Then the worst of times hit. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning, who played so-so at best for the first 45 minutes, started to believe he was Billy Joe Hobert. For those that don’t know: Hobert guided the Huskies to a 1992 Rose Bowl thumping over Michigan.
A 20-point fourth quarter rally from Washington against the Ohio State defense is something out of a bizarro world. Did the Buckeyes seem to check out for the final quarter? It sure looked that way. But, all that doesn’t matter now, as they were able to hold the fort down in the end.
Urban Meyer gets a win in his final game as OSU head coach, and rides off into the Pasadena night as one of the winningest coaches of all time. While this isn’t a College Football Playoff semifinal or national championship game, a win in the Rose Bowl, arguably, is the best way to cap off a career. Not everyone can get here, and even some legends who ended their time as coach failed to have a successful swan song in the Granddaddy of Them All. For example, Bo Schembechler’s final game as Wolverines head coach came in the Rose Bowl; he lost to USC, 17-10.
In all the excitement, there were some things we learned from this game. While there isn’t an opponent next week, it does give us closure for the 2018-19 season. The Buckeyes did some things well, and some things not so well. Let’s take a look at what those things were.
You love it when a (offensive) game plan comes together
For three quarters, the offense was moving along quite nicely. Dwayne Haskins had three touchdown passes and 238 yards in the air, while the rushing tandem of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber had an overwhelming majority of the 111 yards on the ground. That’s kinda what we expected the Buckeye offense to do. Weber was a bruiser up the middle, while Air Haskins picked apart the defense.
Look at some of these TD throws over the middle of the Husky defense. The first one is to Parris Campbell.
Parris Campbell:— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) January 1, 2019
-Scores the opening touchdown of the Rose Bowl
-Becomes the 5th Ohio State receiver to have 1,000 yards receiving in a single season pic.twitter.com/rrOwOf9zGS
It’s pure magic when Haskins is able to do what he does best. After torching the middle of the field once for a score, here he is again—although it’s Johnnie Dixon on the receiving end of the connection.
3rd and 8 = 7 to 1 for 6 pic.twitter.com/3L01RYX18B— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) January 1, 2019
If the offense would’ve kept up the momentum in the fourth quarter, there’s no doubt Haskins would’ve has another 300-yard performance. However, the Buckeyes managed to only put up 15 (!) yards of offense in the final quarter of play. Of those 15 yards, 13 of them were passing.
It was almost as if the final 15 minutes of football from Ohio State was a Meyer interpretation of Tresselball. The Buckeyes didn’t do much to move the ball, but did just enough to keep their head above water for the win. It didn’t need to be that way, but that’s what we got.
The first three quarters showed what this offense can do if it’s allowed to, you know, do its thing. Will that change next season? Probably. If Haskins does end up going to the NFL, then they’ll be a new QB under center. Combine that with some wide receivers leaving and Weber heading to the draft as well, and there’s now an experience and talent gap at those positions. The guys who take over will fill the void, and it helps that guys like Dobbins and Chris Olave will be back next season. But if you’re expecting a carbon copy of the offense, then you might be out of luck. And that’s not taking into account any coaching changes that could happen.
While we don’t know everything about what the 2019-2020 Buckeyes will be like, we do know one thing: this offense can do some real damage if it goes to the air raid, with power/speed rushing sprinkled in.
You hate to see it
In the same way as the offense, the defense shined for three quarters. Then the fourth quarter happened.
Ohio State has been gashed on the ground this season by opposing teams. Maryland did it, TCU did it, and the speed of Rondale Moore surged Purdue past the Buckeyes. Washington’s fourth quarter rally didn’t come on the ground, but in the air. Of the 170 yards picked up in the final quarter, 137 of them came by way of passing yards. Because of that, Browning ended the game with 313 yards on 35-of-54 passing. His total was more than Dwayne Haskins (251), which is, quite frankly, a crime.
We’re gonna see some changes on defense by next season. Whether that means personnel or schematically, the Buckeye defense has, as a whole, regressed. Some spots looked bright, though. Brendon White, Jeffrey Okudah and Malik Harrison had good games, and have steadily done well for the Buckeye defense this season. Especially in the games from November onward, those three have had breakout performances.
Against Washington, White had two tackles-for-loss, while Okudah had a pair of pass breakups. One of those pass breakups came on a critical fourth down play in the third quarter. Harrison was all over the field, and ended up with seven tackles and one pass breakup of his own.
After the game, Harrison talked a little about his plans.
Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison told me in the locker room that he was definitely returning for his senior season. Said he thinks he can become the best linebacker in the country.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) January 2, 2019
With that cast of characters back on defense, the Buckeyes already have a star-studded lineup. But, the coaching has to get them to the next level. Ryan Day has an important offseason in sorting out what he wants this defense to be.
The return of the penalty flags
This has been a consistent theme over the past few years of Buckeye football, and it’s only fitting that it reared its head at the Rose Bowl: penalties.
Ohio State had nine of them for the game—five on offense and four on defense. Offensively, it was the typical—albeit unexcusable—false start calls. Wyatt Davis, Joshua Alabi, Malcolm Pridgeon and Isaiah Prince all moved early at some point during the Rose Bowl. Prince was the only one to pick up a second false start penalty, though. If there was a silver lining to those infractions, it’s that they came when the Buckeyes were on a roll, instead of when they were struggling. At least in the first half, the Buckeyes were able to gain yards at will.
On defense, only one of the infractions came in the first 30 minutes of action (a Robert Landers offsides). The remaining three penalties came in the fourth quarter. White had holding and pass interference calls, while Okudah had a P.I. call of his own. A couple of those penalties looked questionable, so it’s hard to get worked up over that.
At around Week 9, we just came to terms that penalties were going to be a part of the Buckeye game plan this season. Fortunately, they’ve had the talent to overcome the extra yardage they’ve needed to gain, or had the defensive prowess to mitigate the free yards they gave away.
Into the sunset
It wasn’t a perfect game, but Urban Meyer got the perfect ending to his Ohio State career. In his only trip to the Rose Bowl, he found a way to guide his team to victory.
That’s not easy to do.
When you look at the list of accomplishments he’s had since taking over the program, it’s nothing short of remarkable. He’s gone 83-9, which is a video game-esque mark; it’s just cartoony at how good he’s been at Ohio State. In all seven seasons in which he was in Columbus, the program saw double-digit win totals.
He’s brought home a trio of Big Ten Championships, a Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship. And to top it all off, he can now add a Rose Bowl trophy.
This season may not have ended with a national title, but this is the next best thing. In fact, you could argue that this was the perfect way to end a college coaching career. Not everyone ends their final game with a win, and only a select few have been able to get that win in the Rose Bowl.
A wild, wonderful day in Pasadena marked the end of an era—and the beginning of a new one—for Ohio State football.