Coming into the season, Ohio State had dreams of playing in their third College Football Playoff in five years, but a humiliating loss to Purdue in October put the Buckeyes in a hole that they weren’t able to dig themselves out of. The consolation prize isn’t too bad though, as Ohio State will be playing in their 15th Rose Bowl on Tuesday when they take on the Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies.
Last time out
Ohio State did all that they could to convince the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that they were worthy of a playoff spot with a 45-24 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, but it wasn’t quite enough. The win over the Wildcats gave Ohio State their second straight Big Ten title, and third under Urban Meyer.
Ohio State’s Rose Bowl history
The Buckeyes will be playing in their 15th Rose Bowl in school history, and it will be the first time that they’ve faced Washington in the prestigious bowl. Ohio State is 7-7 in Pasadena, with their last Rose Bowl appearance coming in 2010, when Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor led the Buckeyes to a 26-17 victory over Oregon.
As if the pageantry of “The Granddaddy of Them All” wasn’t enough, Ohio State will be saying goodbye to Urban Meyer, who will be retiring after seven seasons as head coach of the Buckeyes. Following the Rose Bowl, Meyer will hand the football program over to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day.
Meyer to retire
There is no question that Meyer is one of the best head coaches in college football, but his decision to retire is rooted deeper than just on-field performance. Not only was Meyer embroiled in the Zach Smith scandal, which resulted in the head coach being suspended for the first three games of the season, but there is well-documented health issues that Meyer has been dealing with as well. Meyer has a cyst in his brain which causes severe headaches. One of the scariest moments of the season came in the fourth quarter of the Indiana game when Meyer was forced to a knee due to one of those severe headaches.
Coming into his final game as Ohio State head coach, Meyer has amassed an 82-9 record with the Buckeyes, and a 186-32 record overall at the four stops in his head coaching career. Meyer’s .853 win percentage is the highest among active FBS head coaches, with the only other coach sporting a win percentage above .800 being the man who will be on the opposite sideline, Washington head coach Chris Petersen.
Meyer will look to continue the trend of his teams making the most of extra preparation time. At Ohio State, Meyer’s teams are 19-2 with more than a week to prepare for their opponent, and in his 17 years as a head coach, his teams are 49-4 with more than a week of prep time. The only two losses at Ohio State in that scenario both came to Clemson in bowl games.
It’s not official yet whether quarterback Dwayne Haskins will declare for the NFL Draft or not, but smart money is on the redshirt sophomore moving on to the professional ranks following the Rose Bowl. Haskins enters “The Grandaddy of Them All” on the heels of a couple of huge performances, tossing six touchdowns in the 62-39 rout over Michigan, and following that up by throwing for five touchdowns and a school-record 499 yards in the win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Haskins has rewritten the Ohio State and Big Ten record books, setting 22 school and conference records this year. The six-time Big Ten Player of the Week threw for 4,580 yards and 47 touchdowns, which are the most in school and conference history. Haskins threw for 400 yards in five games this year, threw six touchdowns against Indiana and Michigan, and in three other games tossed five TD passes. The impressive performance through the season led to Haskins being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, for which he finished third in the voting, behind winner Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and runner-up, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Powering Haskins’ assault on the record books was a veteran group of wide receivers. Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, and K.J. Hill deserve a lot of credit for what they did throughout the year. Not only is the quartet the first group of Ohio State wide receivers to reach 1,000 career receiving yards together, but they all hauled in at least 30 passes and combined for 35 receiving touchdowns this season. Campbell and McLaurin each caught a team-high 11 touchdown passes, while Campbell led the group with 79 catches and 992 receiving yards.
There’s no question that Ohio State’s receiving corps will have a much different look next year. Campbell, Dixon, and McLaurin are all seniors and will be playing in their final game in the Scarlet and Gray, while junior K.J. Hill could declare for the NFL Draft if he believes that it would be in his best interests.
Next man up
One young wide receiver who has generated some excitement late in the season has been freshman Chris Olave, who caught seven passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns in wins over Michigan and Northwestern. Olave saw more playing time over the last five games after Austin Mack was injured against Purdue.
Ohio State’s rushing attack hasn’t always performed to the level this year that many have been accustomed to, but the Buckeyes will look to get the combination of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber rolling early. Ohio State is 16-0 when either Dobbins or Weber rushes for at least 100 yards in a game, and the duo is the first pair of running backs in Ohio State history to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards.
Another Buckeye who will be moving on to the professional ranks following this game is Mike Weber. After rushing for 1,096 yards in his freshman season, the Detroit native battled injuries and a time-share in the backfield with Dobbins over the past two seasons. Even with seeing his carries cut down, Weber still totaled a combined 1,484 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in his sophomore and junior seasons.
Next year J.K. Dobbins will have the spotlight to himself in the backfield, but his star is already plenty bright. The sophomore is the first running back in school history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first two seasons in Columbus. With Weber missing the game due to injury, Dobbins’ best performance of the season came against Maryland, rushing 37 times for 203 yards and a touchdown. While sledding has been a little tougher this year for Dobbins, the Buckeyes will look to end the season on a high-note, building some momentum heading into his junior season.
Ohio State’s offense has been firing on all cylinders pretty much all year long, but the same cannot be said for the defense. The pass rush of the Buckeyes took a huge hit against TCU when defensive end Nick Bosa was lost for the season due to injury. The lack of a consistent pass rush after the loss of Bosa put Ohio State’s defense behind the eight-ball, resulting in countless big plays given up by the defense.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the defense though, as they have stepped up their game as of late. Ohio State did allow 39 points against Michigan, but 20 of those points by the Wolverines came in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. Even more encouraging for the Buckeyes was their performance against Northwestern, where Chase Young registered three sacks and the defense forced three turnovers.
