I wasn’t going to pay much attention to the Alabama-Clemson game. But, after watching for a bit I began to observe each team with a little more scrutiny. While doing this it dawned on me that Ryan Day’s mission is very clear: put the Buckeyes on the same level as Alabama and Clemson. I’m sure that set a few of you off, and right now you’re screaming, “THEY ARE ON THE SAME LEVEL!!” No. I’m sorry to say they’re not. Alabama and Clemson don’t lose to teams like Iowa and Purdue. Alabama and Clemson don’t repeatedly give up plays of over 70, 80, and 90 yards. I wish the Buckeyes were on the same level. They certainly were just a few years ago, and I really don’t think they’re THAT far away despite what the media will tell you. But, right now they’re just not quite there, and it is up to Ryan Day to raise them up to match those two.
Day started the process of catching The Big Two by hanging onto nearly all of the players committed to the 2019 Buckeye recruiting class, he added to it. The biggest addition was defensive end Zach Harrison of Olentangy Orange High School. He’s not just the top player in Ohio, he’s one of the top players in the country (247 Sports has him fourth overall). Not long after he officially took over the head coaching duties, Day brought in what could be another huge piece to the “Catch The Big Two” puzzle when Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields joined the program. Coming out of high school Fields was rated almost dead even with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who just led the Tigers to a national championship. Recruiting is going to be a very big part of catching, and staying with Alabama and Clemson. So far, Day is holding his own.
Without question the one on-field part of the Ohio State football program that needs to change is the performance of the defense. 2018 was a season of too many. Too many big plays. Too many yards. Too many points. Too many missed assignments. Far more negatives than positives, and Day has recently taken steps to remedy that. It began when co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Alex Grinch left to take over Oklahoma’s defense not long after the Rose Bowl, and continued the early part of this week. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, and linebackers coach Bill Davis will not return for 2019. The status of cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is still up in the air. Grinch was thought to next in line to take over the Buckeye defense because most thought Schiano would leave to take a head coaching job somewhere. But, the consensus is, and I completely agree, Day and Grinch were not on the same page. Day decided to bring in Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison as co-defensive coordinators. Hafley is a young guy like Day, and has been the 49ers defensive backs coach for the last three seasons. Mattison is not a young guy. He’s a 69-year old grizzled vet who has coached for 47 years, and been just about everywhere. Most recently he’s been on Michigan’s staff for the last eight seasons, and has been handling their defensive line the last few years. In case that didn’t quite sink in I’ll say it again: Ryan Day went and took away one of the key pieces of MICHIGAN’S coaching staff. More on that situation in a minute because Day
wasn’t finished with the Wolverines. For now, back to Hafley and Mattison. Why co-defensive coordinators? Day said he likes a diversity of opinions. So, Hafley will handle the secondary while Mattison controls the front seven. Not more than 24 hours after taking Mattison away from the Wolverines, Day hired another from their staff when he brought Al Washington on board to coach the Buckeye linebackers. He held the same position for the Wolverines for just one season. Washington and Day coached together at Boston College a few years ago. He’s a Columbus native, who played at Bishop Watterson high school, and if his name seems a bit familiar, his dad, Al Washington, Sr., was a starting linebacker on Ohio State’s 1980 Rose Bowl team (is it sad I forget what I went into the basement for, but can remember Al Washington Sr.’s number? It was 15).
I like these hires. Something needed to be done about the defense, and Day has taken action. 49er players speak glowingly of Hafley. He’s been an assistant at the college level before (Albany, Pitt, Rutgers), and knows how to recruit. Mattison is an old-school type who has been a coordinator in the past, and has the reputation as someone you do not want to take a down off when playing for him. He was on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida when the Gators won the national championship in 2006. Mattison is a tireless recruiter, and is responsible for Michigan landing Rashan Gary and Jabrill Peppers. Gary was ESPN’s number one player in 2016; Peppers number two in 2014. Tim Tebow said he would not have gone to Florida if not for Mattison. Washington has also built a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He’s credited for keeping the Wolverines in the race for Zach Harrison, and has built strong ties throughout the state of Ohio. Day and his new staff must continue to recruit at the level we saw from Urban Meyer if they want to compete with Alabama and Clemson. But, bringing in highly rated recruits is all for not if a team struggles on the field. The new additions to the coaching staff are charged with turning the unit into a championship defense. How successful they are is going to go a long way in determining if the Buckeyes can make it “The Big Three”, or will they still be that half-step behind.
