Banished Buck - Fiesta Review

     To be honest, I would dearly like to write a nice clean article with lots of quotes.  I would like to develop an interesting theme. 

     The problem is that my feverish brain will not allow me.

     On Friday night (it is 5 a.m. Saturday morning as I write this), I watched what is probably one of the top 20 college football games of all time.  Two teams butted heads for over 3 hours while Buckeye and Hurricane fans writhed in agony.

     After 2 overtimes and what seemed to be the last shred of my sanity, Ohio State defeated the "unbeatable" Hurricanes.  All I could do was slump down upon the couch and hope to recover while the post game interviews were conducted.

     Like Lee Corso's voice, my brain is completely fried.  

     So, please allow me to offer these 14 points until such time as I can think coherently once again...


1.  The Streak.



     In the modern era of scholarship deductions, that is simply awesome.  There is not much you can take away from their program and their seniors. 

     At the same time, this streak (like many of the top streaks) was accomplished by a very good program in a very lousy conference.  Yes, there were some solid out of conference games, but the real test of a team's mettle is within their conference.  Can they beat conference foes in November?  Such games have more hate than a dog for a cat and more heat than a glass furnace.  When you play in a weaker conference, those late season contests are often close but not lethal.  This game is indicative of what would have happened to the Florida State teams of the 1990's.  It illustrates just how short the current streak might have been had the Miami Hurricanes been forced to play in the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12.

     Currently, Ohio State holds the top winning streak in division I-A.  Do not expect Ohio State to be able to repeat the feat of Miami.  The Big Ten is too deep.  It could happen I suppose, but I would be willing to bet the farm that it will not.


2.  Defense Wins Championships - Offense Sells Tickets.


     There is a reason why coaches harp on defense.  It wins rivalries.  It wins conference titles.  It wins national championships. 

     This Buckeye team had an incredible defense.  In the end it was their defense that stopped Miami as cold as a Cleveland January.  Miami on the other hand had a superb but not stellar defense.  It showed.  In truth, it is a wonder that Ohio State did not blow this game wide open.  Give credit to Miami for fighting until the end.  Give credit to the Ohio State defense for subduing Miami and winning in the end.


3.  Physical Teams vs. Speed.


     This is a familiar debate:  Speed or size?  Which do you build a team around?  Nebraska showed in the mid 1990's that you can possess both.  Ohio State deftly illustrated the point again on January 3.  Recruit large players for the trenches who have great quickness.  On defense, this allows them to stop up the run and wreak havoc on the opposing offense.  On offense, it allows them to stop a pass rush cold, pick up blitzes, and stuff the ball down the throat of the opponent's defense whenever the coaches wish.  Recruit special skill players who toast opponents' defenses better than a professional chef.  Put cornerbacks and safeties on the field that are as fleet as a doe and vicious as a pack of wolves. 

     Miami for all of its top athletes and "great speed" (which Ohio State matched and frankly exceeded), was punched in the mouth.  Ohio State served notice very early that its defensive line could and would dominate this contest.  Without some non-calls on Miami offensive linemen holding, this game is likely 14-0 at half if not worse.  The Ohio State offensive line rendered the vaunted defense of Miami punchless, holding them to one sack and opening up gaping holes for Krenzel and others to run through. 

     If Miami wants to win another national title in the near future, they must become a tougher team that has the size and speed of an Ohio State. 


4.  Looking Ahead.


     With the likelihood of several early defections, Ohio State players will have to step it up this offseason to be deserving of the #1 preseason ranking they will almost assuredly garner.  Pundits are already hyping the offense returning basically all of its starters.  Do not forget though that the offense did not win this championship - defense did.  Ohio State will need to replace at least 2 important defensive linemen in Thompson and Peterson.  Factor in the possible losses of Smith and Scott who produced in critical moments all season long, and this team is suddenly in serious need of defensive line recruits.  Wilhelm and Grant are going to be missed in a big way.  Both had great football saavy and solid speed (Grant had GREAT speed for a linebacker and showed it on 4th and goal).  Doss and Nickey were weak at times against the pass, but their leadership kept that defense on an even keel all year.  They will be missed.  OSU will lose anywhere from 5-7 defensive starters as well as Andy Groom and Chris Vance.

