At times it was joyous. At times it was frustrating, and even maddening. If I may borrow a line from Mr. Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Ohio State Buckeyes took us on a roller coaster ride through the 2018 season. There were come from behind wins over good teams, and narrow wins over mediocre ones. They were written off after a loss, and disrespected by just about everyone. But, undaunted they kept chugging forward, and when the dust finally settled Saturday night they were Big Ten champions again. For the second straight year they were snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee. They’ll be heading to Pasadena to take on Washington in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Dwayne Haskins shredded Northwestern for nearly 500 yards, and 5 touchdowns on 34-41 passing on his way to the game’s MVP award. He was patient, nearly perfect with his reads, moved in the pocket to keep the play alive, and fired strike after strike. Buckeye receivers continually found soft spots in the Wildcats’ zone coverage. Ryan Day’s play calling did an excellent job of creating openings for the them against a team that isn’t often caught out of position. Johnnie Dixon had seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown as he went over 1,000 yards for his career. Indianapolis native Terry McLaurin had three catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns. It is the second year in a row he caught the Buckeyes’ first score in the championship game. For Haskins and his receivers it was a game of pitch and catch; he completed passes to ten different Buckeyes as Northwestern’s secondary was completely
overmatched. The Buckeyes had an incredible 25 first downs passing, and a total of 31. Both are
championship game records. Haskins was sacked four times, but I thought most were because he held the ball way too long instead of throwing it away. The offensive line had another excellent game protecting Haskins, and giving him plenty of time to find open receivers. The Buckeyes ran the ball just well enough to keep Northwestern honest. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 139 yards, but could never quite break one for long yardage. Each had a long run of just eleven yards. Thanks to Northwestern’s excellent tackling, there were not a lot of yards-after-contact. The Buckeyes put up a championship game record 607 yards of offense in their 45-24 win.
After giving up two touchdown drives to begin the third quarter, and allow Northwestern to pull within three points, the Ohio State defense did something we had not seen them do very often in the previous twelve games. They rose up, and all but shutdown an opposing offense. The next time Northwestern had the ball Chase Young hit the arm of Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson, and created an interception. The two possessions after that produced a total of minus-1 yard, and allowed the Buckeye offense to stretch the lead to 31-21. Northwestern managed just a field goal after that, and even on that series I thought the OSU defense did an excellent job in goal line defense to keep them out of the
end zone. On Northwestern’s final six possessions the OSU defense held them to 106 yards; 76 of those came on one drive. Overall I thought the defense played well. They created three turnovers, sacked Thorson five times, and never really let the Wildcats get into a rhythm running the ball for long stretches. Chase Young harassed Thorson all night, and finished with three sacks, and a forced fumble. Linebacker Malik Harrison had another outstanding performance finishing with a team high ten tackles, and two quarterback hurries. Was it a perfect performance? No, but it was a far cry better than what we’d seen in other games this season.
What I Liked
I think I’m going with the receivers. This is as much for their season performance because
Saturday night was the cherry on top of an excellent 2018 for this group. Two years ago they were almost a liability. Last year they improved. This year they soared. Part of it is just the maturation process a player goes through in his career. But, a big part of it is interim receivers coach Brian Hartline. This group has a different look to it from a coaching standpoint. They run better routes, make consistently tough catches, and show an overall better awareness of the position. Parris Campbell has gone from a mid-round pick according to draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., to possibly working his way into the bottom of the first round. Binjimen Victor is still inconsistent, but it is indisputable he’s improved. True freshman Chris Olave has steadily gotten better, and appears to be a star in the making. Hartline has turned this group into a very dangerous weapon, and the perfect compliment to the rocked-armed Haskins.
What I Didn’t Like
For the second year in a row the Buckeyes allowed a far less talented opponent to hang around in the Big Ten Championship game. Urban Meyer’s team was up 24-7 at the half, but it could have easily been 31, or even 38-7. On their second drive of the game, and already leading 7-0,
Haskins hit K.J. Hill for 27 yards to the Northwestern 31. But, a personal foul on Isaiah Prince nullified the play, and the possession went nowhere. Leading 14-7 late in the first quarter, Victor dropped a pass that would have created a third and very short. Instead the Buckeyes were left with a long yardage situation they were not able to convert. Very early in the fourth quarter the Buckeyes had a chance to stretch their lead to 13, but a Blake Haubeil chip shot field goal was blocked.
Northwestern and Wisconsin (last year’s championship game opponent) may not have the same level of talent as Ohio State, but they’re still good football teams who are capable of taking advantage of openings left by opponents. Both did that against the Buckeyes, and the games became needlessly close.
There are a lot of people saying the Buckeyes didn’t win in blowout fashion, and acting like this is a failure on their part. It may not have been a blowout, but the Buckeyes beat the 21st ranked team by three touchdowns. THREE. Northwestern is a scrappy bunch who had no intention of
being steamrolled. So, let’s give Ohio State some credit for a good win over a quality opponent. Yes, the defensive did not live up to preseason expectations. Yes, there was a loss to Purdue. But, along the way they beat four teams who either are or were ranked by the College Football Playoff committee. Two of those wins were on the road; one at a neutral site. They’re Big Ten champions for the second year in a row. Whether or not you’re chosen for the playoff is subjective to whatever criteria the committee decides to apply to each individual team (yes, I’m saying different teams are judged by different standards). But, the Big Ten championship is something earned on the field. No endless arguments over if you deserve to be conference champion. No committees deciding who is awarded the championship trophy. A team earns their way into the game in Indianapolis, and must win while there to be called a champion. The Buckeyes overcame a lot this season, and did just that. There are far worse consolation prizes than the Rose Bowl. That’s a special bowl game. The Tournament of Roses people are the best at what they do; I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ll go on a rant about the committee a little later in this blog, but make no mistake I plan on enjoying seeing the Buckeyes in Pasadena. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is only the fourth time in 34 years they’ve appeared in the game. I grew up watching them in the Rose Bowl. This is going to be fun.
