Watkins, costly turnovers too much for Bucks to overcome


clemsonorangeIt was no surprise performance, no jaws were dropped, no eyebrows were raised. Rather, it felt as if the predetermined script played out nearly absolutely as expected. The Orange Bowl got its shootout, with Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller going back and forth. It looked like Ohio State was on the doorstep of taking control, but Philly Brown’s muffed punt changed everything, and Sammy Watkins shattered school and Orange Bowl records with his receiving as the Tigers held on to win over the Buckeyes 40-35 in South Florida.

In some ways, there was no possible way that Ohio State’s defense had a chance. We had seen it allow 41 points to Michigan followed by 34 to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, and that was with nearly their full complement of players. Already missing safety Christian Bryant who wasn’t able to return in time for the bowl, the team was without defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Bradley Roby. Sure, there were big plays made by the Buckeye defense, including two interceptions, a safety, and a turnover on downs, but there was not enough pressure to be had, and nobody had an answer for Sammy Watkins. Joey Bosa (5 tackles, 1 sack) played with a gladiator-like effort after injuring and re-injuring his ankle, limping off the field after making plays. It made you wonder how bad Bradley Roby, with his bags packed already for the NFL, and his bone bruise were.

Sammy Watkins came as good or better than advertised and did it all, lining up wide, in the slot, and alongside Boyd in the backfield. He set Clemson and Orange Bowl records with his 16 catches for 227 yards to go with 2 touchdowns. On the first, he burned the freshman safety Vonn Bell after Bell didn’t bump him at the line and let him get deep without help from a second defender. With his second score, it was a fantastic play on a rollout from Boyd where Watkins went up the ladder and caught the ball at its highest point over the top of Doran Grant. As Watkins went in motion repeatedly, it looked like OSU’s defense failed to account for him in several instances, and it was an automatic 8-10 yards every time he possessed the ball. There’s no doubt that Clemson exposed the tackling (or lack thereof) of the Buckeye defense on the boundaries. Watkins showed he’s worthy of a top ten selection in the draft this spring (and maybe even as high as No. 4, wink, wink), and he did it while battling his own leg injury throughout the second half.

A good chunk of the defensive performance goes back to players, sure, but there’s a large element of it that goes to coaching as well. I don’t see how Urban Meyer in his right mind can bring Luke Fickell back to run a defense after the way things played out in the final three games, including this one with all the time in the world to prepare. It was Meyer and staff that chose not to play freshman safety Vonn Bell in a large capacity on defense until the Orange Bowl. That only came after Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown’s embarrassing performance against Michigan State where he was exploited repeatedly. Bell made some big plays in this game, none bigger than an unbelievably athletic one-handed interception of Tajh Boyd in the second quarter as he scrambled toward the end zone that took certain points off the board. He finished third on the team with 7 tackles (all solo) as well. It was also the staff’s decision to keep Cam Burrows on special teams along with Bell and redshirt Eli Apple and Gareon Conley in the secondary as well as Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson in the linebacking corps, all of which could have seen playing time ahead of the likes of Brown, Armani Reeves, Joshua Perry, Camren Williams, and Curtis Grant. The Tigers racked up 576 total yards, including 378 passing yards from Boyd, and Clemson also converted 7-of-13 third downs as most of them were short yardage. I think this defense with the recruits from both 2013 and 2014 getting up to speed along with the return of Bosa, Spence, and Bennett on the defensive line will make this defense light years better next year. However, this year’s product was a disgrace to OSU football, and there needs to be accountability for it from Urban, Fickell, and the players themselves.

Early in this game, given how Clemson scored so fast and Ohio State needed help from penalties and a fake punt conversion to score, Ohio State was teetering on the brink. It was a pass from Braxton Miller to a wide-open Jeff Heuerman on a 57-yard scamper that put Ohio State right back in the fold after falling behind 21-9. Ohio State got the ball back after a turnover on downs and marched right down the field in 57 seconds before the break, highlighted by 2 catches for 39 yards by Philly Brown and capped off by a Braxton Miller 3-yard run, his second of the game. Miller took a shot in the first quarter, and he continued to flex his arm and shoulder throughout the game. With his offensive line playing their worst game all season, Braxton really did put up a valiant effort, throwing for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns while running for 84 yards (when you remove the sacks) to go with 2 more scores. On his touchdown toss to Carlos Hyde in the second half, he took a personal foul from Vic Beasley as he buried his full body weight into him as he landed on the turf.

What ultimately prevented the Buckeyes from outscoring the Tigers was their fourth quarter offensive execution. Carlos Hyde, for the second straight fourth quarter, became an afterthought. Even after Miller was clearly playing heavily injured, the Buckeye offense refused to lean heavily on Hyde late (25 carries, 113 yards, 2 catches, 39 yards, 2 total touchdowns). Hyde last touched the ball on a touchdown reception on a wheel route that left him wide open with 11:35 remaining in the game. For the final two drives, Hyde did not get a single carry. One fourth quarter carry for Hyde after 24 in the first three quarters is certainly inexcusable. Fans are left wondering what could have been if Meyer and Tom Herman had not abandoned the very running game that got them to the place they were.

