GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some final notes, quotes and observations from Ohio State’s disastrous 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal Fiesta Bowl.
Where did that come from?
As I wrote after the game, perhaps we should have seen this coming. All of the Buckeyes’ weaknesses played into the Tigers’ strengths and the inverse of that wasn’t enough to affect the game. Ohio State’s passing attack has been poor all season and it was only going to be tougher to run the ball against Clemson’s stout defensive line. The formula was there for a Tigers victory.
That, of course, is easier to say now with the benefit of hindsight. But in the weeks leading up to this game, nobody saw a blowout coming from either team and if one was going to occur, it was more likely to be a Buckeyes victory. Ohio State entered the week as a 3-point favorite, but the line dropped dramatically at some sports books on Saturday morning. Perhaps that should have been a red flag.
Speaking of red flags, there were plenty to be found from Ohio State’s perspective on Saturday. The first came when the Buckeyes failed to capitalize on a Gareon Conley interception of Deshaun Watson on Clemson’s second offensive play of the game. Tyler Durbin missed two 47-yard field goals, which served as bad omens for the rest of the Ohio State offense. Little did we know those would be the Buckeyes’ best chances to score all day.
After the game, coaches and players alike seemed shellshocked. Nothing in the days leading up to Saturday suggested such a poor showing was on the horizon.
“Expected a much better performance,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Some guys played their tails off. Some other guys didn’t execute very well. No, I didn’t anticipate that.”
After throwing for 250-plus yards in each of the first two weeks of November, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett finished the 2016 campaign having thrown for 86, 124 and now 127 yards in the final three games.
I don’t, however, think it’s fair to pin that all on the Buckeyes QB. The protection this season was poor and the receivers were even worse. When it came to Ohio State’s struggling passing attack, it truly was a team effort.
A year ago, the Buckeyes ranked 100th in the nation in passing. After Saturday, they ranked 82nd for 2016. Those are not Ohio State standards.
“We will become a good passing team, we will,” Meyer insisted. “Next year.”
That’s easy to say now, but Meyer made similar comments in the exact same stadium a year ago. The reality is, assuming Barrett returns to Ohio State — more on that later — some staff changes may be in order. Meyer found himself in a similar predicament on the defensive side of the ball in 2013, a situation which was remedied when Everett Withers took the head coaching job at James Madison and Meyer was able to bring in Chris Ash.
A similar adjustment might not be as smooth this offseason. And given how poor the Ohio State offense has played down the stretch, it’s tough to tell which coaches’ futures could be in question.
Meyer was asked if the end of this season reminded him of three years ago. “In some regards,” he said. “I’m going to take a hard look at some things when we get back.”
How bad was Ohio State’s loss on Saturday? Some statistical/historical perspective:
- The Fiesta Bowl marked the Buckeyes’ first shutout loss in a bowl game since the 1921 Rose Bowl, which doubled as their first bowl game in school history.
- Meyer had never been shut out in his first 193 games as a head coach.
- Meyer’s first five losses at Ohio State came by a combined 35 points. Saturday’s alone came by 31.
- Ohio State hadn’t been shut out since 1993.
- This marked the Buckeyes’ biggest loss since a 35-3 loss at USC in 2008.
Should I stay or should I go?
Obviously, as is the case most years at Ohio State, some players have decisions to make as far as their futures are concerned. For those keeping track at home, Billy Price and Sam Hubbard have each already committed to returning to the Buckeyes in 2017, as did linebacker Chris Worley.
Nobody else was willing to commit one way or the other on Saturday, although Jalyn Holmes did send out this cryptic tweet:.
#BuckeyeNation thank you for everything you done I appreciate it
— QB KILLA (@JayHolmes_) January 1, 2017
I expect Malik Hooker, Raekwon McMillan, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Tyquan Lewis, Curtis Samuel and even Marcus Baugh will each also have decisions on their hands in the coming days.
I expect more of those players to leave than to stay, although each who did comment on his future mentioned that it would be tough to leave after losing 31-0. That rang true for Barrett, who also has a decision to make in the coming weeks because after having already graduated, his options are aplenty.
“My main focus was to focus on this year,” he said. “I didn’t really give it that much thought, but it will be really hard for me to walk away when we just lost 31-0.”
Barrett is the biggest wild card of the bunch and I have no true feel on what he’ll do. If he stays, Ohio State instantly becomes a playoff contender again in 2017. If he leaves, an already interesting offseason just got all the more wild.
Either way, a loss like this seems to have brought the Buckeyes’ program to an unexpected crossroads of sorts. Buckle up. The next few weeks could make for a bumpy ride.