Random Stuff From a Cat Skinning
Haskins broke five championship game records. The records for total yards, passing yards, completions, TD passes, and completion percentage now belong to him. He also broke the Big
Ten’s single season total yards record that was held by Michigan’s Denard Robinson. Haskins has 4,702 yards for the season. We’re not done yet folks. He also broke J.T. Barrett’s school record for most total touchdowns in single season with 51. He sits just 420 yards from reaching 5,000 for the season. Want some perspective? Only ten quarterbacks in school history have thrown for that many yards in their career. I still can’t believe seven Big Ten coaches completely left him off of their conference MVP ballot. If he isn’t invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, it will be an incredible error.
Two other Buckeyes tied or broke championship game records. Chase Young’s three sacks tied Michigan State’s Denicos Allen. Drue Chrisman’s 54.8 yard punting average broke the old mark held by former Buckeye (and current Philadelphia Eagle) Cam Johnston.
Johnnie Dixon isn’t the only Buckeye who reached a milestone Saturday night. J.K. Dobbins went over 1,000 yards for the second straight season. Parris Campbell is just six catches from tying David Boston’s single season record of 85.
As I mentioned earlier, true freshman Chris Olave caught another touchdown pass. But, did you see him pass blocking? On one play Haskins adjusted the blocking to counter a potential blitz, and repositioned Olave closer to left tackle Thayer Munford. The skinny freshman more than held his own against a Wildcat defensive end, and helped his offensive lineman give Haskins time for another completion. That wasn’t the only time he showed off his toughness. He made a catch over the middle knowing he was going to get hammered. Really loving what I see from him. He wasn’t the only true freshman to have his moment in the spotlight. With Northwestern starting to build some momentum just across the Ohio State half of midfield, defensive lineman Tommy Togiai fought through a block, and dropped the ball carrier for a four yard loss to create a third down passing situation for the Wildcats. Jeffrey Okudah knocked the subsequent pass away to force a Northwestern punt. One more true freshman got to have his moment. Taron Vincent, who has been used as a nose tackle in a 3-3-5 look, got a sack in the fourth quarter.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano used a concept I don’t think we’ve seen all season. He had defensive end Jonathan Cooper dropping into coverage at times.
I thought redshirt freshman right guard Wyatt Davis played well after a slow beginning in his first career start. He took the place of the injured Demetrius Knox, who delayed foot surgery so he could be with his teammates in Indianapolis.
After the game Shelley Meyer said her husband is doing much better the last few weeks since getting his headaches under control.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald is a class act. He’s done an excellent job with that program and it did not surprise me to see him get his team into the conference championship.
When asked if he is going to play in the Rose Bowl, Dre’mont Jones replied, “We’ll see.” Stay tuned folks, I’m already picturing Haskell Garrett starting in place of him against the Huskies. The good news for now at least, is Dwayne Haskins said he’s playing.
Is it just me, or do college kickers REALLY struggle on field goals from the right hash mark? I saw at least three missed from that side of the field in the games I watched Saturday.
I’m not going to get too far ahead, but the Rose Bowl presents an interesting matchup. Haskins has thrown for 47 touchdowns. Washington has given up just 9 TD passes. They’ve not seen an arm like Haskins', or receivers this fast and athletic.
OK, If You Say So, But....
Well, I didn’t expect any change among the top three of Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame in the final rankings of the College Football Playoff committee, and there weren’t. After choking for the second straight year against the Crimson Tide, Georgia dropped out of the top four, and was
replaced by Oklahoma. The Sooners make the playoff for the second year in a row. Georgia and their two losses dropped all the way to fifth. You read that correctly. Georgia with TWO losses was still placed in front of Ohio State. No matter what the Buckeyes did, the committee wanted nothing to do with them. Placing TWO LOSS Georgia in front of them isn’t just a slap in the face by the College Football Playoff committee; it spit in the Buckeyes’ face. Committee chair Rob Mullens said none of the group of Oklahoma, Georgia, and Ohio State were viewed as better than the others. In that case they go to protocol for deciding between the teams. Two of those are conference championships, and strength of schedule. When asked why Oklahoma’s conference championship was enough to move them ahead of Georgia, but not Ohio State, Mullens said the committee considered Georgia’s two
losses compared to Ohio State’s loss, and strength of schedule. Now, Georgia’s non-conference schedule is embarrassingly bad. It consisted of Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, UMass, and their annual game with in state rival Georgia Tech. Yeah Rob, I can really see why that would keep them ahead of the Buckeyes. Georgia’s best win came against tenth-ranked Florida. The Buckeyes’ best win was against number four Michigan. Georgia’s second-best win was against number fourteen Kentucky. Ohio State’s was against twelfth-ranked Penn State. I’m not going to get into the Ohio State or Oklahoma debate just yet, but putting the Buckeyes behind TWO LOSS Georgia is absurd, and what Mullens is saying doesn’t add up. The system is broken folks, and until it stops being a beauty contest we’re no better off than we were when the polls determined national champions.
I was debating whether or not to do another blog later this week as I’ve done all through the regular season. I have some things to say about the College Football Playoff committee, and their treatment of this Ohio State team. Keep an eye out for that on Friday.