There were also the late turnovers that did the Buckeyes in. Miller fumbled on a 3rd and 13 in Clemson territory with just over three minutes to go. Boyd inexplicably responded by throwing a pick right to C.J. Barnett with just under 90 seconds to play on a third and long of their own. It gave the Buckeyes one more shot, but Miller on the second play of the drive tried to go over the middle to Philly Brown, didn’t get the ball up enough, and threw it right into the arms of Stephone Anthony to end the comeback effort.

It’s hard to blame one play for a loss in a game like this, but Philly Brown’s muffed punt late in the third quarter comes about as close to it as possible for a play made with so much time left. Ohio State was getting the ball back, up 29-20, late in the third quarter after they had scored on their last 9-play, 5-minute drive. Instead, the turnover gave Clemson a short field, and they scored quickly. Braxton compounded things by firing a pick into double coverage, intended for Brown, on the next drive. Suddenly, Clemson grabbed the lead at 34-29. If anything, this game showed that Braxton has plenty of strides he needs to make as a passer in terms of decision making and accuracy, and I hope he realizes that and comes back for his senior season.

This game had a little bit of everything, two missed PATs, six turnovers, 75 points, over 1000 total yards of offense, and 21 accepted penalties for over 200 yards and a handful more that weren’t. Much of this game was played in disorganized chaos and had a very fevered pace. In the end, it was a combination of momentum, offensive playcalling, and the devil that we knew in Ohio State’s defense that prevented an Orange Bowl win.

(Photo: Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Watkins was and is a beast he’s who I would draft at #4 if I were the GM of the Cleveland Browns. Interestingly I saw a mock draft that had Bortles going #1 and the Cleveland Browns trading up to #2 to get my other guy Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is the only other guy I’d consider at #4 other then Watkins if either or both were available.

    Anyways the game was great the Buckeyes didn’t get blown out and despite that INT to end the game I thought Braxton Miller was awesome. Considering how much punishment he took and the fact that Brown was really Miller’s only WR all year I praise Miller. That being said he should return for one more season at Ohio State.

    Lastly I hope Reggie Roby was watching the game and I hope his teammates thank him for missing the game. He wouldn’t have stopped Watkins but he sure could have helped slow him or Clemson’s other WRs down.

  • JHop

    Maybe the Browns take Watkins at #4 and then Boyd with the second first round / second round pick? I wouldn’t be opposed to that.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As I watched the game I was trying to imagine the following scenario: Watkins #4, Hyde #? (Indy pick) and Braxton Miller round two. Not that I’m advocating Miller because he played at OSU.

    For some reason even after watching Boyd throw 5 TDs last night I can’t bring myself to see him as a solid NFL QB. Certainly not elite. I could be wrong maybe he’s McNabb part 2. At the same time I loved Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin.

    I think the difference is the offenses these guys play. I’m not a fan of the new trend of offenses that seem to be proliferating the NFL: the read/run option or whatever it’s called. Not only that college offenses are completely wide open scheme orientated that I feel like it retards these QBs actual football intelligence. Perhaps this is why I liked Russell Wilson so much. He didn’t run a fancy offense sure he could run but he was smart not to mention despite his height he had a big arm and big hands. The only guy I see right now who reminds me of that is Bridgewater. The biggest question for me on Teddy B. is opponents and how much did that factor in overall in his production?

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    Drafting Braxton Miller with a second round pick is a surefire way to ensure this team sucks for another five years…sorry.

  • TNB

    I dont understand how people seem to think that rookie wide receivers light the league on fire. Often times it takes a few seasons for them to really catch on. Hell, even megatron and Fitzgerald didn’t have 1k receiving yards their rookie seasons. I think its something like five receivers ever have done it and it hasn’t been done since 2006, with marques colston. Taking a receiver at four is not a smart idea when there are far more glaring holes on the offense, specifically quarterback, running back, and oline depth (and arguably in that order).

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As I said previously I’m not advocating for Miller if anything I hope he returns for his senior year like Kirk wrote. That being said I think a more surefire way to ensure that the Cleveland Browns suck for another five years is to draft a QB #4 or higher and miss. For me based on the decisions of the owner by means of his front office whether it’s drafting/not drafting last year to the free agent signing to the firing of a first year head coach after just one year are enough for me to advocate another strategy.

    If they miss I can live with a second rounder or third rounder but not another first round pick and most assuredly not a top 4 draft pick.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    I think that is the totally wrong way to look at it. You don’t skip on a position of need for fear of failure. If they’ve targeted a talented guy in the top four players you take him. The strategy you are suggesting is one they’ve followed every year since they drafted Couch and it hasn’t worked.

