Sitting in the upper reaches of Lucas Oil Stadium last Saturday evening, I watched Ohio State’s BCS Championship Game hopes slip away amidst a chorus of “Go Green! Go White!”
But it wasn’t only dreams of a national championship that slipped out of the Buckeyes’ grasp in Indianapolis. With the loss, Ohio State not only lost out on the opportunity to play for the BCS title on January 6 in Pasadena, but they also missed out on the chance to head to the same stadium for the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day – replaced by the Michigan State team who had just defeated them to take the Big Ten crown.
It was a somber march through the cold Midwestern night for the 40,000 plus Buckeyes fans1 who had made the trek to Indy. With no BCS Championship Game and no Rose Bowl, Ohio State supporters were left to wonder where their team would end up when the bowl pairings were announced the next evening.
As it turns out, the Buckeyes will be in Miami for an Orange Bowl date with ACC foe Clemson on January 3. South Beach is surely a great place to spend New Year’s, but it is surely a disappointment for Urban Meyer and his players, who are left to wonder what could have been were they able to stop Connor Cook ((I wasn’t very afraid of the Cleveland-bred quarterback entering the game, but he did impress with an efficient performance – albeit against an admittedly weak Buckeye pass defense.)) and the Spartans’ surprisingly effective offense.
Adding to the disappointment is a tough matchup with the Tigers, 10-2 and runners-up in the ACC Atlantic division behind top-ranked Florida State. Clemson began the year with what looked for much of the season like one of the year’s best victories, 38-35 over then number five Georgia, and rose as high as number three in the rankings – passing the Buckeyes in the process – but they were knocked down a peg when the Seminoles marched into Death Valley and smacked the Tigers 51-14 in a battle of top five teams on October 19. In spite of that beatdown and a two-touchdown loss in their final game to South Carolina – the Gamecocks’ fifth straight victory in the Battle of the Palmetto State – Clemson still provides a dangerous opponent for the Buckeyes.
After being unceremoniously carved up by Cook and the Spartans last weekend, I fear for the Buckeye secondary against the dangerous Tigers passing attack. Outside of Bradley Roby, the Ohio State defensive backs performed about as poorly as any single position group can in one game against MSU. Safeties C.J. Barnett and Pitt Brown were particularly horrible.
The secondary was gashed early in the first half for two long touchdowns as the Buckeyes spotted the Spartans a 17-0 lead. On the first touchdown, Brown took just about the worst angle possible on a deep out-breaking route that allowed Keith Mumphery to go 72 yards for the score. On the second, Tony Lippett got on the end of a perfectly thrown Cook pass to the corner of the end zone as Barnett failed to get his head around and make a play on the ball.
The Buckeyes were able to rattle off 24 straight points to take the lead as the defense began to settle in, but then Roby went out injured in the third quarter. Armani Reeves came in to deputize for Ohio State’s best defensive back – and was promptly victimized on a 48-yard pass to Macgarrett Kings, Jr. that set up the Spartans’ go-ahead touchdown. On the scoring play, Barnett was rooted to the spot as tight end Josiah Price snuck behind him and caught an easy touchdown from Cook on a rollout throwback that looked very similar to many plays that Al Borges called the week before as Michigan threw for 451 against Luke Fickell’s defense. And, if all of those blown coverages weren’t enough, Pitt Brown and Roby combined for a missed tackle on Jeremy Langford’s late touchdown run that sealed the game for Michigan State.
Now, that same defense gets the privilege of facing Tajh Boyd and a Clemson offense that ranks 12th nationally in both passing yards (329.3) and points (40.2) per game. While the Tigers may be somewhat disappointed with their season following a preseason top 10 ranking, Boyd has lived up to the expectations that made him an early Heisman contender and a possible high draft pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. He has put up stellar numbers: 3,473 yards (15th in the country) on 67.6% completions and 9.3 yards per attempt with a 166.6 rating and 29 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Add to that the sprinter’s speed of receiver Sammy Watkins (85 catches for 1,273 yards and 10 touchdowns), and the Ohio State secondary could find themselves chasing down the back of a lot of orange jerseys at the Orange Bowl.
With the game still over three weeks away, I’m withholding an official prediction, but I do worry about the matchup for the Buckeyes. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get over the Big Ten Championship Game loss, but hopefully Coach Meyer is able to get his team refocused before January 3. And with almost a month to prepare, maybe Fickell will finally accomplish something he’s been consistently unable to do all season – get his defense coached up and ready to play a complete game.
The announced crowd was 66,002. Of that number at least two-thirds were wearing Scarlet and Grey. [↩]
Mitch is a native Clevelander currently attending the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, he is still able to follow the Browns, Cavs, Tribe and Buckeyes from Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Joseph_29.