Football, that most American of distractions from the banality of our day-to-day problems, failed Ohio State fans in spectacular fashion on New Year’s Eve. The Buckeyes, young upstarts riding a wave of nobody-believes-in-us mojo, came screaming back to earth against a Clemson team that looked like it was playing a different sport than the guys in the white jerseys.
Hunter S. Thompson, gone now these 11 long years (and god, how we could have used him in 2016), had a saying about moments like these:
Every now and then you run up on one of those days when everything’s in vain...a stone bummer from start to finish; and if you know what’s good for you, on days like this you just hunker down and watch. Maybe think a bit. Lay back on a cheap wooden chair...
What a dream that would be: to have watched this terrible, awful, no-good game from a distance, untouched by what it feels like to get pantsed on national TV. Maybe from a pillow fort in the living room, or under 25 blankets your grandmother made you.
The second half of Thompson’s solution to these days—involving consuming dozens of Budweisers, gobbling a hefty dose of mescaline, and then driving out to the sea and feeling the surf hit your feet, is even less actionable than the first. (Appealing as it may sound to some.) What we can do instead is relive this, quickly, like tearing off a Band-Aid, and then bury the whole sorry mess behind the shed, where it’ll never be found again.
Blue chip stocks
Raekwon McMillan, MLB: This was probably Raekwon the Chef’s last game as a Buckeye, and good lord, did he go out with a bang (despite his team’s larger whimper). He was absolutely everywhere on Saturday night, flying to the ball with a furor unmatched by anyone else that took the field. It’s fitting, really; he was the heart and soul of the Buckeye defense all season, and he played out of his mind until the last: 15 total tackles (12 solo), two tackles for loss, one sack. We’ll miss No. 5 in a big way if he decides to leave for greener pastures.
Malik Hooker, S: Hooker is one of those rare players whose skill set fits so seamlessly with the scheme his coordinator wants to run that everything he does feels almost scripted. Saturday night was no exception; Hooker set the tone for himself early in the first quarter with a huge stick of Wayne Gallman at the line of scrimmage on a perfectly-timed blitz. He followed that up with an interception in the third quarter that hit him in stride, arms outstretched as though he were the intended receiver on the play.
The team struggled, but Hooker did not. He’s a tremendous defensive talent, and improved so quickly that it’s not hard to see why this Buckeye team was able to overachieve all year.
Chris Worley, OLB: Worley’s a secret no longer. He’s played incredibly for the Buckeyes down the stretch, and his performance against Clemson was no exception: 10 tackles (8 solo) in an effort that saw the Ohio State defense on the field for almost 36 minutes.
Unlike McMillan, Worley is probably not going anywhere until the end of next year. That will be huge for a Buckeye team that floundered on offense all year and relied on its exceptional defense to stay in games against good teams. Continuity will be key as this young team gets a year older; Worley’s consistent play will be a big part of that.
Gareon Conley, CB: Astonishing that we still haven’t gotten to an offensive player yet. That trend continues with Gareon Conley, whose first-drive interception seemed to promise imminent success for the Buckeyes. That obviously didn’t happen, but that’s no fault of Conley’s. Nor was Mike Williams gashing the defense through the air: hard to stop someone the coaches don’t let you cover.
J.T. Barrett, QB: The J.T. Barrett takes on the internet during and after the game were so hot, on both sides of the “is he even any good” issue, that we have no desire to belabor any of the points any further here. Regardless of where you stand on his overall body of work, Barrett was bad in this game. This open look turning into an INT for Clemson didn’t singlehandedly lose it for the Buckeyes, but it was indicative of how badly Barrett misfired pretty much all season:
This needs to be completed 10/10 times. pic.twitter.com/Jx3wox2sk1— Christopher Jason (@cjason112) January 1, 2017
Tyler Durbin, K: The first rule of Fight Club is, apparently, that you have to miss your first two kicks. This stinker of a game marked the second straight contest in which Durbin missed a pair of field goals, the difference being that he was able to redeem himself against Michigan. Durbin was perfect in the Buckeyes’ first 11 games, and for that we’re forever grateful, but going 1/5 to close the year isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
BUY: Ohio State’s season still being a success. The youngest team in college football was supposed to be in an 8-4 or 9-3 type rebuilding year. Going 11-2 this year, playing in a rejuvenated Big Ten conference, was no mean feat. I’ll let my colleague Matt Brown take this one:
1) No, Penn State didn't deserve OSU's playoff spot— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) January 1, 2017
2) No, a bad bowl record doesn't mean the B1G wasn't good this year
3) Spot was good
SELL: Putting Denzel Ward on Mike Williams. Unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes’ 3rd or 4th corner (depending on the day) did not play particularly well in single coverage against the 2017 NFL Draft’s surefire first receiver off the board. Williams is a matchup problem for just about anybody; he’d be less of a problem if Gareon Conley (or a healthy Marshon Lattimore) got to cover him all game.
SELL: The playcalling. This is nothing revelatory. Fingers crossed for a less-nonsensical, less-frustrating 2017.
BUY: Ohio State Twitter. The internet’s worst website (besides this one!!!!) is always at its best when the Buckeyes are playing. Saturday night was no exception.
Ohio State's offensive line is the 2016 of offensive lines— Chuck McKeever (@McKChuck) January 1, 2017
(Did this blogger just use his own tweet in a list of funny tweets? You betcha.)
See you all in the New Year.