A Rosy Ending
Ending a season with a bowl win is always a good thing. Ending your season with a Rose Bowl win is VERY nice. But, I don't know why I thought it would be any different. I said the Buckeyes would beat Washington by 17-21 points. For three quarters of Urban Meyer's last game it looked like they win by more than I predicted. Maybe it was because of the way they smacked Michigan that had me thinking it would be different this time. I should have known better. For much of the season this OSU team allowed inferior opponents to hang around in games, and end up in a dogfight. After running out to a 28-3 lead early in the third quarter of the 105th Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes needed to survive an onside kick by Washington in the final minute to hang on for a 28-23 win. Notice what I just said: win. Regardless of how much the fourth quarter resembled Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the Buckeyes still won the Rose Bowl. And that my fellow Buckeye fans is something that will give me reason to smile for the next eight months.
For the game’s first 35 minutes the Buckeyes offense was faster, more athletic, and more physical than Washington, who had one of the country’s best defenses. The Huskies did some things to slow the offense, but for the most part OSU was able to run and throw with equal success. By halftime Dwayne Haskins had tossed three touchdown passes against a defense that had given up only nine TD passes all season, and their 272 total yards nearly surpassed what Washington averaged giving up in a game (303 yards). The Buckeye offensive line was shoving the Husky front seven all over the place, and giving Haskins all day to throw. Mike Weber ran for 86 yards, and averaged over seven yards per carry. As is their nature, the Huskies kept the OSU
passing game in front of them, preferring to sit back, and drop as many as eight players into coverage. Haskins took what was given with mostly short to medium throws, but still managed
completions of 24 and 32 yards, and even had one of 34 yards on their first possession of the second half. Defensively the Buckeyes took four-time 1,000 yard rusher Myles Gaskin out of Washington’s offense, and limited them to just 151 first half yards. The Husky offensive line was unable to give quarterback Jake Browning enough time to throw down the field in long yardage situations. When he did have time to throw the Buckeye pass coverage was as good as we’ve seen all season. When J.K. Dobbins sauntered through a
gaping hole for a three-yard touchdown with 10:25 to play in the third quarter to give the
Buckeyes a 28-3 lead, the game appeared to be all but decided. The Husky defensive line looked exhausted, and their offense was unable to really sustain anything. Whether it was losing focus, celebrating too early, the Huskies changing their approach on both sides of the ball, or a combination of all three, the game changed at that point, and the wild ride began.
I have to be honest and say I really don’t blame the defense for the game becoming close. Because the offense couldn’t move the ball save for that one scoring drive, they were on the field constantly in the second half. In the third quarter alone Washington had the ball for 11:45. Part of that is due to the Huskies being determined to establish a run game with Gaskins. After getting just seven first half carries, he had eight attempts on Washington’s first two series of the second
half. Thanks to some timely plays by Jashon Cornell (sack), and Jeffrey Okudah (fourth down pass breakup), the Huskies had the ball for 9:45 of the first 11;52 of the third quarter, but came away with no points. Meanwhile the Buckeye offense inexplicably went away from running the ball. When they were having so much success in the first half Washington’s linebackers had creeped up closer to the line of scrimmage. Haskins and the receivers were able to exploit the gap that created between the linebackers and secondary. Another factor in the OSU offense sputtering is the Husky defense no longer sitting back, and allowing the Buckeyes to control the line of scrimmage. They began blitzing, and attacking. It took Haskins out of his rhythm, and that laser-accurate arm became erratic. He had Terry McLaurin open, but overthrew him on a pass that was nearly intercepted. He also missed K.J. Hill on a throw that could have been a big play. But, I still think the Buckeyes needed to run the ball more once they took that 28-3 lead. On their next four series they ran the ball just four times. If you run the ball you keep the clock moving, and
shorten the game. In the meantime the Huskies began to creep back into the game, and Jake Browning began to hit more of his throws despite the Buckeyes constantly putting pressure on him. During the Huskies’ mad dash to close the gap on the scoreboard, they used tempo very effectively, and kept the Buckeyes off-balance. Instead of going with their base defense, and being ready when Washington got to the line of scrimmage, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano kept making calls to counter what the Huskies were showing. Too often Buckeye defenders were running around trying to get lined up as Washington was snapping the ball. But, only once did they allow the Huskies a quick scoring drive. The other two touchdown drives were ten plays each. Browning threw for 354 yards, but it took 54 throws to get there. They had 444 total yards, but ran 91 plays. The Buckeyes gave up only one play of over 30 yards, and did not make things easy for their opponent. Washington was made to earn everything they got (yes, I’ll get to that supposed final “touchdown” in a bit). In the end it was quite a rosy ending to the Buckeyes’ season, and Urban Meyer’s coaching career.
