Off The Ledge: Time To Buck Up, Embrace A Great Season

By Jeff Rapp, January 2nd, 2019

As far as consolation games go, this was as good as it gets.

The Ohio State football team, maligned as it was for much during the season – especially after a devastating loss at Purdue in October – finished its 2018 campaign with a 28-23 victory over Pac-12 champion Washington in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Consider that this victory …
— Capped a 13-1 season and followed a win over Northwestern in the Big Ten title game along with the blowout of Michigan on Nov. 24;
— Guaranteed a top-five finish for the Buckeyes after No. 5 Georgia lost later in the evening in the Sugar Bowl and created a case for OSU to be ranked ahead of Notre Dame as well;
— Enabled OSU to reach the 13-win plateau for just the third time in school history, joining the national championship seasons of 2002 (14-0) and 2014 (14-1);
— Improved Ohio State’s all-time series advantage to 9-3 vs. Washington, a topflight program that awaits meetings with the Buckeyes in September 2024 and 2025;
— And, of course, sent off Urban Meyer with a win in a prestigious bowl game in which he had never coached.

“I’ve been a Rose Bowl fan my whole life because I’ve been a Buckeye fan my whole life,” said Meyer, who retired after the game. “We have a mantra in our program – when I need you the most you give us your very best. This has been a rugged year. We had the (Zach Smith) issue in the summer. We had maybe the best player in college football (Nick Bosa) go down with an injury. We had a terrible loss.

“But when we needed each other, they gave us their very best. We’re playing as good a game of football as anybody in the country right now.”

Meyer officially ends his seven-year tenure at OSU at 83-9. The first three games of the season, all wins, go on the record of Ryan Day, who served as acting head coach while Meyer served a highly publicized suspension due to the university’s mishandling of Smith, who served as Ohio State’s wide receivers coach under Meyer until being fired just before the season.

Back in early December when Meyer announced the Rose Bowl would be his last game in charge of the program, athletic director Gene Smith introduced Day as Ohio State’s next head coach, effective Jan. 2. Meyer ceremoniously handed Day his whistle in the locker room after the Rose Bowl and before a jubilant OSU team.

Meyer, who had successful two-year stints at Bowling Green and Utah and won a pair of national championships at Florida, says he has coached his last game. His 17-year record stands at 187-32 for a winning percentage (.854) that currently ranks third all-time.

For comparison sake, Washington head coach Chris Petersen, considered by many to be among the best active coaches in the country, has a 13-year record of 139-33, including 47-21 at Washington. Michigan boss Jim Harbaugh is now 96-41 in 11 seasons as a college head coach with an 0-4 mark against Meyer’s Buckeyes and a 2-4 record in bowl games.

Harbaugh is 38-14 in four years at UM and has yet to coach in the Big Ten Championship Game; Meyer famously went 7-0 against UM, is 3-1 in the Big Ten title game and 4-2 in bowl games while at OSU. He’s 12-3 in bowl games in his career and is likely to have many fond memories of his last one.

After watching his team hang on after nearly losing grip of a 28-3 lead, Meyer was all smiles during the postgame celebration but the emotion of the moment also was evident, especially on the faces of his wife, Shelley, and their family members.

It was the kind of snapshot that is supposed to endear – and did 22 years ago when John Cooper got the monkey off his back thanks to Joe Germaine’s last-second heroics and former AD Andy Geiger choked on tears of joy.

While Buckeye fans certainly can appreciate that Meyer was able to ride off into the California sunset, I fear this win still feels a little to hollow to most – and that’s too bad.

For starters, OSU didn’t cover the point spread and didn’t dominate UW the way fans expect, even though the first three quarters were awash in scarlet and gray. And, of course, this year’s Rose Bowl wasn’t part of the College Football Playoff, meaning it was a mere warm-up to the national championship slated for Monday night.

Ohio State being out of that equation makes for a lackluster season in the eyes of many. Even radio analyst Stan Jackson, who started that memorable 1997 Rose Bowl win over Arizona State, effectively said, “Who cares?” when previewing the game, noting that it’s merely a “useless exhibition.” Many of those who called in to 105.7 (FM) The Zone to react to his negativity … agreed.

