Occasionally, football fans are forced to sit back and think about the consequences of loving such a fundamentally violent sport. All of the rule changes, all of the efforts at improving player safety, nominal or otherwise, can’t completely legislate the violence out of a game whose foundations are violent. Football, as it is, requires hard hits; the consequences of those hits are occasionally more grim than we’d like to reckon with.
Look no further than Ohio State’s game against Nebraska on Saturday night under the lights in Columbus. Tommy Armstrong, the Huskers’ stalwart quarterback, fell victim to the traps of velocity when he was hit in the legs (perhaps unnecessarily) by a Buckeye defender and landed on his head on the unforgiving surface of the Ohio State sideline. The motionlessness was immediate; it was clear to all involved that something was terribly wrong with the Husker QB.
During the delay, as trainers and medical staff tended to Armstrong, we were treated to golf-announcer whispers and a sickening overhead view of the proceedings. Armstrong was carted off in an ambulance after a long delay, and returned to the field in sweatpants late in the game to raucous applause—a miracle survivor of what might have been a career-ending blow.
All of this served to stifle the action on the field, and rightly so. But what happened on the field was something Ohio State fans can’t have been prepared for: an absolute drubbing of a top-10 foe, a victory in all phases that left no doubt that the Buckeyes have the potential to play with the best teams in the country when they find a way to fire on all cylinders.
Prayers up for Tommy Armstrong. He deserves all the best. It feels a little cheaper tonight, but let’s look at some Buckeyes who deserve accolades in light of the final score.
Blue chip stocks
Curtis Samuel, H-back: Urban Meyer almost certainly doesn’t check Twitter, but you wouldn’t know it given the Buckeye play-calling on Saturday night. The rising tide of calls for Samuel to become the focal point of the offense was finally answered against the Huskers, and boy, did it pay off.
Brooklyn’s Finest ended Saturday’s contest with 137 receiving yards on eight catches, 41 yards on five carries, and two total touchdowns. He did that in two quarters and change; with the game well in hand, there was no sense in risking the health of the most dynamic offensive player in college football.
Ohio State’s offense looks its best when its best player has the ball in his hands. Astonishing stuff.
J.T. Barrett, QB: Hop in your time machine with me, if you will. Let’s go back in time and watch a vintage J.T. Barrett performance, one in which he records...
- 290 passing yards
- 4 passing touchdowns
- 0 interceptions
- 39 rushing yards
Feels like 2014 Penn State, maybe, or 2015 Virginia Tech. Actually, that’s how he finished Saturday’s Nebraska tilt, in which he often looked like the Barrett of old. There were a few of the usual bad overthrows (though none of the bad underthrows!), but he counteracted these whiffs with some beautiful passes in tight windows and a few slippery escapes that he had no business making.
Barrett came out in the third quarter. Had he stayed in the game (which would’ve been silly), his stat line would’ve been one for the ages. It was such a breath of fresh air to see him connecting with his receivers again, actually hitting guys in stride and seeing a hard cap on his designed carries instead of shouldering the entire workload himself.
The whole dang secondary: The law firm of Conley, Lattimore, and Hooker were open for business all evening. Ohio State’s secondary—also including Damon Webb, Damon Arnette, and Denzel Ward—held the Huskers’ pair of QBs to 9/33 passing. with no TDs and two interceptions. One of those picks went back for six, as Damon Webb took a pass to the house on the Huskers’ opening possession on a tip-drill snag eerily reminiscent of Arnette’s grab last week. Malik Hooker matched the effort by taking another pick 50+ yards to the house later in the game.
It was a stifling performance for the pass defense despite a few early easy first downs by Armstrong. The Buckeye defensive backs seemed like they were always in perfect position to break up Armstrong’s passes, even when he was right on the money with them. It was a game to be proud of for the secondary, and one which makes it seem like Ohio State miiiiiight be able to hang with anybody. (Put your hand down, Austin Carr, we see you.)
Sam Hubbard, DE: Hubbard finished Saturday’s game with five total tackles, including three solos and two tackles for loss. Hubbard was quiet against Penn State and Northwestern, but he made up for it in a big way against the Huskers. Great to see the former Notre Dame lacrosse commit (drink!) back in form.
Tyquan Lewis, DE: Lewis has quietly been everywhere for the Buckeye defense this season. Saturday’s contest was no different. He didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he made sure his presence was felt. One of Lewis’ best plays of the evening came on fourth-and-one for the Huskers; he got to backup QB Ryker Fyfe so fast that his pass went astray and the Buckeyes regained possession.
Lewis harangued the opposition all evening. After back-to-back games in which the Buckeye pass rush crashed back down to earth, it was refreshing to see Lewis get after Armstrong and Fyfe so relentlessly.
Dontre Wilson, Punt Returner: SMH. S. M. H.
BUY: Demario McCall, Punt Returner. See above. At some point you have to acknowledge that Wilson is a sunk cost, at least when it comes to special teams. You’ve invested a lot of time in energy in making him a competent punt returner; it hasn’t paid off. Gotta move on to one of the 150 other 5-star skill players on the roster at some point.
BUY: Ohio State’s tunnel entrance. If you didn’t get chills watching this you should call a doctor and get your pulse checked.
The tunnel entrance was pic.twitter.com/U7iMlxAUhY— tOSU Recruiting (@tOSURecruiting) November 6, 2016
BUY: The Cardale Jones Difference. The last time Cardale Jones suited up for Ohio State, the Buckeyes won by 59 points. He showed up on the sideline tonight; the final score was 62-3. #makes #you #think
Cardale Jones walking with J.T. Barrett at Skull Session pic.twitter.com/k91NapZUFB— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) November 5, 2016
BUY: Jump pass! Tim Tebow’s more of a Sunday guy, but we like a J.T. Barrett Saturday just fine.
SELL: Taking your foot off the gas. One more touchdown and the internet would have had a lot of material regarding the Ohio State score. Not #nice of them to let that possibility go.
BUY: All the little things. Ohio State protected J.T. Barrett for the first time in weeks, didn’t get stifled by penalties, and looked its best on third down. The little things are coming together for the Buckeyes at the right time.