What I Liked
I considered a few things here, but I think I’m going to go with something Meyer said during his halftime interview with ESPN. He said he was happy with the tackling and not turning the ball over. I’ll take it another step, and say I thought the coaching staff did an excellent job of preparing the team fundamentally. Tackling and ball handling are always concerns in bowl games because of the layoff from the regular season. The Buckeyes tackled as well as they have all season, they didn’t fumble, receivers caught the ball, and blockers kept their hands to themselves. Also, considering how well true freshman Tyreke Smith, Tommy Togiai, and Taron Vincent played I’d say the early part of bowl practice was used wisely (the early part of bowl practice is treated much like spring practice where there is a lot of emphasis on fundamentals).
What I Didn’t Like
Abandoning the run game in the second half. I’m wondering if Ryan Day, and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson got a little greedy trying to throw the ball so much because of the success that was had on the first drive of the second half. There were only two runs on that series as Haskins picked apart the Huskies. I think things worked so well in the first half because the Buckeyes made Washington respect the run game. The Ohio State offensive line was bigger, and far more physical than the Huskies front seven, who looked very tired after the Dobbins touchdown. I think continuing to pound away with those big bodies would have paid off with another score at least, and possibly a second.
Ok, so it was frustrating seeing Washington come back after being dominated for stretches, and controlled overall. Most certainly we’d all like to see a wider gap on the scoreboard. But, it’s a win. Not sure how many of you can remember a Rose Bowl loss, but I sure can. They suck. Whether it is getting blown out by a great team (1973), losing by a point (1980), or losing by three to a mediocre team the Buckeyes should have shredded (1985) it sucks to lose the Rose Bowl. Who cares how the final score, or fourth quarter looks to the national media. The days of voting for a champion are long gone; you don’t get style points for how you win a bowl game. All that
matters is did you win or lose. The Buckeyes won, and that makes me very happy.
Random Rosy Stuff
The Buckeyes eighth Rose Bowl win ties them with Michigan for most in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have not won in Pasadena since 1998, and not played there since 2007.
Dwayne Haskins became the sixth player in FBS history to throw 50 touchdown passes in a single season. Here is some perspective: those 50 TD passes place him tied for sixth on the school’s all-time CAREER list. Unreal. If you’re wondering he has 54 TD passes in his career. That ties him with Troy Smith for fourth.
Parris Campbell’s 90 catches set a new Ohio State single-season receiving record. He also went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season. He’s just the sixth Buckeye to reach that milestone, and first since Michael Jenkins in 2002. He is tied for sixth on the Buckeyes’ all-time receptions list with teammate K.J. Hill with 143.
Haskins’ 25 completions breaks Mike Tomczak’s school bowl record of 24, which he set in the 1985 Rose Bowl against USC. Campbell tied David Boston’s bowl record for receptions with 11. Boston set his record in the 1999 Sugar Bowl against Texas A&M.
Haskins was the game’s offensive MVP, while Brendan White was the defensive. White had eight tackles, including two for a loss. He also had a pass breakup where he stripped the ball from a Husky tight end on a third down, and an interception on Washington’s two-point try late in the game.
Earlier I mentioned Jeffrey Okudah batting away a key fourth down pass in the third quarter. His effort on that play was exemplary. Before the snap he began to mirror his receiver, Aaron Fuller, as he went in motion across the formation. At the snap Okudah had to go around teammate Pete Werner, and then avoid another teammate who was backpedaling while guarding a Husky receiver while still keeping track of Fuller. Recognizing Browning was targeting his guy, who had run a simple pattern into the far sideline, Okudah accelerated, closed the gap, and batted the pass away. In what was his best game as a Buckeye, Okudah had five tackles, and broke up two passes. He batted away another in the end zone late in the game, but was hit with what I thought was a pretty cheap interference call. Really hoping what we saw is the beginning of him taking a big step in his development.
Speaking of questionable calls, Buckeye fans everywhere are still waiting to see some sort of video evidence of Myles Gaskins breaking the plane of the goal line, or touching the pylon with the football on Washington’s final touchdown. Former Buckeye Will Allen correctly pointed out on Twitter that the official was behind the play, and failed to establish himself on the goal line to get the proper view. To make matters worse the call was upheld. Based on the replays it is obvious Gaskins never broke the plane or touched the pylon.
