Laying A Pumpkin

The Ohio State Buckeyes went to West Lafayette, Indiana last night hoping to play a football game. They laid a colossal pumpkin instead. And not just any pumpkin — an evil, grinning, death’s head pumpkin that was grimly reminiscent of last year’s debacle in Iowa City.

This year’s team has had serious issues on both sides of the ball, and hats off to the Purdue Boilermakers for ruthlessly exposing all of them. Now maybe the Buckeyes will stop thinking about their recruiting ratings and start focusing on becoming a football team that plays defense, runs the ball, and actually blocks and tackles. Otherwise, we members of Buckeye Nation are going to have to deal with more muerte pumpkins in our immediate future.

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Passing The September Test

There used to be a saying in college football:  September is for pretenders, and November is for contenders.  The underlying concept was that the good teams played a bunch of patsies in September and the tough games really didn’t roll around until November.  Thus, November was when you’d finally separate the wheat from the chaff.

That saying is true no longer, at least for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

0f7-web2psu-10jpeg-0163b7666e5c9c44Last night — on September 29 — the Buckeyes had to play the Penn State Nittany Lions at Happy Valley.  Penn State is one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten and a perennial contender for the conference championship, both teams were ranked in the top ten, and 110,000 screaming, white-clad fans packed Beaver Stadium to cheer on the Lions.  The sound in that Stadium last night was deafening.  It’s hard to imagine a better atmosphere for a big-time college football game, or a more daunting challenge for the visiting team.  It was a November contest being played in September.

Somehow, the Buckeyes came from 12 points down in the fourth quarter and beat the Nittany Lions, giving Ohio State a leg up over Penn State in the always tough Big Ten East.  The offense sputtered and coughed and the defense gave up some huge plays to let Penn State take the lead, but Ohio State never gave up and kept fighting until the final play.  Kudos should go to everyone on the Buckeye team, with a special nod to the punter Drue Chrisman, who repeatedly pinned the Nittany Lions deep after each unsuccessful Ohio State possession.

These days, college football in September is not for the faint of heart.  The Buckeyes have passed their first huge Big Ten test.  But if this is September, what in the world is November going to be like?

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.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Sports

Last night two bad things happened:  the Ohio State Buckeyes went down to defeat in the NCAA Tournament, and during the game Mr. Sports emerged.

The Buckeyes’ loss wasn’t unexpected; they’d gotten whipped by Gonzaga earlier in the season and were the underdog.  Ohio State gamely fought back from a 15-point deficit at the start of the game to briefly take the lead in the second half, but ultimately Gonzaga pulled away.  It was a good game, but also one where, from the standpoint of Ohio State fans at least, it seemed like every rolled-out layup and rattling in three-pointer and missed-shot carom just favored the Bulldogs.   Sometimes that happens in sports.

1281989935452That’s where Mr. Sports came in.  That’s the name I’ve given to the harsh, foul-mouthed, angry personality that sometimes takes over during TV sports broadcasts when one of my favorite teams is playing in a big game.  Mr. Sports wants his teams to win so badly that any adversity or bad break causes him to surge to the forefront and launch into vicious tirades about referees, opposing players, the fates, or even the opposing coach’s wife or Mom and Dad celebrating an impending win.  And, because college basketball is a game where so many bounces or debatable foul calls can happen, it’s prime territory for Mr. Sports.

Last night Mr. Sports was pretty bad.  Kish and I had decided to watch the game together, but after Ohio State fell far behind and was struggling to catch up, one of Mr. Sports’ loud and profane outbursts caused Russell’s dog Betty to leap off the couch, and Kish decided to retreat upstairs in disgust.  Mr. Sports then watched the rest of the game by himself, fulminating about the unjust fates.  After the game ended I went back upstairs, feeling sheepish and stupid about my loss of control in front of my disappointed wife and the two dogs.  Recently I’ve gotten better about keeping Mr. Sports under wraps — combining age, presumed maturity, and avoidance strategies like just not watching much college basketball this year — but sometimes the power of Mr. Sports is simply too strong.