Well, I’ve got to take on my friend and his followers a bit here.

There is no bowl game with more pageantry, glorious history and tradition than the Rose Bowl. And it turned out despite weeks of pregame analysis to the contrary, the 9th-ranked Huskies (10-4) were a worthy challenger.

Yes, we are in a new age, a playoff age, and a lot of today’s fans and players don’t embrace a Big Ten-Pac-12 showdown like they used to, especially if it’s not going to advance you through the CFP.

Yes, Ohio State’s 49-20 setback at Purdue was a costly outlier, one that left the Buckeyes out of the national championship picture, allowing southern powers Alabama and Clemson once again to emerge as the kings of college football.

Recruits don’t sign on to come to Ohio State to play in a second-tier bowl; they come to play for it all and then move on the NFL. I get it.

But being in the playoff every year isn’t all that realistic, especially when the committee members perceive that the best football is being played in the South and those schools keep confirming their belief by advancing.

You can’t win it all every year. But winning 85 percent of your games, several league titles, a national championship and sweeping That Team Up North over a seven-year span absolutely is worthy of celebration.

The Buckeyes and Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins broke all sorts of school and conference offensive records, and they ended their season by bombing Michigan, hoisting the conference championship trophy and taking down a fellow Power 5 champ in the Rose Bowl. That used to merit a parade around here; not it gets you an attaboy and a shrug.

Sure, Meyer wanted to play for the whole enchilada, too, but his enthusiasm moments after the season finale should be felt all across Buckeye Nation.

“That was a hell of a game, man,” Meyer said. “Big Ten Division champs, Big Ten champs, Rose Bowl champs, our 13th win and one of the great teams in Ohio State history. We will enjoy it and we will move on to the next era.

“We said back in 2011 we wanted to make the great state of Ohio proud. We wanted to make this great university proud and I am so proud of our players.”

Haskins could of sat out the game and declared his early entry into the NFL draft. Instead, he completed 25 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three scores against one of the nation’s best secondaries and was named the game’s offensive MVP.

He ended his incredible sophomore season with 50 touchdown passes and 54 touchdowns responsible for – both OSU and Big Ten records.

Meanwhile, the running game provided enough balance as Mike Weber logged 96 yards on 15 carries and J.K. Dobbins added a touchdown run.

“Coach Mick and Meyer preach about the winning line of scrimmage,” Haskins said. “So today Mike ran the ball really efficiently and got a lot of first downs with him. Opened up the passing game for us, giving us some wide-open lanes and as far as impacting the zone coverage. We did a great job picking up some blitzes today, and we had to be efficient.”

Joining the party was senior wideout Parris Campbell, who had 11 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. He set a new OSU single-season record with 89 catches. He also became OSU’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Michael Jenkins in 2002.

The Ohio State defense also emerged late in the season, which is a Meyer trademark – and part of the reason why he went 18-5 in his career in games played in December or January.

The defensive MVP of the game was young safety Brendon White, who didn’t join the starting lineup until the second half of the season. He had eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and intercepted Washington quarterback Jake Browning’s two-point conversion pass with 42 seconds left.

The defense set the tone early by shutting down the Huskies while the OSU racked up 275 yards and three TDs in the first half.

“I think we got off to a fast start,” Meyer said. “That’s a top 10 defense, one of the best defenses we faced in the last few years. And they were playing zone coverage, and we had to be patient because they went around us, over the top, and I thought Dwayne did a great job.

“And the offensive line blocked a very good D-line. We ran the ball. Very good balance. Didn’t turn the ball over. Had nice drives.”

Browning finished 35 of 54 passing for 313 yards and running back Myles Gaskin had 121 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown, but it was all too late.

The Buckeyes had built their lead and, eventually, made their point, evening OSU’s all-time bowl record at 25-25.

Meyer, meanwhile, improved to 26-5 vs. ranked opponents while at OSU and 46-15 overall.

Did he win them all? No, no one does.

And despite this era where it seems Alabama is drenched in confetti every year, the reality even the Crimson Tide are not immune from the occasional setback.

When you recover from a midseason loss like this, though, you better learn to enjoy it.

Talking to you, Buckeye fanatics.