Monday, January 9

Buckeyes Get Chomped

Well, that season wasn't very fun. Ohio St capped off its worst season in memory by losing to Florida in the Gator Bowl, 24-17. The loss dropped the Buckeyes' record to 6-7, their first seven-loss season since 1897. Yes, over 110 years ago. OSU wasn't entirely outplayed, as the Gators' three touchdowns came on a kickoff return, a blocked punt, and a non-reviewed incomplete pass. The Bucks could never really get their offense going, however, and simply didn't put enough points on the board to avoid a sub-.500 finish.

Game Recap
Ohio St got the first break of the game, when Fla QB John Brantley was hit and seemingly threw an incomplete pass on 3rd and 5 from the OSU 25 on the game's first possession. The play was reviewed, and correctly overruled as a fumble. The break came when the officials gave Ohio St the ball, even though there didn't appear to be a clear recovery. Garrett Goebel did end up with the ball, but the whistle had been blown, several players stopped, and it wasn't until several seconds later that Goebel jumped on it. Nevertheless, Ohio St took over and picked up a few first downs, but the drive stalled and Ben Buchanan's punt went into the endzone for a touchback.

Brantley looked very competent on the next drive, leading the Gators right down the field and throwing a 17-yard TD strike to Deonte Thompson for the first score of the game. The second break (and pretty much everything from here on out) went UF's way this time. Upon replay, it was clear that Thompson never really had possession of the ball, and the play should have been ruled incomplete. The referees never decide to take a second look, and the PAT was good before Luke Fickell was able to plead his case. While Fickell was understandably upset, he didn't seem to handle the situation well, as he could have opted to call a timeout to give the officials an extended chance to take a second look.

Boom Herron took the ball on the first play of the next drive with OSU trailing 7-0, and immediately fumbled. This was another close play, actually was reviewed, but ultimately determined to be the correct call and Florida was given the ball deep in OSU territory. Two plays later, Brantley fumbled for a second time, giving the ball right back to the Buckeyes as the first quarter came to a close.

TE Jake Stoneburner was held out of this game due to an injury, and third-stringer Jeff Heuerman (who?!?) came up with a big 25-yard catch to set up a touchdown pass to DeVier Posey to tie the game. The tie didn't last long, as speedster Andre Debose took the ensuing kick 99 yards to the house (pictured above) to immediately regain Florida's lead. Not only was he untouched, I don't think a Buckeye came within five yards of him. Each team then traded punts, with Ohio St getting the upper hand in the field position, leading to a last-second, 47-yard field goal by Drew Basil to make it 14-10 at halftime.

Ohio St got the ball to begin the second half, but a holding penalty after a couple of first downs hindered the drive and Buchanan was again forced to punt. This time RB Chris Rainey came off the edge and easily blocked it. No white jerseys were to be found as a slew of Gators had the opportunity to scoop the ball and walk into the endzone. I mentioned how I was worried about Rainey's speed and playmaking ability affecting this game, but I was not expecting it to come forth in this type of situation. With the Ohio St offense struggling, Florida's second special teams TD of the afternoon just about sealed this one.

After another Buchanan punt, OSU almost got back into it when Tyler Moeller turned Brantley over for the third time with an interception, but the Bucks gave it right back when Posey fumbled three plays later. Florida had a short field to work with, and added three more points to their lead on a Caleb Sturgis FG to begin the 4th quarter.

On Ohio St's next two, basically do-or-die, possessions, they managed only one first down, that coming off a Florida facemask penalty. With the time all but expired and needing a miracle, Braxton Miller hit Jordan Hall for an 11-yard touchdown. Florida recovered the onside kick attempt and a couple of kneeldowns preserved the 24-17 Bowl victory.

Game Ball
While Ohio St's offense sputtered and special teams self-destructed, the defense played very well. The Buckeyes only gave up 263 yards of total offense while forcing three turnovers. Brantley had a good completion percentage on limited attempts (12/16), but only threw for 132 yards with one touchdown and interception apiece. Similarly, while they didn't completely shut down track star running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, they held them in check to the tune of 71 and 30 yards, respectively (4.4 and 4.3 YPC). The big thing was that they didn't allow the big play that Florida is accustomed to (again, we're talking strictly defense here, as obviously the special teams allowed two HUGE plays). Rainey's longest run was 11 yards and Demps' went for 10, while wildcat extraordinaire Trey Burton was limited to only 4 carries for 23 yards.

