Testing The Young Gun

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes play under the lights in Dallas, Texas, where they will be matched up against the TCU Horned Frogs.  It will be a coming out party of sorts for Ohio State’s new quarterback, Dwayne Haskins.

For four years, J.T. Barrett held the QB position for the Buckeyes with a vice-like grip.  He was a terrific leader and a real winner — literally.  He set just about every offensive record that a quarterback could set, and under his guidance the Buckeyes achieved great success — but they never quite got to the mountaintop with Barrett at the helm.  Some Ohio State fans, possessed of the loftiest expectations, complained that J.T. didn’t have the arm or the accuracy, and was too quick to pull down the ball and run.  That very vocal segment of Buckeye Nation has been clamoring for a drop-back passer at the QB position.

usatsi_10422300-2Well, now they’ve got one, and his name is Dwayne Haskins.  In two games, he’s looked terrific.  Haskins has completed almost 80 percent of his passes, has averaged 270 yards through the air per game, and has thrown for 9 touchdowns against only one interception.  And, so far, at least, his passes are a thing of beauty — arriving on time and hitting receivers in stride and in the hands.  Haskins looks like the real deal.  He may just be the pure passer that Ohio State fans have been dreaming of since Woody Hayes made “three yards and a cloud of dust” synonymous with the Buckeye offense.

But . . . not so fast, folks.  Oregon State and Rutgers, Ohio State’s first two opponents, aren’t exactly national championship contenders.  TCU is a different story.  It’s been in the talk for a berth in the college football playoffs in recent years, and this year it’s ranked in the top 20 going into the game.  And its head coach, Gary Patterson, is a reputed defensive mastermind who will be sure to throw lots of blitzes and weird coverages at Haskins, who’s a redshirt sophomore who will be making only his third start, in hopes of enticing him into turnovers.  TCU knows that if it can get a signature win over Ohio State it will rocket up the rankings and be part of the college football playoff chatter, so we can expect that they’ll leave everything on the field in trying to baffle Haskins and beat the Buckeyes.

Right now, Dwayne Haskins is the young gun.  Tomorrow night, in Texas, we’ll get a better sense of how truly he fires under pressure.

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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.

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.

The Spring Game

It’s a beautiful day in Columbus.  After weeks of crappy, rainy, even snowy, unseasonably cold weather, spring finally has arrived in earnest and brought some warm weather.

img_1616-1000x750-2b938vhFor Ohio State football fans, today marks the semi-official start of spring — and starts the countdown to Buckeye football in the fall — with the playing of the spring game.  The Ohio State team will split in half, with the Scarlet squad vying against the Gray team in Ohio Stadium.  Tens of thousands of people will show up to watch.  Last year, a record 99,391 members of Buckeye Nation made the trip to the Horseshoe to watch the spring game.  Why not?  It’s fun, there’s no pressure in the result, and it’s a way to scratch that need-to-watch-football itch that’s been tormenting OSU fans since the Buckeyes trounced Notre Dame in their bowl game.

The spring game is a kind of glorified scrimmage, but it’s one that is broadcast on national cable TV (tune in at 1:30 on the Big Ten Network!) and this year it’s got an interesting story to it.  A huge number of Buckeye stalwarts of the recent past — Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Adolphus Washington, Eli Apple, Michael Thomas, Taylor Decker, and Braxton Miller among them — have moved on to the NFL, so the Buckeyes have a lot of holes to fill.  Here’s a chance to see the newbies don the pads and the uniform and begin to show what they’ve got.  They’ve been working hard for weeks with Urban Meyer and his coaching staff in spring camp,  and now they get to run out onto the turf at the fabled Ohio Stadium venue and soak in the cheers and applause of the Buckeye faithful.

Who’s going to be the next great Ohio State running back?  Who’s going to harass opposing quarterbacks, make the clutch catch in a big game, or make the key block that allows the Men of the Scarlet and Gray to cinch a game?  The Spring Game might provide some answers to those questions — and it also lets you start to work on your tan.

Braxton’s Fond Farewell

braxton-miller-40234188f6afc4f5Braxton Miller has played his last down as an Ohio State Buckeye, but he has left an indelible imprint on the Ohio State record books — and on the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere.  And through it all, through triumph and adversity, he has been a true class act.