The Atlantic recently carried an interesting article about the positives and negatives of being a sports fan, and concluded that the benefits outweigh the negatives.  And I know from personal experience how thrilling it is when one of your teams wins it all.  But it is embarrassing when Mr. Sports thunders out from my id and starts raging at the TV, and it makes me feel bad to disappoint my baffled wife, who just can’t understand how sports can cause such a fundamental change in behavior in the blink of an eye.

I’m 60 years old, and I’ve still got some growing up to do.

Should It Be The Buckeyes?

Every year, it seems, the talk on the Sunday where the participants in the College Football Playoff are finally decided is all about the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Should they go, or shouldn’t they?

jt-barrett-vs-wisconsin-8e4be645b4ee0204This year is no different.  With Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin last night, a game in which the Buckeyes were led by a gutty J.T. Barrett, only days after he’d had knee surgery, the Buckeyes are 11-2 and the official Big Ten champions.  Normally, you’d think the Big Ten champs would be in easily — but in one of those losses the Buckeyes got waxed at Iowa, losing by 31 points in one of those games that shows you that anyone who thinks they can predict college athletics just doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  The first three teams in to the College Football Playoff are easy decisions:  Clemson, Georgia, and Oklahoma, which handed the Buckeyes their other loss.  And now the chatter is whether the fourth team should be Ohio State, the Big Ten champ with that one big matzo ball of a bad loss, or Alabama, which has only one loss but didn’t play in its conference championship game, lost its only game of the season against an elite team, and played a schedule that wasn’t very difficult.

It’s a tough question, and as an Ohio State fan I’m king of torn.  Last year’s blowout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff rattled a lot of us.  We love our Buckeyes, but that defeat — and then the Iowa debacle this year — has introduced an element of doubt for many.  We don’t want to see the Men of the Scarlet and Gray get in, and then get creamed.  And since the Buckeyes would be the fourth seed if they were to make it, they’d play Clemson again.  Would another humiliating spanking be in the offing?

On the other hand, you’ve got to give Ohio State credit for playing one of the toughest schedules in the country.  They’ve beaten a number of very good teams, including Penn State in an epic comeback, and they bounced back after the Iowa loss to thrash Michigan State, win their great rivalry game against Michigan on the road, and then beat a tough Wisconsin team on a neutral field.  And, while Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin was only by six points, I think the Buckeyes clearly were the superior team by a larger margin than the score indicated.

So, should it be the Buckeyes, or the Crimson Tide?  Call me a homer, but I think a conference championship should count for something, and I think fans can’t let their fears stand in the way of the dreams of young men who’ve played hard and had a fine season.  I hope the Buckeyes make it.

Next Day News


Kish and I have been up in Maine, staying in a cottage where there is no TV, no internet, and incredibly spotty cell phone reception.  We were going to go watch the Ohio State-Penn State game at a bar, but at the last minute the neighbors invited us over for a get-acquainted dinner and we couldn’t say no.  I drove to the store and heard the Buckeyes were behind 28-17, but after that point we were off the grid for the rest of the night without any way to check the score.  I am embarrassed to say that I figured Ohio State had lost.

So you can imagine my delight when I arrived at the Bangor airport, was able to check my emails and the news, and found the Buckeyes won a come-from-behind thriller that keeps them in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs.  Apparently J.T. Barrett played an almost perfect game, and the Buckeyes defense cam up big when it counted.  Sometimes next day news is good news.

Now I’m wondering if the YouTube 30-minute replay will be available when I get home.

Burn The Sooners!

I saw some Sooners fans in downtown CBus as I walked home from work tonight.  I was pleasant and friendly, and said I hoped they enjoyed their visit to the capital city of the Buckeye State except for tomorrow’s game.

I sincerely meant it at the time — but who I am I kidding?  As I sit in front of tonight’s fire, I want the Buckeyes kick Oklahoma’s ass tomorrow.  Go Bucks!