The Last Waltz
One more to go. One last waltz for Urban Meyer as head coach of Ohio State. It may not be the College Football Playoff, but he’s getting to end his career coaching in a game he’s always wanted to be a part of. Meyer has said the Rose Bowl is a bucket list game for him; a bowl he grew up watching, but has never been to. The Washington Huskies are the last name on Meyer’s dance card.
When you first look at Washington’s offense the thing you notice is their experience. A four-year starter at quarterback, running back, and tight end. Jake Browning has started 52 of a possible 53 games at quarterback, and is sixth on the Pac-12’s all-time passing list. He’ll take snaps from the shotgun or under center, is not much of a runner, but can keep plays alive with his legs. When I’ve watched him he tends to hang onto the ball too long when looking to throw. Every now and then he’ll throw across his body, or late over the middle. However, his completion percentage for his career is around 65%. Don’t think for a second he isn’t a good quarterback, and dangerous. He’s a quality player who is capable of doing damage. The Buckeyes must not allow him too much time to stand in the
pocket. He has struggled at times when pressured. If OSU is unable to get to him with their defensive linemen I look for them to bring their linebackers on blitzes. Running back Myles Gaskin is the only player in Pac-12 history to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, and is the school’s all-time leading rusher. They are similar to Michigan in that they rely on their offensive line to pound away on opposing defenses, and like to get their tight ends involved in the offense. They use a lot of formations, and will even give an unbalanced look occasionally (lining up with both tackles on the same side of the line of scrimmage). This is good news for the Buckeyes. They matched up well with Michigan, and I think they more than do so with the Huskies. This is not an explosive offense. The key to this for the Buckeyes is not allowing big plays, and forcing Washington into sustained drives; something the Huskies are not good at. Another thing they’ve struggled with is scoring touchdowns once inside the red zone; they’ve done so on just over half of their chances.
Just like their game with Michigan, this Rose Bowl’s marquee matchup is Dwayne Haskins and, Ohio State’s group of athletic receivers versus Washington’s outstanding pass defense. The Huskies enter the game tied for nineteenth in the country in passing yards allowed per game, and it isn’t like they haven’t faced good quarterbacks. This season they’ve seen Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Oregon’s Justin Herbert (who many had as the top quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft), and Gardner Minshew II of Washington State. But, Washington’s coaching staff acknowledges they have not faced anyone as good as Haskins. I’m also pretty confident in saying they haven’t seen a group of receivers this fast and athletic. Michigan hadn’t either, and they found out in a
hurry how many issues all of that speed can cause. The feeling is Washington’s secondary is more talented than Michigan’s. Cornerback Byron Murphy was named a first-team All-American by two outlets, and second-team by four others. Safety Taylor Rapp is a consensus All-American (named first-team by three or more outlets). But, like they did against Michigan I expect the Buckeyes to go after the Huskies’ third cornerback. Myles Bryant is good against the run and pass, but he’s not REALLY good at either. Penn State did things to isolate him in coverage last year when they met in the Fiesta Bowl, and had success doing so; look for Ryan Day to figure out ways to do the same. He’s only 5’8”, and could have a great deal of trouble trying to handle OSU’s slot receivers; all of whom go around 6’1”. Washington runs a pattern-match scheme. If the receivers run patterns straight down the field it looks like man-to-man coverage. But, if the receivers run crossing routes the linebackers, and slot defenders will switch who they are covering just like a zone. That’s probably way over-simplifying it, but if you want a better explanation you can click here; Eleven Warriors did an excellent Film Study piece on their defense a few weeks ago. The Huskies don’t generate a lot of sacks (only 21 for the season), and if they blitz it is usually up the middle. Two of their three sack leaders are defensive backs. They are more than happy to drop eight players into coverage at times, and keep everything in front of them. That could be disastrous for them if they choose to do this more often than not. If you give Haskins time he will shred you. Blitzing Haskins means the Huskies will be in man-to-man coverage. I’m not certain that’s something they really want to do, but may be forced into it. Oregon had success in their OT win over the Huskies with the shallow crossing routes the Buckeyes killed Michigan with. I think you’ll see Day go to those
early to see how Washington tries to handle them. They are very big along their defensive line. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines is 316 pounds, and is charged with tying up the middle of the line of scrimmage in order to allow Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Ben Burr-Kirven to roam untouched. Burr-Kirven (pictured right) may be undersized for a middle linebacker, but he is excellent at reading his keys, shedding blocks, and getting to the ball. Most of the Huskies acknowledge they have not faced a team who runs and throws as well as the Buckeyes. You can’t take away everything from an offense like Ohio State’s. It will be up to Day, and co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to figure out what the Huskies are giving, and take advantage of it. This defense does not give up big plays. I think that trend will be severely tested by the Buckeye offense.