One area where the Buckeyes most certainly don’t trail Alabama or Clemson is on offense. Led by Dwayne Haskins (I’m sure you already know he’s decided to enter the NFL Draft) the Buckeyes had the number two offense in the country. Although it is almost impossible to replace the kind of production Haskins provided, I’m not overly worried about the offense. The Buckeyes are still going to be very good on that side of the ball. Regardless of who starts at quarterback (Tate Martell, Matthew Baldwin, or Justin Fields) I don’t doubt Day, and new passing game
coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich will have them ready to pilot a high-powered offense. We saw what Day did with Haskins, and Yurcich oversaw a very productive offense at Oklahoma State. The announcements by receivers Binjimen Victor, and K.J. Hill that they are returning for their senior seasons gives the Buckeye offense a huge boost. Sometime during the 2019 season Hill will become the school’s all-time leading receiver.
As I said earlier, I really don’t think all that much of a gap separates the Buckeyes from The Big Two, and much of that has to do with the level of talent Meyer recruited. But, I think it is very clear Ryan Day’s mission is to raise the Buckeyes that last little bit to match Alabama and Clemson.
Have you noticed a pattern? I know what you’re thinking, “You mean the pattern of the SEC being just .500 in bowl games the last two seasons, and College Football Playoff committee overrating the teams in the conference?” Close. Same conference, different pattern. The one I’m speaking about is when an SEC team wins a bowl game their fans, and apologists in the media thump their collective chests about the obvious superiority of God’s conference. But, when they lose a high-profile, big-time bowl those same fans, and media apologists tell anyone who will listen it was because the SEC team was unmotivated because they weren’t chosen for the playoff.
Auburn lost to UCF in the Peach Bowl last year. Georgia lost to three-loss Texas in the Sugar Bowl this year. Both were heavy favorites. Both played uninspired games. So, while the unmotivated claim may be true, I’m not buying it as an excuse. Auburn and Georgia lost to inferior teams, and that’s all there is to it. The way they lost falls directly into the laps of their head coaches. Why has Ohio State performed well in the Cotton and Rose Bowls after being left out? Because Urban Meyer took those games very serious, and would not allow his team to dwell on being snubbed. I’m sure Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, and Georgia’s Kirby Smart will tell you they did not allow their teams to be distracted by not making the playoff. But, the performances of their teams say otherwise.
As I said in a recent blog, I did indeed watch all or part of every bowl game. Why? Because I enjoy them. The Big Ten went 5-4. They won both matchups with the ACC, but were only 1-3 against the SEC. If Michigan State had even a mediocre offense they’d have beaten Oregon. They don’t, so they didn’t. If Penn State had even a mediocre kicker they’d have beaten Kentucky. They don’t, so they didn’t. Northwestern’s win over Utah in the Holiday Bowl gives them three straight bowl wins. If you saw Wisconsin hammer Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium you know why southern schools are against expanding the playoff, and playing the first round on campus sites. Those Miami players were COLD, and played like it.
Speaking of the ACC, two of their five bowl wins were against Group of Five teams. I don’t care if Clemson won the national championship, the rest of the conference is garbage. Conference runner-up Pitt’s loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl left them with a 7-7 record. Clemson is on a different plane of existence than the rest of the ACC, and the conference as a whole should not be judged on the Tigers’ success. Overall it has fallen behind the Pac 12.
A couple of observations on the bowl season:
Best: Cincinnati’s 35-31 win over Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl was an exciting back-and-forth affair. The same can be said for Iowa’s win over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.
Worst: Purdue’s non-effort in a 63-14 loss to Auburn in the Music City Bowl was pathetic. I knew Auburn would probably handle them easily, but that was awful. If I’m Purdue’s athletic director, I’m asking head coach Jeff Brohm a few questions about his team’s lack of preparedness. Houston’s 70-14 pounding at the hands of Army in the Armed Forces Bowl isn’t far behind.
Biggest Surprise: Ohio getting a shutout against San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl. The MAC has struggled in bowl games, so getting a win like this over a team from the Mountain West, arguably the second-best Group of Five conference, is a big deal. The MAC has two bowl wins in two years, and the Bobcats have both.
Best pre-Bowl Game Competition Prize: A pinball machine. The Bahamas Bowl gave a pinball machine to the winning team in the pinball tournament between Florida International and Toledo. The FUI Panthers now have a new prize for their football complex.