Several players deserve consideration, as John Simon was in the backfield often (as always), Jon Hankins made several tackles, and Tyler Moeller had the INT, but LB Etienne Sabino made the biggest impression on me in this game. He was all over the field, making play after play. At one point, he blew by a lineman and made a vicious tackle on Brantley, injuring both players on the play and prompting my friend to text me, "Sab's got a body count going." With Andrew Sweat moving on, Sabino will be called on to be the leader of next year's linebacking corps.
2011 Gameballs: Miller (3), Herron (2), Roby (2), Simon, Sabino

Big Ten
Another year, and another embarrassing Bowl season for the conference the Buckeyes call home. The Big Ten was well-represented, getting 10 teams into a Bowl game this season. The bad part is they finished 4-6. Not a terrible record, but two of the wins came over Western Michigan (to Purdue) and UCLA (Illinois), two teams finishing the year with a combined 13-14 record. Then of course there's that school up north's overtime victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. In typical bitchigan fashion, Va Tech had several missed opportunities throughout the game, as well as a crucial call go against them in OT. can't-tie was just dreadful, completing only 9 of 21 passes and rushing 13 times for 13 yards. His two touchdown tosses were the usual jump balls that somehow the defense never gets, and his interception was an absurdly ugly looking pass.

So really the only good win for the conference came in the Outback Bowl, where Michigan St outlasted Georgia through three overtimes to win 33-30 after trailing 16-0 at halftime. The Big Ten was in four other New Year's Day Bowls, dropping each one. In addition to Ohio St, Penn St was embarrassed by Houston in the Ticket City Bowl, BT newcomer Nebraska was smoked by South Carolina in the Capital One, and Wisconsin put up a fight but couldn't slow down Oregon's ridiculous offense in a 45-38 Rose Bowl loss. In earlier contests, Iowa was stomped by Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl and Northwestern's late push came up short against Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Farewell, Seniors
While this wasn't Ohio St's strongest senior class ever, at least seven big time players will be moving on (hopefully to the NFL). The biggest loss will be on the offensive line, where three-year starters T Mike Adams, C Mike Brewster, and T J.B. Shugarts are all graduating. These guys will not be easy to replace. Also departing from the offense are the two best players, RB Boom Herron and WR DeVier Posey. The good news is that these two were suspended for the majority of the 2011 season so next year's starters will have had experience; the bad news is that the offense didn't exactly flourish when Herron and Posey were sidelined.

Things look much better on the defensive side of the ball, where only two starters (LB Andrew Sweat and S Tyler Moeller) will graduate. Sweat is a huge loss, but the Buckeyes always reload quickly at the linebacker position.

I said at least seven, because two big-time decisions loom this off-season. DL John Simon is the only Buckeye with enough talent to leave Columbus early for the NFL, but I have not heard if he is leaning one way or the other. For all I know he already announced he is coming back. The other concerns Simon's fellow lineman Nathan Williams. Williams is a senior, but missed the entire '11 season. Again, I haven't heard anything on whether he will be redshirted or not or even if he is eligible to be. Williams came into the season with more promise than Simon, and we all know how well Simon played. So if they can both come back, opposing QB's will be doing a lot of running for their lives as these two will be constantly wreaking havoc.

Without hearing much from the experts, Adams, Posey, Brewster, Sweat, and Herron (in that order) could all be decent prospects in my opinion. Posey will be hurt by basically not having a senior season, but I could see him and Adams being 2nd or 3rd round picks. I hope they all make it to the pros, and wish them all luck at the next level - as long as they don't play for Pittsburgh (damnit, Cameron Heyward).

Looking Ahead
I am so over talking any more about this season. It was bad enough to live through it once. Next season, Ohio St has a lot to look forward to (a new coach in Urban Meyer, Brax's continued development), but unfortunately cannot compete for a Big Ten Championship or play in a Bowl game. While the second part of that statement really sucks, it still won't stop me from intensely rooting for the Bucks each and every week.

The defense was good in 2011, but expect it to be back at the very top of the nation next year, especially if Simon and/or Williams return. Jon Hankins, Garrett Goebel, and Adam Bellamy are all very talented and will be back on the line - if you add Simon and Williams to that it just doesn't seem fair for other teams. Not to mention two of the top DL high schoolers committed to OSU.

The linebackers will miss Sweat, but Sabino and Storm Klein should be ready to take the reigns. The secondary will be just loaded with talent and experience but also inconsistency. Due to injuries and suspensions, corners Travis Howard, Bradley Roby, and Dominic Clarke and safeties C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Orhian Johnson all saw significant minutes this season and all showed lots of promise at times. At other times, they all looked like nothing more than backups.

Offensively, everything revolves around QB Braxton Miller. Brax had some great moments this year, but certainly looked like a freshman. His job will get harder next year, as I mentioned three very reliable linemen are gone. Someone will also need to step up as a go-to receiver. Philly Brown, Devin Smith, and Verlon Reed will have the first crack at it.

Boom Herron has played his last game in the Scarlet and Gray, but running back is the position I'm least worried about. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde are fine backs, while not particularly flashy. I have no idea what happened with Jaamal Berry this season and why he never saw the field, but he could be back in the mix next season as well as Rod Smith, a promising back who couldn't crack the rotation with so many quality guys on the depth chart. Super fullback Zach Boren also returns for his final season.

As I said, not playing in a Bowl really blows, but it might give the season a "we have nothing to lose" kind of feel to it, similar to what USC did this year. Add that to having Urban Meyer at the helm and Braxton Miller running the offense, we should be in for an exciting 2012 campaign.


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