GLENDALE, Ariz. — There’s a quote that’s become quite popular around the Ohio State program this season, showing up in videos, press conferences and on Twitter. Following the 21-point win at Oklahoma, coach Urban Meyer addressed his players and told them, “When I needed you the most, you did your very best!”
It’s easy to see how that could be true following arguably the most impressive win of the season. But the message, of course, is not results-based. It’s effort-based. And so it was that one of the greatest examples of living out that quote came during a disastrous performance.
True freshman Michael Jordan has quietly toiled at left guard since the beginning of the season. Despite being the first true freshman to start on the Ohio State offensive line since Orlando Pace in 1993, Jordan has largely been anonymous. However, that’s only because he’s doing his job. Opposing linemen never embarrass him, and he rarely commits penalties. Furthermore, he improved throughout the season. As a result, the spotlight never focused on him.
As fate would have it, in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl he finally drew the attention he’s deserved. Unfortunately for him, it was because he sprained his right ankle and had to leave the game. His replacement, redshirt sophomore Demetrius Knox, allowed a six-yard loss on the next play. The drive stalled, and Ohio State missed a field goal.
Jordan came back in on the next drive after trainers taped his ankle. However, he was still moving more gingerly than normal. He lasted just four plays before Ohio State substituted Knox back in during a timeout. For the last 22 minutes of the first half, Jordan watched the Buckeyes from the sideline.
“It felt bad,” he said. “I didn’t like it at all.”
It became clear that Jordan was Ohio State’s best option, even with the injury. He fought through the pain and returned to the field for the second half. The Buckeyes already trailed 17-0 and showed no signs of turning around what already qualified as a disaster. Two plays into the third quarter, running back Mike Weber lost a fumble that Clemson recovered.
The Tigers subsequently scored to make it 24-0. From there, virtually no hope of a comeback remained. Jordan could have stopped, citing his injury. He said the thought never crossed his mind.
“I love my unit,” he said. “I was playing for my offensive line brothers and my brothers on the team.”
He lasted the entire second half on a bad ankle. He impressed his fellow offensive linemen, including two starters who will return with him in 2017. In the locker room after the game, he moved with a limp that made it clear what he’d just been through.
“That’s a tough-nosed dude,” right guard Billy Price said. “That’s a dude right there. As a true freshman, that’s a dude. I kind of looked at him and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be able to do this.’ He fights hard and he goes hard.”
Added left tackle Jamarco Jones: “His ankle looks pretty bad. It takes guts, man, to go out there and do it. We couldn’t keep him off the field.”
When Ohio State needed him the most, he did his very best.