     The future is bright for Ohio State.


5.  Who Jumps to the Pro Ranks?


     Before answering this question, understand that it is not about game stats this year as much as measurables when considering the professional game.  Pickett and Ross were both thought to be making a serious blunder when coming out early but did just fine after wowing the scouts at combines.  Bearing in mind I am no pro scout...


Will Smith - He is a likely top 20 pick were he to come out now and perform well in the combine.  He has speed, power, quickness, size, etc.  Miami certainly had no answer for him.  Neither did anyone else when he was healthy.  With the premium on defensive linemen, someone would snatch him up in the first round on potential alone. 


Darrion Scott - Here is another top defensive lineman for Ohio State.  He is a first day draft pick who could make a significant move with a solid combine.  With his size he creates matchup issues at the DE and DT slots.  Darrion will gain marks for his consistently stellar play this season, especially for constantly being around the football in critical moments.


Michael Jenkins - I am uncertain as to where exactly he would go were he to jump.  I think more than Darrion and Will, Michael would have to have a great combine.  Right now the perception is that Michael is not a burner but rather a possession receiver.  If Jenkins cannot run faster than a 4.5, then he needs to stay another season.  If he can, then staying would be almost foolish given his size, hands, and measurables that professional organizations crave.


     In short, I think it very possible that Ohio State will lose all three players.  I would love to have them all back for 2003, but I believe that their performances tonight coupled with the destruction of McGahee's knee will chase them out of the WHAC to the next level.  If there is any angst about such decisions, just remember:  OSU won in a large part because of these three young men.  Which would be more palatable, lose to Miami but get all three back -- or beat Miami and wish them all well whatever their decision?  I will choose the latter.


6.  Referees


     Here is a controversy that is already in full bloom.  Look for the pass interference call in the end zone that breathed new life into the Buckeyes to get plenty of play.  Look for Miami fans to make this their rallying cry.  Look for Ohio State detractors to try and use this to save themselves.

     That is fine.

     Let them try to hide behind the skirts of the striped ones.  I for one am not buying it for even a nanosecond.

     If someone wants to make a big deal out of the referees, put in a tape of the game for them.  Play the first quarter multiple holds on Ohio State defensive linemen.  Examine the play where Vance was knocked to the turf with the ball in the air, resulting in a OSU turnover because of the lack of a flag.  Show Miami's march down the field where the offensive line of the Hurricanes all but stripped the Buckeyes of their uniforms with their clutching and grabbing.  Fast forward to the fourth quarter.  Show the Gamble first down (either via holding or a catch in bounds - you pick).  Show the time on the clock.  Do the math.  The game would have been over in regulation with the correct call in that situation.

     Take them to the box score.  Ohio State was penalized 9 times for 49 total yards.  Miami was called for a penalty only 6 times in the contest, costing them only 30 yards.

     Finally, take them to the explanation of the play itself by both Terry Porter (the referee) and Glenn Sharpe (the Miami defender).  Porter indicated he was late in throwing the flag because he reviewed it in his mind to be double sure it was the correct call.  Sharpe even admitted to at least one reporter that it was a good call (and that alone should end the controversy even though it won't).

     The bottom line is that both teams can point to some close calls.  Both teams likely have a legitimate gripe. 

     Both teams also had a chance to win it on their own. 

     Ohio State made the plays and stuffed it in the end zone in the second overtime.  Miami could have done the same. They could have taken the game to a third overtime and scored on Ohio State there to win the game.  They did not.  They fell 1 yard short and could not score. 

     Game, set, match - Ohio State victory.


