The Buckeyes have had a few clunkers the past couple of years, but a pair of games really stand out.
Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: What is Ohio State’s toughest loss in recent memory?
Well, Gene, I feel like I am delivering a eulogy. “Friends and family, we are gathered here today, to celebrate life and acknowledge the passing of a loved one.” Not to be overly dramatic, but Saturday’s loss to *ichigan was a nail in the coffin for Ohio State’s football season… Unless, and hear me out: TTUN, Alabama, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State all lose. Let’s believe it into existence!
In all reality, the 2021 season (as we know it) is over. The Buckeyes will be selected for a prestigious bowl game, but certain players will opt out to preserve their bodies, the coaching staff could be missing a familiar face or two, and the game won’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. But most OSU seasons end in disappointment — that’s sport fandom, right?. Championships don’t grow on trees, so when Ohio State lost to Clemson and Alabama in consecutive CFP appearances, I was able to shake it off pretty quickly. This loss to TTUN is completely different. It stings. And it will likely sting for some time. For me, it is the most heartbreaking loss in recent memory.
Losses to Clemson and Alabama were, depending on what you read or who you talked to, supposed to happen. In 2019, Ohio State was robbed by a terrible officiating crew. This is fact. However, I think the Buckeyes were destined to lose at some point during that playoff. Clemson had guys like Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Tee Higgins on offense, and a well-coached defense with talent of its own. The eventual champion, LSU, was historically great. Joe Burrow and that offense, with a bunch of future NFL players on defense; It was a truly generational team, and I think they would have defeated the Buckeyes had officials not handed the previous game to Clemson.
The 2020 loss to Alabama was… something. Whew. That one gave me nightmares. When the Buckeyes were blown off the field, I just chalked it up to Bama being Bama and Kerry Coombs temporarily losing every bit of his mind. You shouldn’t be upset when you lose a foot race to Usain Bolt, right?
Even recent losses to lesser opponents were easier to deal. In 2013, Ohio State lost to a hard-nosed Big Ten football team. Michigan State was ranked inside the top-10, and the offensive gameplan was so bad that I was able to reserve all my anger and disappointment for the coaching staff. The 2014 loss to Virginia Tech happened so early in the season that we had all season to crawl back into the title race. Upsets by Iowa and Purdue were aberrations. Glitches in the matrix. College football is crazy sometimes. Even though it hurts, you have to force yourself to laugh when Purdue boat races your team.
This loss was different. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Not when the Buckeyes were peaking. Not this late, with no opportunity to get back into the title race. The season shouldn’t be over before the Big Ten Championship game, not for us. Well (insert Paul Rudd .gif), here we are. Look at us.
The fact that Ohio State lost to TTUN is not what make this one sting so much – it only exacerbates the pain. OSU was going to lose to them at some point. The Buckeyes were never going to win 20 in a row. *ichigan is a college football blueblood, and Jim Harbaugh coached in a Super Bowl. If anything, this was inevitable – and it is good for the rivalry. But the manner in which the Buckeyes lost? Just brutal.
TTUN was physically and mentally stronger. They punched Ohio State in the mouth and dominated in the trenches. During the second half, the Wolverines doubled down on being physical, and the Buckeyes couldn’t get up off the mat. It was demoralizing, and I can only image how the players feel. As bad as those guys might be hurting, the OSU coaches should feel even worse.
Ryan Day did not coach his best game. The Buckeyes put up 27 points in a snow game, and I love the guy, so he gets a bit of a pass. Hartline always gets a pass, same for Alford, but that’s where the love stops. Greg Studrawa, Matt Barnes, Kerry Coombs, Al Washington, and Larry Johnson all failed the assignment. Coach Stud’s group was beaten like a drum, and the defensive coaches failed an open-book test. There were no surprises. There were no trick-plays or flukes. *ichigan wanted to run the ball, then pound the rock, then run the ball some more. And that is exactly what they did, without resistance. OSU coaches had all the study material, and they still couldn’t come up with answers.
The cherry on top – the rotten, sour cherry that I’m forced to choke on – is that I still believe Ohio State could beat any team in the country. We knew the defense was shaky to some extent, but the offense had been unstoppable. Sure, the running game was less than perfect, but the homerun threat was there. The passing game was unlike anything I remember in OSU history. Even if we gave up 40, we could score 50! Well, we gave up 40…
Ohio State players and coaches chose a bad time to have their worst game of the season. With everything on the table and championship aspirations, the Buckeyes failed in embarrassing fashion. After they were forced to wait two years for another shot at their rival, they laid an egg. Now the countdown starts again. This time, the clock reads something like “X number of days since OSU has beaten TTUN.” Not going to lie, it stings. A lot. My hope is that the pain and the embarrassment fuels Ryan Day to legitimately hang 100 on everybody next year. Go Bucks.