I really didn’t care who won the Alabama-Clemson game, but isn’t it kind of fun seeing Saban, and the Crimson Tide faithful left wondering what happened? The media had Tide fans convinced
since mid-September this was all just a formality because their team was going to waltz to a
championship. I’m surprised by the margin, but not by Clemson winning. I felt you could throw
the ball on Alabama. Their secondary looked very pedestrian to me when I saw them against Georgia and Oklahoma. I also felt a good pass rush would give Tide quarterback Tua Tagolaivoa problems because he is not comfortable trying to throw under pressure. Give Clemson true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence a ton of credit for handling Alabama’s pass rush, and delivering accurate throws. That’s one of the things that made a big difference in the game.
Haven’t checked in on NFL Buckeyes in a while. Now seems like a good time to do so. Zeke Elliot led the league in rushing (1,434 yards), and Michael Thomas led in receptions (125). Thomas was named first-team All-Pro; Zeke was named to the second team. I heard longtime NFL insider Peter King talking about his All-Pro ballot on NBCSN recently. He said he took Antonio Brown off after the problems he had with the Steelers before the Bengals game, and replaced him with Thomas. My question is this: why would you have anyone on your ballot ahead of Thomas? But, then again we are talking Peter King here.
Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard was snubbed by the NFL All-Rookie team. Denver’s Bradley Chubb certainly deserved a place on the team, but Marcus Davenport of the Saints had 1 ½ fewer sacks than Hubbard. The former Buckeye had 6 sacks, 27 tackles, and 9 quarterback hits. Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward was the only Buckeye named to the team.
Curtis Samuel caught 39 passes for nearly 500 yards for the Panthers. The Chargers’ Joey Bosa had 5 ½ sacks in only seven games. Miami linebacker Jerome Baker finished his rookie season with 79 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. Tight ends Nick Vannett and Jeff Heurman had breakout seasons for their teams. Vannett caught 29 passes for 269 yards for the Seahawks, while Heuerman hauled in 31 passes for 281 yards for Denver. I could go on and on listing former Buckeyes, but we’d be here all week. So, these are just a few of the highlights.
With their all-Buckeye secondary of Marshawn Lattimore, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, and Kurt Coleman I’m hoping to see the Saints win the Super Bowl. Besides Michael Thomas, who I mentioned earlier, receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. is another Buckeye on the roster. J.T. Barrett has been on and off the team’s practice squad all season. Currently he is not a part of the team, but I’m hoping he gets signed by them again soon. A total of nineteen former Buckeyes are still alive in the NFL playoffs.
If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The Kitchen(s)
For those who don’t know, I’m a Browns fan. As a proud Ohioan I also support the Bengals, but in the end I’m very much a Browns fan. On Wednesday Browns’ general manager John Dorsey hired Freddie Kitchens as the team’s new head coach. After head coach Hue Jackson and
offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired, Kitchens took over a struggling offense and made it very productive with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose 27 touchdown passes set a rookie record. After looking like an entirely different team over the second half of the season I’m a bit surprised Dorsey cleaned house in the coaching staff after hiring Kitchens. I’m a little apprehensive, but I trust John Dorsey. I really believe this guy knows what he’s doing. On his NBCSN show “Pro Football Talk” Mike Florio heavily criticized the hiring of Kitchens. Much like the Steeler fan at my local Wendy’s who ran his mouth at anyone who would listen about what a terrible decision the Browns made when they drafted Mayfield, I sincerely hope Florio has to eat his words as well. Wonder if those words tasted as good as the burger that jerk was dribbling all over his Roethlisberger jersey? I doubt it.
I have to be honest about something. I think Baker Mayfield is a jerk. I really do. He’s no different now than he was at Oklahoma. You know what? I really don’t care because he’s exactly what the Browns need. I was sick of seeing the team lose constantly, and he gives them the best chance to win in years. If fans of one certain NFL team can cheer for a quarterback twice accused of sexual assault, I can cheer for a jerk. Character doesn’t matter in the NFL. Winning or losing does, and Mayfield gives my favorite team a chance to win.
Without wall-to-wall football I’ve had to find other things to watch during the long stretches between what few games are on. So far, “Night Gallery” episodes on DVD (the younger readers can look up that one), and “The Amazing Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime are filling in nicely. Great to see a comedy like Mrs. Maisel that relies on good writing and acting rather than weirdness having such success. Highly recommend it.