7.  Willis McGahee.


     I do not think there is a self-respecting Buckeye out there who would have wished him injured.  The situation could not be worse in football terms.  McGahee, a redshirt sophomore, was almost certainly intending to declare for the NFL draft following this game.  He gashed Ohio State throughout the second half and appeared to be taking command of the football game when the fateful hit occurred.  Watching the replay was sickening.  Maybe the knee is merely sprained and in some fluke Willis' future will not be altered.  However, I have witnessed only a few joints bend in the opposite directions, and the results have always been the same... Painful surgery followed by excruciating, lengthy rehabilitation.  Willis likely will have to spend the next 12 months undergoing at least one surgery and watching Frank Gore take back the starting tailback position.  Hopefully, if Willis does not play next season, the NCAA will grant him a medical hardship and Willis will not lose another year of eligibility.  Good luck Willis. 


8.  Ohio State Defensive Line


     All the hype coming into this contest was that Ohio State could not hope to contain the brilliant front four of the Hurricanes which when rotated ran 8 deep.  Not only did the Buckeyes offensive line manage to pull off that feat while playing 2 freshmen at times, the defensive rotation for Ohio State was the headliner the real dominator in this contest. 

     I have a rule when picking contests:  The team with the best defensive line will win 9 times out of 10. 

     This rule once again held true in the Fiesta. 

     Ohio State's Defensive Line just took control of the game.  The front four and the linebackers hit Dorsey more times than a pinata.  By the second overtime, Dorsey came apart like one as well.  In 20 carries, McGahee managed only a paltry 67 yards and 1 touchdown before being carried from the field.  Payton looked nothing like his legendary father with 17 yards on 8 carries.  The supposedly unstoppable Johnson never saw much of the football because quite frankly, Dorsey was too busy picking grass out of his facemask to find him. 

     When the smoke cleared, the big guns were Anderson, Frasier, Smith, Scott, Thompson, and Peterson -- not the Hurricanes.  They fired their cannons into the weak underbelly of the ‘Canes, and the Miami players and coaches had not choice but to go down with the ship in the storm.


9.  Ohio State Offensive Line.


     Abuse is not the word for what this unit has taken all season.  Disgust does not begin to encompass what Ohio State fans have felt at times watching them play over the last 3 seasons.  Frustration just does not do justice to what the coaches must have felt watching players get out of shape, miss blocks, not protect on pass plays, not open holes on running plays, and generally stinking up the joint.

     Friday night however was a different story.

     Ohio State soundly defeated Miami on the ground.  Craig Krenzel had time to throw with Miami managing only a measly single sack. 

     Kudos to this unit for their guts, preparation, and execution.


10.  Conservative Jim Tressel


     Is there a larger misconception out there?  Yes, in some respects, Tressel could be counted as a conservative coach offensively.  On the other hand, Tressel has coached in 7 national title games in 17 seasons and has a record of 5-2.  It is just possible that Tressel's philosophy is not so much "Conservative" as it is "Correct."

     So what makes me say that this is a misconception?  Check out that VCR tape of the game.  Take a look at Ohio State.  Tressel attempted a fake field goal - which would have worked had a block not been totally missed (and I for one liked the call).  Tressel also told Craig Krenzel to stuff it in the end zone on 4th and 1, once again eschewing the chip shot field goal.  It was Gamble and not Johnson, Sands, or Parrish that had the long reception of the game.  It was Tressel who made the decision to play two freshmen on the offensive line against supposedly the best defensive front 7 in the nation.  It was Tressel who spelled Clarett early and often with Lydell Ross...

     Each of these decisions were risky and could have come back to haunt him in post game news conferences had Ohio State fallen short. 