Dwayne Haskins has said he’s 50/50 on if he will leave for the NFL Draft, and is nowhere near making a decision. I think he could use another year of work because the track record for success of quarterbacks going to the NFL having started as few games as he has is not good. But, he is the top rated quarterback in the draft, and I can see him deciding to move on. As far as other Buckeyes are concerned, Malik Harrison said he’s definitely returning for his senior season. Cornerback Damon Arnette told Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch he is leaning towards leaving, but has not made a final decision. In some late breaking news Jordan Fuller has announced he is staying for his senior season. Players have until January 15th to decide.
Terry McLaurin had just one catch, but made one of the more memorable plays in the game when he hammered a Washington punt returner with a huge hit. McLaurin is the best gunner in the country, and will probably stick with an NFL team because of his speed, and willingness to cover punts. Combine his special teams prowess with his pass catching, blocking, and leadership, and you realize how difficult he is going to be to replace.
Josh Alabi started at left tackle in place of the injured Thayer Munford. Other than a procedure penalty the redshirt junior from Detroit acquitted himself well in his first career start. If you saw the WVU-Syracuse bowl game you know how important it is to have your backups ready to play. The Mountaineers did a very poor job of developing their backup quarterback, and it showed. Describing their offense as inept is an understatement. So, give Meyer and his staff credit for understanding the importance of having those second-team guys ready to go when needed. The starting offensive line for the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl consisted of two guys who were second on the depth chart at their positions a month ago. Wyatt Davis replaced Demetrius Knox at right guard, and started in the Big Ten Championship game as well as the Rose Bowl.
Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Brady Taylor was sent into the game for it’s very final play. Taylor came out of spring practice as the first-team center, but knee problems didn’t allow him to battle for the job in August. After seeing playing time against Oregon State he underwent arthroscopic surgery, and did not return until late in the season. He was very excited, and thankful for his chance to get on the field in the Rose Bowl.
Another fifth-year senior who had his final season marred by injury was kicker Sean Nuernberger. He was injured warming up for the Minnesota game, and missed the remainder of the season. After Monday’s practice, his last as a Buckeye, a few of his special teams mates carried him off the field on their shoulders. Nuernberger is a character you can’t help but like.
In the locker room after the game Meyer addressed the team before literally handing over the whistle to new head coach Ryan Day in what was an awesome moment to see. Day didn’t waste any time making the first hire for his staff when he named Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Wednesday night.
Putting A Big, Scarlet Bow On It All
Instead of doing a separate blog reviewing the season I’m going to wrap it up now. When the dust settles in a few weeks after players have decided to leave or stay, and Day has his coaching staff set, I plan to do a blog looking ahead to how I think things may look when the Buckeyes take the field for the 2019 season.
I know there is a lot of disappointment over the loss to Purdue, and not being chosen for the College Football Playoff. Here’s my advice: stop dwelling on one loss, and start appreciating some things about this season. The Buckeyes dealt Penn State and Michigan soul crushing defeats. They won the Big Ten championship, and the Rose Bowl. They finished 13-1. That’s 13-1. Not easy to do. I heard someone refer to this as a mediocre season. 13-1 is a mediocre season? Oh, I know…”BUT, THEY LOST TO PURDUE, AND DIDN’T MAKE THE PLAYOFF!!” is what you’re screaming in your head. I understand the expectations were EXTREMELY high for this team. I understand the frustration of watching the defense give up big play after big play. I understand the frustration of seeing them struggle to run the ball for much of the season. I understand the frustration of being blown out for the
second year in a row by an inferior team. Believe me, I share your pain, and spent a lot of time yelling my frustrations at the tv (my wife did as well). So, if you want to dwell on these negatives, well, then that’s up to you. As for me, I’m going to savor the second straight come-from-behind win over Penn State. I’ll relish in the memory of them embarrassing an arrogant Michigan team. I’ll proudly wear my Big Ten Champions sweatshirt, and I’ll smile for the next eight months because they won the Rose Bowl. I see no sense in finding more misery in the 1 than joy in the 13.
I did indeed manage to watch all or part of every bowl game, but I doubt I’ll waste much time on Clemson vs. Alabama. My dislike for both programs stretches well back into the 70’s. I may choose to watch college basketball instead. Who am I kidding..LOL!