Like Josh and the rest of Buckeye Nation, this loss to Michigan is not going to sit easy for quite some time. The Wolverines absolutely deserved to win that game, outplaying the Buckeyes in every single aspect from offense, defense and special teams to play calling and scheme. The flaws we saw early on with this Ohio State team were never truly fixed, and Jim Harbaugh and his staff knew it and were able to take advantage of it. Good teams beat other good teams in college football all the time, but this one hurts — both because of the obvious rivalry aspect and postseason implications but also knowing what this team could have been if Ryan Day had an even semi-competent defensive coaching staff.
I’m sure at some point in the near future I will write a scathing column banishing every assistant on Ohio State’s staff not named Hartline or Alford to the shadow realm, but that is not why we’re here. Misery loves company, and today we are looking at some of the worst moments in recent Buckeye history.
While this game certainly ranks up there for me on a personal level based on how I felt postgame with this loss compared to others, it comes in second on my list. There are few things worse than losing the final game of the season to your biggest rival to miss out on a conference title game and a potential CFP appearance. However, we saw the writing on the wall. It wasn’t entirely shocking to see this team drop a game to a physical, run-heavy team, as we already saw in this season’s loss to Oregon that this Ohio State squad was susceptible to exactly that. The manner in which in happened — absolute domination in the trenches by UM — was shocking, but the final result was not.
All that being said, in my mind the game was that much tougher to swallow was the 2019 Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson for a number of reasons.
One of the reasons why that result was worse was because of everything that happened outside of Ohio State’s control. I’m not a big ‘blame the refs’ guy, because I think it is incredibly stupid to blame the outcome of a game on one blown call no matter how egregious. You have 60 minutes to win a football game, and if things are close enough that one call could decide it, you probably should have just played better. That was partially the case here, as the Buckeyes were unable to capitalize in the red zone early, but the two calls that did go against Day’s team shifted the momentum in a massive way.
The first was the ejection of Shaun Wade for targeting. Trevor Lawrence ducked his head on what would have been a third down sack on a corner blitz by Wade, resulting in helmet-to-helmet contact and Wade being ejected. Down 16-0, Clemson would finish that drive by scoring its first touchdown of the game, and from there on out the Tigers offense moved the ball much better without one of Ohio State’s best defensive players on the field.
The second was obviously the reversed fumble recovery touchdown. Trailing 21-16 late in the third quarter, Clemson receiver Justyn Ross fumbled the ball, and it was returned by Jordan Fuller for a TD that would have given the Buckeyes a 23-21 lead. It was called a fumble on the field, and it appeared Ross took a full four steps before losing control of the football. Either way, it didn’t look like enough to overturn, but the refs overturned the call anyway, taking the score off the board for Ohio State and giving the Tigers the football back.
That pair of calls was incredibly tough, but the Buckeyes still had a chance to win this one late. Trailing by 6 with under two minute remaining, Justin Fields and a hobbled J.K. Dobbins led Ohio State all the way down the field to the Clemson 23. Running the same play OSU had run earlier in the game for a TD, Fields thought he was going to have a wide open Chris Olave in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown, but some miscommunication led to an interception and the ballgame was over.
Unlike the Ohio State team we just saw lose to Michigan, that 2019 squad didn’t have any glaring weaknesses. They went into that matchup with a beat up Fields and Dobbins was injured in the first half of that game, but still the Buckeyes were clearly one of the best teams in college football that season without question. Had they been able to hold on against the Tigers, I think they could have given that LSU team a run for its money in the national title game. At the very least they would have put up a better fight than Clemson, who lost 42-25 to Joe Burrow and his cast of future NFL wideouts.
For the most part, you can see an Ohio State loss coming from a mile away, even if the outcome is surprising at the time. The 2014 team lost to Virginia Tech with a young team in J.T. Barrett’s second career start. The teams that lost to Iowa and Purdue both had glaring weaknesses heading into those games. The Buckeyes have lacked a defensive identity for the better part of two years now, leading to recent losses against Alabama, Oregon and now Michigan. The one outlier is that 2019 team, which led by a ridiculous cast of characters including Fields, Dobbins, Olave, Wade, Garrett Wilson, Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and Jordan Fuller, felt like the last Ohio State team we’ve seen play well on both sides of the ball.