     The evidence clearly suggests that Jim Tressel is not as stodgy as he is made out to be.  The issue here is one of calculated risks.  Coach Tressel believes in playing fundamentally sound football and picking and choosing exactly when to exploit a team's weaknesses.  He patiently waits until the right moment with uncanny frequency and then orders his players to strike like an adder.  They all too happily comply.  The other team, though perhaps more talented or more dangerous is neutralized by the venom and falls.

     Pull out the game tape and check the film if you like.  Which coach was more "conservative" on Friday night? 


11.  The Seniors.


     Much maligned entering 2002, this group decided to alter their legacy.  Instead of leaving as underachievers, they opted to work hard, play team football, and leave with a national title.

     22-15 entering 2002.

     36-15 with the first and only AP national title for Ohio State in 34 years.

     About the only way to make the Buckeye faithful any happier would be if each one of these young men are able to complete their education and become official Ohio State Alumni.


     Future senior leaders will be measured by the heart and desire shown by this group of 13 young men.


12.  Becoming Spoiled.


     Ohio State fanatics are now officially spoiled.  After a historical 14-0 season, most of this Buckeye team returns.  Soooooo... the natural expectation is that Ohio State should win all of their games next year.  Then, if you look at the roster and the recruits that are on their way, Ohio State should win all of the games the following year (2004).  By building upon this success (as any solid staff should), the Bucks are all but guaranteed further recruiting success and another national title in 2005.

     And so it goes...

     Enjoy this season.  Savor it.

     Oklahoma fans loved their title and were certain another would be just a year away when Heupel led them to the championship against Florida State because most of their team was returning.

     Miami fans were certain until tonight that another title was 60 minutes and a slow, wimpy opponent away as early as Friday 7 pm EST.

     Alabama fans under Gene Stallings thought that the Tide would wash away their opposition every year after their magical 13-0 run in 1992.

     Michigan, Nebraska, Florida State, Tennessee, OU, Miami, Washington, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Florida, Notre Dame, etc. have all won national titles in the last 15 years.  Only Nebraska in a weak Big 8 (and later Big 12) conference has managed a repeat run.

     Could Ohio State run the tables in 2003? 


     I for one would recommend however that Buckeyes everywhere enjoy this one and do not expect the same results every year in order to enjoy this football program.


13.  Team Effort.


     In the weeks leading up to this game, I became increasingly disenchanted with the analysis offered by journalists and media types.  One after another they completely dismissed the Buckeyes.  Cheap shots in papers and on the internet abounded like precipitation in a rain forest.

     I came to the conclusion that an Ohio State victory would be not only good for the Buckeyes but even good for the game of College football.  Why?  Football is fundamentally a team sport.  More than Basketball, more than soccer, more than baseball, or a host of other games, football TEAMS rely on all 11 men doing their job consistently on every single play.  It is not a game where the most talented players win.  It is not a game where simply having great speed wins.  It is a game played by a team of individuals who sacrifice their individualism for the betterment of the entire unit.

     Ohio State consistently showed they were willing to do just that this season.

     Miami did not.

     Thus, when the best team wins over the greatest collection of individuals (see the Ohio State/Michigan contests of the 1990‘s), it serves as a reminder what the true indicators of success are in this sport:  Team, execution, focus, patience, maturity, poise, etc.  Arrogance, trash-talking, insulting, individual talents, and big mouths are an illustration of what is wrong with college football.  Now to be sure, Miami today is not the Miami of 1990, but nor are they (obviously) a true team.

     Corso summed this Buckeye team up by commenting that they play football the way it ought to be played and said that he was trying to pay the Bucks a (whale) of a compliment.

     Contrast that with the comments by Kellen Winslow II after the game where he stated that Miami was still the better team... 


14. Fourteen and Oh.


     How fitting.  My eyes are about to bug out of my noggin, and I find myself on the #14.  Ohio State is the first and only team in Division I-A history to complete a 14-0 season.  In history. 

     Allow the magnitude of that statement to sink in for just one moment.

     They did what I did not believe to be possible and won every single game.

     Simply incredible.   




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