1. It’s our job to make words into sentences to try to put in perspective what has happened here, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that, but the totality of what the Buckeyes accomplished is kind of hard to wrap your mind around. They’ve said they weren’t a good football team after losing to Virginia Tech, and it’s hard to argue that point considering how poorly the team played in that loss, but the improvement came quickly from there. Still, it takes more than practice and working on techniques to become a championship-level football team. It takes something off the field, a force from within, and credit for that must go to Meyer, his staff and the team captains. There was clearly a buy-in and a closeness that was at a completely different level than most good teams let alone average or bad ones. That’s what has made this team so fun to be around. They were focused yet fun, a bunch of personalities who clearly shared a brotherhood and wanted to stick up for the guy next to them. Plus they’re some damn good football players, too. From the players to the coaches to the staff to the families, it’s been a team Buckeye Nation can be proud of.
2. All good coaches are good motivators, but Meyer takes it to a different level. He’s described his program as a high school program at the highest level of college with the way he comes up with ways to motivate. Meyer detests the word “slogans”, by the way, as he hates empty motivation – his reference to “16 seconds” this week in regards to how to slow down the Oregon offense gave the team a tangible goal to hold on to when things went roughly, not something as nebulous as “bear down” or “buck up.” Then there are the little things, like letting offensive linemen sit in first class and providing different gear to different players at all rungs of the hierarchy. Obviously, watching this team, it’s clear that no job is too small because Meyer and his staff make them all seem valuable, from the left man on kickoff coverage (the suddenly impactful Corey Smith, who figured out how to get on the field at the end of the year) to the third-string quarterback. You never know, he might have to come on and win three postseason games.
3. I wrote about a few guys that kind of encapsulated this team to me after the Sugar Bowl, but here’s a few more thoughts on guys who won’t get the press of Cardale Jones or Ezekiel Elliott but still deserve some. There’s Darryl Baldwin, a guy everyone associated with the team raves about for what he’s done behind closed doors to get where he is. He was just a starting tackle on a national championship team. That’ll live with him forever. I just mentioned Smith, but who could have imagined him becoming a hugely important special teams and energy player – not to mention big-play wideout – at the end of October. Curtis Grant has been a polarizing figure at Ohio State but was just a captain on a national championship team, then got to share the moment with his young child on the field after the game – all of that after losing his father in late 2013. Dontre Wilson, who had to be gutted in some ways to barely play in the national championship game in his home city, got to hold up the on-field newspaper printout and say, “This is all that matters to me.” Joel Hale moved to the offensive line for his senior year and couldn’t play because of injury but still used his emotion to push the team. I could keep going, but this team is full of guys who won’t see headlines in Sports Illustrated but deserve some credit and appreciation for their accomplishments.
4. It really blew me away how many people were picking Oregon before this game. Sure, the Ducks had been a death star since the midway point of the season, chewing up and spitting out opponents and absolutely breaking the spirit of the defending national champions in the Rose Bowl, but it was like, were people not paying attention to this Ohio State team? I hate to use the term “destiny” because that makes it sound like a fluke, like crazy on-field things had to happen for the Buckeyes to get here. That’s not it. It was simply that the entire roster bought in and had both the talent and intangibles to get the job done. I had little doubt before the game the Buckeyes would “get as their works deserve,” to borrow an old Jim Tressel phrase, and leave Dallas with a title. I approached the entire day Monday as though I would be writing about a national championship team come midnight, and the Buckeyes felt that, too.
5. What’s funny about the last two games is that Cardale Jones was responsible for three TDs and had a hand in four turnovers yet I left both games thinking about what an incredible job he did as a game manager. He blew everyone away with his arm vs. Wisconsin but never faced adversity, so we fairly wondered about how that would go in the College Football Playoff. Then he was absolutely at his best in tough situations vs. both Alabama and Oregon. Against the Ducks, OSU was down 7-0 and faced a third-and-8 at its own 5; Jones stood in his own end zone and fired a 26-yard pass to Smith. On the next play, he found Jalin Marshall in single coverage and hit him with another 26-yard pass (a great catch by Marshall was made as well). Suddenly, OSU went from the potential for disaster to on the way to a 97-yard, game-changing drive. His on-the-run find Devin Smith with a flick-of-a-wrist deep ball that set up OSU’s third touchdown came on a third-and-12 and dropped my jaw. When the Ducks got within one after a pair of third-quarter turnovers by Jones, he went 4 for 4 on the next drive. His fourth-and-1 failed quarterback sneak, loop away and dive for the first down play was ridiculous in most every sense of the word. If you treat the phrase game manager to mean “does what the team needs in the appropriate situation” rather than the “doesn’t make mistakes” sense, Jones was a great game manager the last two games.