  • tsm

    Braxton is not an NFL passer. He constantly threw behind his receivers. He may make the league as an athlete or like Edelman, but not as a qb. Watkins was great last night, but not a #4 pick. Indy pick a different story. Let’s see if we can get Teddy or Blake with #4 and take it from there.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m not saying you skip a position because of failure I’m saying there isn’t a single QB who has distinguished himself from the rest who would make me want to use a top 4 pick on other then Bridgewater. The fact that they, every regime to date, has failed to find a QB regardless of where they draft him is just part of the horror show that this franchise has been since 1999.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Like I’ve said I wasn’t advocating for him and I hope he returns for his senior season. Watkins is absolutely worthy of a top 4 pick there isn’t a doubt in my mind. There’s also not a doubt that he won’t last past probably #10 so no way he makes it to Indy’s pick.

    Which reminds me where are all of the people who were betting on Indianapolis not making the playoffs and their pick being high in the first round? They not only made the playoffs but have a real shot at advancing and that’s without much help from Trent Richardson to boot.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They already failed at drafting a RB #4 just a few years ago besides there really isn’t a RB in this draft who is top 4 let alone top 10. Like I said before if you can tell me which QB out of the guys entered in this draft that you’d take #4 and like his chances to be “elite” or worthy of a #4 overall please share it with me because I don’t. Now as far as the o-line goes. In the past I have taken the opposing view that you use top picks on offensive lineman but given the way the Cleveland Browns OL played last season I’m beginning to rethink that stance. And this is with Mack on the team. If he leaves then they have even more problems. This OL needs two legitimate guards and bad. Problem is I don’t think this draft is ripe with top notch guards. I need to do more research as I am currently unaware of who the best OL are other then Matthews who is a tackle from Texas A&M.

  • Big Z

    Another perfectly executed choke job pulled off by the league’s best!

  • Natedawg86

    How do you not stop the screen all game?

  • @TheDeePagel

    After last night I am sold. Watkins and Hyde HAVE to be the picks in Rd. 1….then I like someone like Aaron Murray with one of the 3rd round picks….great college career, and will be a steal coming off injury in the 3rd. Then let him develop behind Hoyer and another veteran QB after letting Campbell go.

    RB-Hyde, Lewis, Baker
    TE-Cameron, Barnidge
    WR-Gordon, Watkins, Cooper, and FA or other draft picks here.

    I know you like to rub that 10-win comment in my face, but I think ruling out injuries, this crew can go 8-8….easy.

  • @TheDeePagel

    The only way I’m okay without this scenario is if they do indeed draft Manziel at 4. I won’t be AS excited, but I’m a believer in Johnny Football being a franchise guy….eventually…..but I think going Watkins, Hyde and giving the keys to Hoyer gets us at and above .500 quicker.

  • @TheDeePagel

    And I forgot all about Benjamin….

    Put Watkins, Gordon, Benjamin, and Cameron out there and who do you cover?

    Who ever is matched up one-on-one just have Hoyer throw his way….

    or spread them out and bust Hyde up the gut on a 6-man box….


  • @TheDeePagel

    And hire Stoops to run it all….

    and yes….I’m talking to myself.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Wow….even better then what I was hoping! Awesome idea….Sandwich Hyde in their between the two in the late first round I am with you.

    Especially if we let Hoyer have 2014 to start and give Boyd a year to watch.

  • mgbode

    I was a big Boyd fan a year ago on potential. The fact that Dabo never opened up the offense and continued to run behind LOS passes this year (even when they weren’t working v. FSU) told me he didn’t trust Boyd all that much on real NFL throws. A concern at least.

  • mgbode

    Not just that but Clemson completely ignored the middle of the field. They were going to the outside almost exclusively yet our D had the corners with a 5yd cushion back and never adjusted.

    FSU showed how you beat the Clemson (and Ohio State minus Hyde) offense. You have your corners go hard to clamp down the outside, trust your safeties over the top and your LBers to clean up the middle draws. We never even attempted it.


    Mathews at 4 and move Schwartz to RG?


    The inability to stop the screen wasn’t some fluke, this defense has gotten burned all season by screens. That Michigan game was a textbook example.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Interesting but I’d prefer a stud OG I don’t trust that Schwartz can make the transition. I still have nightmares of Cousins at RG.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    No thanks on Boyd unless it’s in round 3 or lower.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Um about those Colts…damn!

  • Natedawg86

    If only they had a month to prepare for a team that they know throws a lot of screen passes.

  • Natedawg86

    I still can’t figure out how our D was so bad this year. I can
    think of anything other than bad coaching. At a football factory like OSU pumping out 4 and 5 star recruits, your D has to be better than ours was.


    The INT at the goal line shows me Boyd’s decision making is still atrocious. With a full head of steam there, he gets the first down no problem and possibly scores. But, he tried some stupid Tebow jump pass? That’s just a dumb play. Guy’s been a starter for three years and should know better than that by now. Pass.

  • mgbode

    no, we’re here. just listening with popcorn :)

  • mgbode

    not only that but let’s say it over the LBer. there were 3 more Buckeyes in the endzone there. if you cannot complete a dart or the WR is not wide-open, then you cannot make a throw on that end.

    I agree to pass on Boyd.