Chris Peterson is in his fifth season as the Husky head coach. He has a 47-20 record, but has won 32 games in the last three seasons. Despite the success the Huskies have seen under him they’ve won just one bowl game.
Jake Browning has completed 65% of his passes for just under 2,900 yards with 16 TD’s and 10 interceptions. Leading rusher Myles Gaskin has 1,147 yards, while Salvon Ahmed averages over 6 yards per carry on his 99 rushes. Aaron Fuller (51 catches) and Andre Baccallia (43 catches) are by far the team’s leading receivers. As a unit they’ve lost just five fumbles all season.
Ben Burr-Kriven has an astronomical 165 tackles. Safety Taylor Rapp leads the team with five sacks. Byron Murphy has four interceptions to go along with thirteen pass breakups. They have just 58 tackles-for-loss as a team (the Buckeyes have 93).
Kicker Peyton Henry has hit 15 of 21 field goals, but is just 6 of 11 over 30 yards with a long of 41.
What Do I Think?
The Buckeyes are the best team Washington has faced all season. I don’t think you can say the Huskies are the best team OSU has played. Ohio State is just more talented, and plays in a better conference. It’s Urban Meyer’s last game, and the Buckeyes have been disrespected all season. This is a highly motivated team. Ryan Day has had nearly a month to figure out how to attack Washington’s defense. I really like how all of that adds up.
The Husky players have said they have the best defense in the country. Tough talk from a team with three losses. It’s put up or shut up time for the Huskies. I think Washington will have a very difficult time dealing with the overall speed and athleticism of Ohio State. The Buckeyes shut them up by 17-21 points.
Left tackle Thayer Munford will be a game time decision. If he can’t go, Josh Alabi will start in his place. In other injury news it looks like receiver Austin Mack, who was injured against Purdue, will not play. Kicker Sean Nuernberger has been out since the Minnesota game, but is listed first on the depth chart. But, I haven’t really heard anything about his status.
Dwayne Haskins said Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert’s decision to return to school for his senior season will have no bearing on whether or not he’ll enter the NFL Draft. Herbert was considered by many to be the top quarterback in the draft. Center Michael Jordan, safety Jordan Fuller, and receiver K.J. Hill have all said they’ve not yet made any decision on entering the draft. Day has already said if Jordan returns he will move back to left guard, and Josh Myers will start at center.
When asked if he would leave if Georgia quarterback Justin Fields transfers to Ohio State, Tate Martell’s answer was an emphatic no. If Haskins leaves, Martell said he intends to be the starter next season because that’s what he’s worked for the last two years. One of the things I love about Martell is he’s such a competitor.
Letterman Row is reporting Oklahoma really wants to bring in OSU co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to run their defense. I can see Grinch leaving because when he was hired it looked like defensive coordinator Greg Schiano would almost assuredly become a head coach or go back to the NFL after this season. Schiano said recently he loves coaching for the Buckeyes, his family loves Columbus, and he’s hoping to be retained by Day. Look for a resolution to this soon after the Rose Bowl. Letterman Row also dropped an interesting hint about the coaching staff when they said the only change on the offensive side could be line coach Greg Studrawa. Also, Day is supposedly looking into hiring Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurchich to take over the Buckeye offense.