6. I’ll admit it, I’ve fallen in love with Cardale’s game the last few weeks. It would be a hell of a lot of fun to see what he could do if he was the starter for a whole season. He’s obviously a fast enough runner, a long strider, and someone who is an absolute terror to tackle in the open field once he gets moving downhill. He’s almost impossible to sack. His release is effortless. He can make the big plays when necessary. He really never put the Buckeyes in tremendous danger with his arm even when throwing over the middle or when pressured. The sky is the limit for this guy, right? I know he’s been equal parts inconsistent and immature in the past, but I was also impressed by the way he’s handled all this attention over the past month and change. He’s a legitimately witty and charismatic character, even if there are still some rough edges that need sanded away as Tom Herman has said. But I’d buy stock in Cardale (it seems weird to call him Jones, doesn’t it?). His ceiling is so high that it’s bonkers, and selfishly, I want to get the chance to see him in action for an entire year.
7. That being said, Ezekiel Elliott, you’re the real MVP (of this game and postseason run). Meyer has often said he wants an offensive line-driven, power football team, and to do it you need a back who is willing to step up and carry the mail, and that’s Elliott. It was clear from about the midway point of the second quarter that if the Buckeyes kept pounding the ball, Elliott would not be stopped, and that is how the game played out. I have said that Elliott didn’t impress me the first three games of this year with his running style (I just felt like he left yards on the field and was capable of more after an impressive ’13 cameo), but he was also a sophomore making his first starts. He’s improved on a game-by-game basis in 2014 (some credit there to Stan Drayton) and was a monster in the postseason. He really has it all – he’s almost impossible to bring down with an arm tackle, he’s got the vision to see creases that appear only for an instant and he can run away from you if you give him the room. He can be a pantheon RB at a place where that really means something. Credit to him for getting to that point.
8. I really dislike covering Oregon games because it’s so hard for me to evaluate what is happening in real time. The Ducks run a funky 3-4 defense and obviously a fast, misdirection, option offense, so diagnosing where someone should have been on other side when something goes wrong (or right, even) is a nearly impossible task for me as someone who enjoys football but doesn’t quite have the schematic knowledge of a Ross Fulton. That being said, what can you say about the Ohio State defense? The 20 points allowed was obviously impressive, thanks in part to a red-zone defense the likes of which we hadn’t seen all year. Ohio State entered the game 126th of 128 teams in preventing red-zone TDs but shut down the Ducks there multiple times. Those stops were certainly impressive, but I thought OSU played an excellent 100-yard game after the first drive, minus the bust on the long TD to Byron Marshall. Oregon gets so used to playing defenses that get overwhelmed by what they do that facing a fast, physical, aggressive unit with confidence throws them off track, and that’s Silver Bullet defense. I think OSU can reclaim that moniker this year after a tough end to 2013.
9. Every time I think back to a year ago during this postseason run, it’s hard not to think about how Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson gashed the Buckeyes’ defense. Those teams averaged nearly 400 yards passing in those three games, but Ohio State’s numbers this time around vs. the Badgers, Ducks and Crimson Tide – seven interceptions vs. four TDs – were light years better. Ohio State settled into Chris Ash’s scheme well, and the new co-defensive coordinator gets credit for presenting the new ideas in a way the team would take to them. Credit also has to go the players like Darron Lee, whose physical nature and quick feet allow him to be the perfect nickel guy in today’s game; Doran Grant, who quietly had an excellent year for a No. 1 corner and never let his few failings derail him; Eli Apple, who grabbed ownership of the No. 2 corner spot and was impressive in both coverage and in tackling; Tyvis Powell, who is still not a perfect player but one who has earned his starting spot; and Vonn Bell, who became the ball-hawking, sure-tackling safety that earned him five-star status in the recruiting process. Add in an excellent pass rush and good underneath coverage out of the linebackers and you had a pass defense moving in synchronicity, not dysfunction.
10. I’ve never seen so much made-up controversy after a championship. Should Meyer have taken a knee? How could Tom Herman wear a Houston hat after the game? Will the championship celebration intrude on NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus? My thought is, why worry? Meyer has the right idea. Enjoy it, everybody. This doesn’t happen every year, as it’s really hard to get to this point. More than 120 programs start every year wanting to end up holding the new obelisk, and Ohio State has only six or eight national titles depending on who you ask in 125 years of football – and there’s been a lot of talented football players to come through here. So bask in the glow. It doesn’t get any better than this.
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