They were dominated by a better team, pure and simple. And now we know just what stands between what the Buckeyes are…and what we want them to be.
Columbus – It was somber in Columbus on Sunday morning, the morning after the night before. Anxiety, and discontent, reigned.
All of central Ohio had witnessed the humbling beating by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-0, and the string of negative perspective that comes with an historic disaster.
It was the first time that Urban Meyer had ever been shut out as a head coach.
It was the first time that Ohio State had been shut out since 1993…23 years ago when Michigan did it.
And it brought to a crashing end the yearly tease that comes with all but one Power 5 football program in America, the one that comes with the all those blowouts against the likes of Maryland and Rutgers. The one buoyed by the optimism of the thrilling finish against M-e-e-e-she-gun.
Maybe, despite all the youth and inexperience – maybe despite what logic and the endless comparison of day-to-day coverage provides – maybe this was an Ohio State team that really could go to the desert and delight us one more time. After all, how good could Clemson be? They play teams like Maryland and Rutgers, too. They play DUKE!
But ah, the tease. And the temerity of acting like Ohio State was no big deal, as a family member shared Saturday night as we watched together. “Look how cocky they (Clemson) are.” They’ll get theirs!
And the tease…when Deshaun Watson was picked off by the OSU secondary on Clemson’s opening drive.
But then…perspective. The reality over the next four quarters concerning the Buckeyes’ deficiencies.
The two missed field goals by kicker Tyler Durbin didn’t cost them the game, but it did highlight a missing link. Durbin, as he showed in the Michigan game, was no match for the moment. It seemed to deflate the team, as analyst and former quarterback Kirk Herbstreet pointed out; but it was nothing that good teams can’t, and don’t, overcome.
The offensive line, however, was another matter.
Yes, there was an early injury, but the bigger hurt up front had become apparent throughout the year – at Penn State, at Michigan State, and against Michigan for the first three quarters, when the offense just couldn’t make its way. After the defense held Clemson to a field goal with their opening score, there was no answering challenge from having settled in – only this obvious perspective.
OSU was a good team; but Clemson was not only good, but an opportunistic team!
And they turned to that opportunism swiftly, slashing through the Buckeyes line to harrass J.T. Barrett and render Curtis Samuel, Michael Weber, and the rest of the offense helpless. They couldn’t run east and west; and they couldn’t run north and south, either.
There was no thunder and lightning downfield; as there was no passing game, another deficiency. Receivers couldn’t get open and when they did Barrett was either in the grasp, or trying to evade the grasp, of linemen Clelin Ferrell or Christian Wilkins, both future first-rounders. When he did get time to throw the efforts were too often batted back in his face.
There was nothing left to do but ‘dink’, and ‘dunk’, and hope for some kind of miracle turnaround when the game was still within reach. At 24-0 it was realistically out of reach; and at 31-0 it became a foregone conclusion. OSU had been a good team throughout the year, a tease…but they were no Clemson.
The rankings, as high as #2, had been a tribute to Urban Meyer, his record, and his reputation for recruiting good talent and making great football teams out of it. And rest assured, this is a “good” football team. It just isn’t great. Clemson, and Alabama, as proven earlier in the day, ARE GREAT.
In short, OSU was manhandled by a bigger, stronger, better team experienced by last year’s loss to that same Alabama in the championship game, and 45-40, at that. It was no blowout. They had seen the elephant (forgive the pun), and Saturday they proved…they’re prepared to see it again.
Some perspective? Urban Meyer probably proved that this was his best coaching job to date, bringing a team with a deficient line, a deficient passing game, and a deficient kicking game so far. He promised after the game – “We’re not used to this, and we won’t become used to this. This won’t happen again.”
The tease? I believe him. This is already a good football team with 80% of its attributes returning in 2017. It has the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class coming in. And J.T. Barrett has hinted that he might return for his senior season.
And how many more times do you think they’ll have nine yards rushing for an entire half? How many more times do you believe they’ll get their butts handed to them up front with so much on the line? And won’t one of nation’s best high school kickers somehow find his way to campus between now and August?
Trust it, the priorities were put in order Saturday night. On a night that the city had to settle for celebrating the Columbus Blue Jackets, and their 15th consecutive victory, it stood as a priority well below the business at Lane and High. It has to get better. It will.
The tease begins again…on Tuesday!