A Few Modest Observations About The Buckeyes

It hasn’t been an easy year for Buckeye Nation. I went to the game yesterday, and that wasn’t easy, either, as Ohio State eked out a win over Nebraska. The game featured the painful aspects of this year’s team that have become all too familiar — a very shaky defense that routinely gives up big plays, a running game that often misfires in the clutch, and an absence of the big plays we’ve become used to seeing.

Ohio State fans are scratching the heads and wondering what has happened? Why aren’t the highly rated recruits we’ve been reading about crushing every opponent? Sure, the team is 8-1, but it’s a very uncomfortable 8-1.

I wonder if Ohio State hasn’t been, to some extent, a victim of its own success. Every year, a bunch of Ohio State players leave college early to go to the pros — often being drafted in the first or second round. Every year, Ohio State coaches move on to better jobs. Other than Urban Meyer, the turnover has been extraordinary. How much better would Ohio State be if all of those talented underclassmen were still playing, and those coaches were still coaching their systems?

I’m not making excuses, just an observation. Ohio State has been able to overcome the constant turnover and jell as a team in prior years, but that doesn’t mean it will happen every year. A lot of being a good team is continuity, experience, knowing the scheme, and playing together as a team. When you’re shuffling the deck every year, it’s hard to achieve that. How many of Ohio State’s struggles are due primarily to a bunch of new guys trying to learn to play together?

One positive sign from yesterday: at the end of the game, when the Buckeyes really needed to run the ball and keep Nebraska off the field, they were able to do that. Maybe the offensive line, at least, is starting to learn to play together.

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Celebrating Gold Pants Day

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Today members of the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes football team received their treasured gold pants.  For members of Buckeye Nation, it’s a day worth celebrating.

In 1934, after years of Michigan gridiron dominance over the Buckeyes, legendary Ohio State coach Francis (“Close the Gates of Mercy”) Schmidt told the Men of the Scarlet and Gray that the Wolverine players put their pants on one leg at a time, like everyone else.  In short, the players on That Team Up North were human and could be beaten.  Ever since, players on an Ohio State team that beats the Wolverines in The Game receive an old-fashioned “gold pants” charm.  It’s one of the cooler traditions in the tradition-soaked world of  Ohio State football.

If you click on the link above, you can watch a video that Ohio State football released about the distribution of the gold pants, including comments from J.T. Barrett and some other recent Buckeyes about The Game — and how many pairs of gold pants they’ve earned during their Ohio State careers.

Farewell, J.T., And Thanks

Ohio State won the [insert corporate name here] Cotton Bowl last night.  With the defense smothering the USC Trojan offense, relentlessly pressuring and sacking its quarterback and forcing turnovers, the Buckeyes rolled to a 24-7 halftime lead and then endured a scoreless second half to get the victory.  It’s the first time the Buckeyes have beaten Southern Cal since 1974, and the dominant defensive performance gives Ohio State fans the ability to argue that the Buckeyes should have made it to the College Football Playoffs this year.

usa_today_10505433-1514599547The Cotton Bowl win was also senior quarterback J.T. Barrett’s last game at the offensive helm for Ohio State.  In fact, the game was a bit of a microcosm of Barrett’s career at OSU.  He scored both offensive touchdowns for the Buckeyes and became the Big Ten’s all-time total offense leader, but the offense became predictable and J.T. run-oriented and was stopped repeatedly in the second half, when with a few additional scores the Buckeyes could have blown the Trojans off the field and really made a statement.  That’s why many members of Buckeye Nation view JTB with mixed emotions — they acknowledge him as a winner and appreciate his skills as a runner and a leader, but they also think about what could have been if he had just played a little bit better in the handful of losses that have marred Barrett’s overall record.

I’m not one of the JTB doubters, because I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect perfection from college students.  J.T. Barrett has rewritten the Ohio State offensive record books.  He’s got a perfect, 4-0 record against That Team Up North, he’s come up big in a number of crucial games, and his play as a redshirt freshman was essential to putting Ohio State in position to win the first national championship in the College Football Playoff era.  Ohio State has been in the national championship conversation during each year J.T. Barrett has been at the controls on offense.  The fact that the Buckeyes have fallen short during three of those years shouldn’t take away what Barrett has accomplished.

So I say thanks, J.T., and godspeed!  You will be missed.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Buckeye

Today I’m going to go watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium.  It will be a noon kickoff, on a cold day.  That’s about all I can tell you with any certainty, because I sure can’t predict which Ohio State team might show up to play the game.

crib-jekyllThis Ohio State squad is a total head-scratcher.  They play uninspired football against Oklahoma and get drubbed, then right the ship and convincingly win a bunch of games against the Big Ten Little Sisters of the Poor, then they stage a titanic comeback to beat Penn State in a thriller that puts them squarely back in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs . . . then they lay a colossal egg against Iowa and get obliterated.  The Iowa loss not only was a butt-kicking, it was a revelation of sorts:  this team obviously hasn’t jelled, and when things started to go south against the Hawkeyes, there was no one who stood up and made the key stop, or secured the key turnover, or broke the tackle and made the long run to turn the momentum around.  Iowa was the kind of game, and the kind of embarrassing result, that never would have happened to other Ohio State teams.