Now Braxton has shown that he not only is a great football player, but also a great communicator.  He’s written a letter, called “Dear Buckeye Nation,” that should be required reading for any fan of the Men of the Scarlet and Gray — and for that matter for any college football fan, period.  It’s great stuff.

Ohio State should be proud to have a graduate like Braxton Miller.

Another Great Season

Look, I know a lot of pundits and Ohio State fans are at the point where the Buckeyes have to win every game by 50 points and win the national championship, or the season is deemed a failure.  I think that’s ridiculous, but it is what it is.

635776004767032555-ap-ohio-st-virginia-tech-fooThis was a great season, by any rational measure.  If you are an Ohio State fan, you define season success by whether you beat Michigan.  This year, the Buckeyes trounced the Wolverines, in Ann Arbor.  Michigan was a darned good team — they smashed an SEC team, Florida, in their bowl game today.  And then Ohio State won its bowl game today, convincingly beating a very solid Notre Dame team in the Fiesta Bowl.  Those of us who lived through the Cooper era will never forget it, and will always treasure every win against That Team Up North and bowl game opponents because we will always remember, with a grimace, what it is like to end a season with a painful belly flop.

People are upset because Ohio State lost one game, played in a driving rainstorm, on a last-second field goal.  But when your team finishes 12-1, wins its crucial rivalry game and pounds a traditional power in a New Years Day bowl game, you can’t fairly be heard to complain.  If you do, you’re really as spoiled as the appalling Affluenza Kid.

A lot of Buckeyes have made the last few years really enjoyable for those of us in Buckeye Nation and will (in some cases probably) be moving on. Thanks, Braxton Miller!  And Joey Bosa.  Ezekiel Elliott.  Cardale Jones.  Taylor Decker.  Adolphus Washington.  Joshua Perry.  Jacoby Boren.  Other seniors who have won 50 games in their four years.  And, perhaps, some other juniors who think it’s time to take their talents to the NFL.  They have accomplished everything you could ask for, and I will always remember cheering myself hoarse and screaming “ZEEEEEKE” as last year’s national championship game wound down and I got to celebrate a year where my team and many of these same players and coaches won it all.

Thanks, guys, to all of the players, to head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff, and to everybody else who is part of the Ohio State football program.  It’s been a pleasure, and today was the cherry on top.

The Real Season Begins

The Ohio State Buckeyes have played 10 games this college football season and have won them all.  Every Ohio State fan knows, however, that the real season begins today, when the Michigan State Spartans come to town.

It’s been an interesting season for Ohio State, filled with twists and turns but with one, overriding theme:  the Buckeyes’ failure to be as dominant and impressive as the pundits expected them to be.  With Ohio State’s run to the National Championship still fresh in everyone’s minds and preseason expectations sky-high, anything other than a 60-0 drubbing is seen as a disappointment.  Last week’s win over Illinois is a good example.  The Buckeyes beat a Big Ten team with a winning record, on the road, 28-3 — and the talking heads kept talking about what was wrong with Ohio State.

22-bosa-connor-cook-crIf Ohio State can pull off a win today such talk should stop, because everyone knows Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country.  The Spartans are ranked in the top ten and would also be 10-0, save for a flukey loss to Nebraska that turned on a questionable no-call by the refs.  They’ve fought titanic battles with Ohio State, on even terms, the last few years.  They’re an experienced team led by a probable first-round draft choice at quarterback in Connor Cook, and their coach, Mark Dantonio, has turned the Michigan State football program into a powerhouse.  For the Spartans, this is a chance to avenge their loss to the Buckeyes last year and to take a further step toward cementing their status as one of the elite teams in the country.

This will be a tough, hard-hitting contest — but it also will be an opportunity for Ohio State to answer some of the critics and questions.  Can Ohio State finally gel on offense, avoid the frustrating breakdowns and penalties, and reach the same level of execution that made them close to unstoppable in last year’s National Championship Game against Oregon?  Can Urban Meyer and his coaches get Braxton Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and the Buckeyes other offensive weapons to fully mesh against a stout defense?  And can the Silver Bullets get pressure on Cook and avoid the big-play breakdowns that have made some of the Buckeyes’ wins this year too close for comfort?

The quarterback controversy is behind us, and the big games are finally here.  Everyone in Buckeye Nation wants to see a win for a great Buckeye, Braxton Miller, on Senior Day.  In Columbus, where the forecast is for rainy game-time conditions, the real season starts today.