Chase ‘em down
While Chase Young leads Ohio State with 9.5 sacks this year, his inconsistency at times this year has been frustrating. The sophomore defensive end has registered at least two sacks in four games this year, but he has also been shutout in seven games in 2018. The Buckeyes will need another performance from Young like the one against Northwestern if Ohio State is going to keep Jake Browning and the Washington offense in check.
The Ohio State defense won’t quite see the exodus following this game that the Ohio State offense will, but one defensive player who has already announced his intention to move on to the NFL is defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones. The Cleveland product is not only the first Ohio State defensive lineman to register two touchdowns in a season, but he is currently second on the team with 8.5 sacks. Plenty of credit has to be given to Jones as he upped his game following the loss of Bosa earlier this year.
Coming on strong
Ohio State is going to need a big performance out of its linebackers if the Buckeyes want to keep Washington running back Myles Gaskin in check. Malik Harrison has gotten better as the year has gone on, leading the team with 74 tackles this year. Also helping the group this year has been the continued improvement of Tuf Borland, who started the season slow after suffering an achilles injury in spring practice. Pete Werner picked up some of the slack while Borland was recovering earlier in the year, and he has proven he can hold his own.
Washington’s Rose Bowl history
Just like the Buckeyes, Washington will be making its 15th appearance in the Rose Bowl, posting a 7-6-1 record in their previous 14 games in Pasadena. The Huskies have made at least one Rose Bowl in each of the last 10 decades. In Washington’s last trip to the Rose Bowl back in 2001, the Huskies defeated Purdue 34-24.
Season at a glance
Washington’s season was a bit of a roller coaster ride. The Huskies entered the season as the sixth-ranked team in the country, but fell to Auburn in Atlanta in their season opener. Chris Petersen’s team rattled off five straight wins before losing to Oregon in overtime and a 12-10 defensive slugfest to California in October.
The Huskies were able to regroup after the losses to the Ducks and Golden Bears, winning their final four games. Washington not only continued their mastery of Washington State in the Apple Cup in their final game of the regular season, but they defeated Utah 10-3 in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
End of an era
Tuesday’s battle against the Buckeyes will mark the final game at quarterback for Washington’s Jake Browning. The senior has started 52 of 53 during his career with the Huskies. Browning’s best season in Seattle came in 2016, when he threw 43 touchdowns as the Huskies made the College Football Playoff.
Browning’s numbers haven’t quite been what Washington fans were hoping for to close out his career, throwing just 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year, but there is no questioning the veteran leadership he brings to the table. Their numbers might not be all that flashy, but Browning has built a solid rapport with wide receivers Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, and Ty Jones, all of which the much-maligned Ohio State secondary will have to keep tabs on.
An even bigger threat to Ohio State’s defense is going to be running back Myles Gaskin. The senior is one of the most decorated running backs in Pac-12 history, with his 5,202 rushing yards and 55 rushing touchdowns ranking third all-time in the conference. Gaskin is also one of just 10 running backs in FBS history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in four seasons.
Even more impressive about Gaskin’s 1,147 rushing yards this year is he reached that number despite missing two games due to injury. Gaskin made up for lost time after returning from injury, rushing for at least 135 yards in each of his first three games back on the field. While Gaskin was on the shelf, it allowed running back Salvon Ahmed to get some more work, and for the season Ahmed finished with 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
A tackling machine
The Huskies have some solid pieces on offense, but the heart of their team is linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven. The junior from California finished with 165 tackles on the season, registering double digits in tackles in all but two games this year. To go along with his massive tackle total, Burr-Kirven was credited with four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two interceptions this year. For a deeper look at Burr-Kirven, our own Geoff Hammersley broke down what the linebacker brings to the defense.
The best of the rest
Burr-Kirven may be the star of the Washington defense, but the Huskies have a bunch of other strong defensive players. Safety Taylor Rapp led the Huskies with five sacks this year, while cornerback Byron Murphy picked off a team-high four passes. Linebacker Tevis Bartlett forced three fumbles, and senior defensive end Greg Gaines registered 3.5 sacks.
Tough to crack
Co-defensive coordinators Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake have built a stingy defense in Seattle, with the Huskies not allowing 40 points over the last 57 games. Unlike Ohio State’s defense, Washington has been nearly impossible to break a big play on this season. The Huskies have allowed just nine plays from scrimmage that went over 30 yards this year, and only one of those plays went for more than 40 yards.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 30, Washington 27
Win Probability: Ohio State 56.4%
Even though Ohio State’s offense has put up at least 40 points in eight of 13 games this year, the numbers like Washington’s defense to keep the Rose Bowl close. The only time the Huskies gave up 30 points this year came in their overtime loss to Oregon. Ben Burr-Kirven will be all over the field in Pasadena, but he’ll need some help if Washington is going to hold the Buckeyes in check.
What will be key for Washington is to avoid falling in an early hole. If the Huskies get down by a couple scores and are forced to abandon their running game, it could be a long day for Chris Petersen’s team. What the Huskies want to do is use Myles Gaskin to control the clock and keep the football out of Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State’s hands.
Emotion is likely going to be the difference on Tuesday’s game. With the Buckeyes saying goodbye to Urban Meyer and a number of key players, Ohio State will be looking to send those leaving the program out on top. Haskins might not have the experience that Browning does at quarterback, but in the end the Ohio State field general has more weapons at his disposal, which will power the scarlet and gray to their eighth Rose Bowl win in school history.