Ohio State can’t muster much offense in 31-0 defeat … Barrett rattled by Clemson defense with heavy rush … Tigers hand Meyer first shutout as a coach.
The prevailing opinion about what Ohio State needed for success was to harass interception-prone Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson into throwing a couple of picks.
And — voila! — before their national semifinal game reached the midway point in the second quarter, Gareon Conley and Malik Hooker had each managed to pilfer a pass.
But the malaise that began to affect this offense late in the regular-season carried over to the playoffs. J.T. Barrett and his mates couldn’t generate a ground game, connected through the air only sporadically and were utter failures at stringing together first downs on their way to shockingly one-sided, 31-0 Fiesta Bowl defeat.
No opponent had ever held an Urban Meyer team scoreless in a career that’s spanned 15 years and 194 games.
The Buckeyes, who were shut out for the first time since 1993, were dominated in total yardage in the first half, 275-90. It ended 470-215.
Barrett was hounded by a fierce rush most of the night, and when he had time, he couldn’t find open receivers. He also continued a troubling trend by having three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage while throwing for a mere 137 yards.
Mike Weber, a 1,000-yard rusher and the Big Ten freshman of the year, was a non-factor with 24 yards on five carries and two fumbles.
Barrett, the team’s second-leading rusher with 847 yards, officially gained minus-two yards on 11 attempts. Think the Tigers were ready for that quarterback draw?
The listless offense finished with a grand total of nine first downs.
The knee-jerk analysis of the Buckeyes will be that they were overrated and didn’t deserve to make the playoff. But they throttled Big 12 champ Oklahoma by three touchdowns on the road and won at Wisconsin and beat Michigan at home.
What they were was maddeningly inconsistent, which we probably should have expected from the youngest Power 5 team in the nation. They hung 45 points on Oklahoma but, in the final two regular-season games, they had just 310 yards and 17 points at Michigan State and 280 yards and 17 points in regulation against Michigan.
That he managed to get them through this season with an 11-2 record and make the playoffs with just three returning starters on each side of the ball — and only one senior first-stringer in center Pat Elflein — probably qualifies as one of Meyer’s greatest coaching feats.
But this Disaster in the Desert will sting for a while, and it was a bad dream from the start. The Buckeyes lost starting guard Michael Jordan on the first play of the second series. He’s a true freshman but was considered one of the strengths of the team. Given the offensive-line woes, it’s not like there were quality back-ups waiting for a shot.
After Conley picked off Watson in Clemson territory, sub guard Demetrius Knox was beaten on third-and-1, and Barrett was dropped for a loss. Tyler Durbin then missed a 47-yard field goal, inches to the right.
After a 54-yard kick return by Parris Campbell, the Buckeyes couldn’t capitalize. Durbin missed another 47-yard field goal, this time barely to the left.
While the Buckeyes were failing to cash in — it wasn’t all on Durbin, the offense needed to score TDs — the Tigers built a 10-0 lead on the strength of big completions to their first-round-draft-choice receiver, Mike Williams. He was one of their many big-time talents.
The Buckeye defense, though, probably played well enough to win, holding up commendably against Clemson’s high-powered attack, but it had to play way too many snaps because of the no-show offense.
There were third-down drops by Weber, Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown that would have extended drives.
After collecting just three first downs in the first half, the Buckeyes looked to be on the move with their first possession in the second half. But Weber lost a fumble.
Barrett also had a critical overthrow that led to an interception.
Ohio State simply didn’t have the offensive firepower to overcome that many gaffes against the best team in the nation (yep, I’m predicting a Clemson win over Alabama).
Here was the Buckeyes’ night in microcosm: After their only chunk play of the game — a 64-yard run by Samuel early in the fourth quarter — left tackle Jamarco Jones was flagged for a mindless false start. That made it first-and-15, and it might as well have been first-and-the-Appalachian Trail.
Their next four plays were an incomplete pass, minus-two yards on a Barrett keeper, a sack for a 10-yard loss and then an interception.
The Clemson back-ups took over after that.
The Buckeyes’ inability to even be competitive was a jolt to the system. They certainly have much work to do. The offensive line needs to be rebuilt, difference-making receivers need to be found, and any assistant connected to the play-calling probably shouldn’t feel safe this off-season.
But while they’ll lose a handful of underclassmen to the NFL, the Buckeyes return a slew of starters. And the staff is putting together perhaps the best recruiting class in program history, which means help is on the way.
Meyer said afterward he expects to make another trip to the playoffs next season. And considering what he accomplished this year with such a youthful bunch, I’m inclined to believe him.