A Michigan recruit, who happens to be from Columbus, was chirping recently about the Buckeyes getting no more gold pants in the coming years. He said all of that before the Wolverines laid a colossal egg against Florida in the Peach Bowl. It was Michigan’s third straight bowl loss. I really believe Ohio State broke their spirit with that blowout win over them. Michigan did not look anything like the team that swaggered into Ohio Stadium. The attitude and confidence was gone. Yes, they had a few starters walk out on them because of the NFL Draft, but that was a team largely going through the motions as the game wore on. Quarterback Shea Patterson announced he is not entering the draft. I’m sure the hype machine will start building up the Wolverines and Patterson again sometime this summer, but for right now my attitude about him returning to the Wolverines is, “Big deal.”
The College Football Playoff semi-finals confirmed what we all knew: the committee did a lousy job of ranking teams. Oklahoma’s defense STILL stinks, and has the worst pass defense mankind has ever seen. Notre Dame may have been undefeated, but are hardly one of the four best teams. The Irish have lost their last six BCS/CFP bowls by an average of 24 points. The old Golden Dome ain’t what she used to be.
A Columbus TV station gave defensive lineman Robert Landers the mic at Rose Bowl media day with predictable results. Landers is a funny kid, and is a natural on camera.
The Rose Bowl marks the end of another legendary career. Longtime Buckeye beat writer Tim May is retiring from the Columbus Dispatch. Tim has done an outstanding job covering the Buckeyes over the years, but most of all Tim is a good guy. Many media members from larger market TV and newspapers can be very arrogant and unfriendly. Not Tim. During an elevator ride we shared in Dallas a few years ago we struck up a conversation about the luggage the Fiesta Bowl had given as media gifts. That subject somehow morphed into my son living away from home while playing hockey (I think it was the whole luggage thing because when I brought home that Fiesta Bowl suitcase when my son was little, he immediately claimed it as his own). When I ran into Tim the day after the Buckeyes’ win over Oregon for the national championship, he immediately brought up my son, and wished him luck for the remainder of his season. I’m going to miss reading Tim’s work.
Just an observation I made while waiting to watch Luke Fickell’s Bearcats play in the Military Bowl. How on earth does anyone watch ESPN’s First Take? One of the great mysteries of the universe.
It’s Been How Long?
I had a hard time wrapping my head around how long it has been since the Buckeyes last played in the Rose Bowl. Mainly because it feels like yesterday since I watched them take on Oregon with my family, and son’s goalie coach in our hotel room in Gatineau, Quebec on January 1st, 2010. My son’s hockey team was playing in the Bell Capital Cup in Ottawa, just across the river from Gatineau. On our way back from the rink we stopped to pick up pizza for the game from a place where the owner spoke very little English. We didn’t speak any French at all, but managed to get a couple of pizza’s ordered.
The game itself was a seesaw affair with seventh-ranked Oregon. The Buckeyes ran out to a 10-0 first quarter lead only to see the Ducks come back to tie it. A Devin Barclay field goal gave the Buckeyes the lead again with just over a minute to go in the half. A few seconds later Ross Homan intercepted a tipped pass, and the Buckeyes were able to stretch their lead to 16-10 at the half on an Aaron Pettrey 45-yard field goal as time expired. The Ducks put a nose in front with a third quarter touchdown, but another Barclay field goal put OSU back on top. With nine minutes to go in the game, and clinging to that
two-point lead, the Buckeyes were faced with a third and thirteen near their own 45-yard line. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor was forced from the pocket, and while moving to his right threw downfield to tight end Jake Ballard, who had a step on the Oregon defender. Ballard leaped, seemingly went upward forever, and hauled in the pass for a 24-yard gain. Less than two minutes later DeVier Posey made another outstanding catch in the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 26-17 lead. The Ducks would not get any closer. Pryor was the game’s MVP, and may have played his best game as a Buckeye. The OSU defense held the high-flying Oregon offense to just 260 yards. The Buckeye offense had a hand in limiting Oregon’s offense because they possessed the ball for a Rose Bowl record 41 minutes.
The Rose Bowl is a special football game. If you think otherwise you don’t really appreciate college football. I got to experience it firsthand. The Tournament of Roses people are incredible hosts, that stadium is magical, and the game is almost a surreal experience. I’m really excited to see the Buckeyes play in this game again. Enjoy it everyone.