Having never been an athlete, I can’t possibly understand what goes in to playing college football at the big-school, Ohio State level, but this year’s team shows that there is a mental component to the game that is every bit as important as the physical component.  If a team isn’t focused, if the players don’t play with the right attitude and drive, if the athletes don’t give that extra effort that might make the difference between failure and success, size and speed don’t mean all that much.  When everybody on the field is an elite athlete in their own right, grit and determination and toughness count for a lot.  Against Iowa, the Buckeyes just didn’t have that indefinable quality.  I’m guessing that Urban Meyer and his coaches have spent a lot of time thinking about and working on the team’s mental game this past week.

So at today’s game, will we see Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Buckeye?  I’m sure hoping that the coaches figured out how to get the players ready for this game.

Saturday Morning Rewatch

It’s a miserable morning in Columbus this morning — unseasonably cold, gray, with a driving, soaking rain.  In short, it’s a perfect morning to rewatch the Buckeyes’ triumph over Indiana Thursday night.

I like the weekend morning rewatch.  You plop down on the couch, stretch your legs out onto the coffee table, and enjoy a steaming cup of joe and some orange juice, besides.  The morning rewatch is a relaxed affair.  You know it’s a good outcome — if it weren’t, you wouldn’t be watching it again, right? — so the pressure is off.  You can skip the crappy parts (in Ohio State’s case, that means fast-forwarding through virtually all of the first half), focus in on the good parts, and pay more attention to the nuts and bolts, like blocking and tackling and route-running.  

I always feel like I’ve got a better grip on the game after a good morning rewatch.  And coffee goes well with football, too.

Thursday Night Big Ten Buckeyes

It’s August, it’s Thursday night, and the Ohio State Buckeye football team is playing a Big Ten game — and on the road, no less.

tumblr_inline_nubcxjuy8y1qk1e3w_540This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to one of the most tradition-rich teams in college football, but this year all of the tradition goes out the window.  No more first-game cupcake, with Ohio State pulverizing one of the directional schools that are served up annually as fodder for the big boys.  No, this year we’re starting the season in earnest, with a game at Indiana this week and Oklahoma visiting the Horseshoe next week.   That’s called jumping into the season with both feet.  Sure, Indiana isn’t one of the Big Ten’s recognized powerhouses, but it’s a conference game, and Indiana has played the Buckeyes very tough indeed in recent years.  And all indications are that Indiana and its fans are pumped to the max for this game.  Indeed, their coach is calling the most significant home opener in Indiana history.

As a Buckeye traditionalist, the idea of Ohio State playing football in August — much less on a Thursday night, much less against a Big Ten team — rankles me, but the sport of college football is changing and the scheduling is changing with it.  Even though it’s August, I’ll be watching with interest tonight, to see if head coach Urban Meyer and his staff can once again blend new players with more experienced upperclassmen, replace a slew of talented Buckeyes who have moved on to the pros, and make another run at the college football playoff.

But Big Ten football, for the Buckeyes, in August?  I still shudder at the thought.

J.T.’s Last Stand

The Ohio State University football team is in its summer camp, the first game is less than three weeks away, and Buckeye Nation is abuzz about who will play where for the Scarlet and Gray.  Battles for starting jobs are raging at every position except one:  quarterback.  That’s because J.T. Barrett is back for his senior season.

Opposing teams have got to wonder if J.T. Barrett is ever going to graduate.  It seems like he has been with the Buckeyes forever, setting new Ohio State all-time offensive records whenever he touches the ball and posting more Ws on the Buckeyes’ overall record.  Sure, J.T. has got some losses to his name, and last season definitely ended with a clinker, but for the most part the J.T. Barrett era has been one of great success — and now J.T. is back, again, to lead the team during his final season.

jt-barrett-ohio-state-buckeyes-football-nfl-draft-2000“Lead” is a good word to use in conjunction with J.T. Barrett, because by all accounts he is a leader first, second, and always.  Any true Buckeye fan has seen J.T. in the locker room or on the sidelines, pumping his fist and giving impassioned talks to his teammates, but what really seems remarkable about him is not the rah-rah stuff, but the quiet things that generate respect and a willingness to leave everything on the field for the guy.  When J.T. first burst onto the scene, he played behind an inexperienced line and got pulverized in an early loss to Virginia Tech — but he showed great toughness, kept his mouth shut, accepted the punishment as part of the game, and led the team to a dramatic turnaround that saw the Buckeyes become an offensive juggernaut.  And then, on the cusp of triumph against Michigan, he suffered an injury that knocked him out of that game, the Big Ten championship, and the run to the National Championship.  Lesser people would have whined about their misfortune, but not J.T. Barrett.  He reacted with grace and dignity, supported his team, and celebrated when they hoisted the trophy, even though it must of been devastating to not be able to run out onto the field.

J.T.’s whole career has been like that — a series of victories and disappointments, hard hits and perseverance, but always with him looking for a way to win and a way to lead.  It’s pretty rare these days for the great players to stay for their senior season, but then J.T. Barrett seems like a rare individual in many ways.  Whether he goes on to play football at a professional level or not, he certainly seems like the kind of person who has the qualities that will make him a success in life.

I’ve been watching Ohio State football for almost 50 years and have seen lots of great players don the Scarlet and Gray, but J.T. Barrett ranks up there with my all-time favorites.  Here’s hoping he has a senior season that suits a player who has meant so much to the University, its fans, and his teammates.