Both Ohio State players and fans alike will be replaying the events that went down on Saturday night in their heads for quite some time, trying to figure out how potentially the best Buckeye unit since the 2014 National Championship squad came up short against Clemson in 29-23 stunner.
It was nearly impossible for a team to have as much bad luck as Ryan Day’s team had out in Arizona. Seemingly nothing went their way, from questionable penalties at the worst times to replay reviews appearing to get it wrong over and over again to injuries. It felt as though Ohio State was the better team in the Fiesta Bowl, but in the end a bunch of mistakes and question marks led to the end of the line for the Buckeyes.
Day will now have to try and pick up the pieces from a disappointing loss, tasked with replacing definitely one (Jeff Hafley) and potentially two (Mike Yurcich) key assistant coaches as well as putting together a defense next season that will be losing almost all of its key contributors to the NFL.
This Ohio State team deserved a shot to play for a title, but when the lights shined the brightest came up just short in one of the more heartbreaking losses in recent memory. While the outcome is not what anyone wanted, the Buckeyes still got outstanding efforts from some of their best players that kept them in the game better than most teams would have been given the circumstances. Let’s take a look at where OSU players finished in the season finale of the stock report.
Justin Fields, QB: There were a ton of question marks surrounding how Ohio State would be able to replace Dwayne Haskins in 2019. In came sophomore transfer QB Justin Fields from Georgia, who would be tasked with replacing a quarterback who shattered school records at one of the nation’s premier programs as a first-year starter. One of the highest-rated recruits in his class, expectations were certainly high for the young QB. Even with a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders, Fields was absolutely brilliant beyond what anyone could have dreamed in his first season at Ohio State.
Overall, Fields finished the season with 3,273 passing yards with 50 total touchdowns and three interceptions, helping lead the team to a Big Ten Championship and into the College Football Playoff. He completed 30 out of 46 pass attempts against Clemson, putting up 320 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions — one on the games final play on some clear miscommunication between QB and receiver. Fields’ final stat line with the two picks doesn’t look ideal, but his ability to extend plays kept the Buckeyes in it all night, and it does not take away from what was an incredible season for the sophomore.
J.K. Dobbins, RB: It isn’t exactly fair to try and squeeze explaining just how important J.K. Dobbins was to this offense this season into just a few paragraphs, but I'm going to try anyway. The junior running back has had an incredible career at Ohio State, and this season was his magnum opus. Breaking the school record for rushing yards in a season set by Eddie George in 1995, Dobbins finished the year with just over 2,000 yards rushing on just under seven yards per carry with 23 total touchdowns.
Dobbins was truly the lifeblood that kept the Buckeye offense on track seemingly every drive this season, and that was glaringly true against Clemson. The junior totaled 174 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown, and had a second touchdown called back after review deemed an incompletion. Dobbins was hobbled by an ankle injury late in the first half, and Ohio State struggled in his absence until he returned sometime in the third quarter. Dobbins gave the Buckeyes everything he had down to the final snaps, playing through obvious pain to try and will his team to a victory.
He has not yet announced his plans for next season, but if this was the final time we have seen Dobbins in an Ohio State jersey — and in all likelihood it will be — it was an incredible career, one that will likely put him in the record books as one of the greatest Buckeye backs of all time.
Jeff Okudah, CB: Schools like LSU and Texas love to try an claim DBU, but it is Ohio State that holds the only true ownership of that title. This year the Buckeyes featured three awesome corners, and none better than Jeff Okudah. The junior DB’s season stats won't wow anybody, with 34 total tackles to go along with three interceptions and nine PBUs, but that’s because other teams rarely threw his way.
Okudah was incredible in pass coverage all season long, and showed off his skillset against the Tigers playing blanket coverage all night against some of the nation’s best wide receivers. Okudah has also been a very consistent tackler, making fantastic stops in the open field all year. Unlike in Dobbins’ case, this was without a doubt the final game at Ohio State for Okudah, as almost everyone has him as a top-five pick in this year’s NFL Draft. It will likely be another success story of a high-round OSU corner who goes on to have a great professional career as the elite defensive back takes his talents to the league.
Chase Young, DE: It was a bit of an odd ending to the collegiate career of Chase Young. After picking up 16.5 sacks in nine games, with a two-game suspension thrown in the mix, the freakishly athletic edge rusher did not record a single sack in Ohio State’s final three games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Clemson. While a large part of this was a result of teams committing two and three guys to block Young on every down, it still felt like a bit of a let down for the Buckeyes to not get a single sack from their most talented defensive player in their biggest games.
Despite not directly sacking the quarterback, Young still obviously had a tremendous impact on defense every time he took the field. While only officially credited with two tackles and a QB hurry against Clemson, there were more than a few occasions where Trevor Lawrence was forced to get rid of the ball quicker than he anticipated as Young had beaten his man and was bearing down on him. He also did a pretty good job of setting the edge to limit some of the Tigers’ speed option plays. At the end of the day, Young is going to be the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft behind only LSU QB Joe Burrow, and was a dominant force at Ohio State that was a true pleasure to watch.
Penalties: Whether you agreed with some of the calls tonight, and there are certainly gripes to be had, Ohio State shot themselves in the foot with bad penalties time and time again. Overall, the Buckeyes had eight penalties for 77 yards, and while that seems bad enough it doesn’t even begin to tell the story of just how costly those flags were.
Of course there is the one everyone is talking about — a targeting call on Shaun Wade that forced him to miss the remainder of the contest. While by rule it was certainly targeting and the refs ultimately got the call right, the issue is in the rule itself. Wade was initially aiming for Lawrence’s center mass, but seeing the incoming tackle the Clemson QB ducked and in doing so helmet-to-helmet contact ensued. The penalty was on a 3rd-and-15 sack that would have resulted in a punt, and instead led to a Clemson TD a few plays later and forced OSU to play without one of its best players in the secondary the rest of the night.
While that was out of Ohio State’s control, there were certainly more preventable costly penalties. The roughing the punter penalty is the biggest one that comes to mind. The Tigers were punting from just outside their own end zone, and the flag took the ball out of the Buckeyes’ hands and gave it right back to Clemson who scored a long touchdown on the very next play.
There were little flags here and there that didn’t make things any easier for Ohio State on either side of the ball, but ultimately all of these mistakes led to a loss in a game that could've otherwise been won.
(Buy) Head coach Ryan Day: It should be hard to replace a legendary head coach who won a National Championship to go along with numerous Big Ten titles, but it was not for Ryan Day. The first-year man led his team into the College Football Playoff after winning the conference in his inaugural season as the Buckeyes headman. He coached his team through a gauntlet at the end of the year against three-straight top 15 opponents, and even did a brilliant job in the game plan against Clemson. On top of all that, he hauled in a very highly-rated recruiting class to help set himself up for next season and beyond. This isn’t the last you've seen of Ryan Day in the College Football Playoff. The future is bright in Columbus.
(Sell) Red zone production: As I've tried to layout here in the aftermath of a stunning loss, it was not one play or one call that caused Ohio State to lose this game. It was an assembly of miscues by the Buckeyes that led to their downfall, but no more-so than the failure to score touchdowns in the red zone. OSU worked it into the red zone three times in the first half, and all three resulted in three instead of six. The failure to capitalize on long drives is the same thing that led to some of their most recent big losses, namely Clemson in 2016 and Purdue last season. Ohio State will have to find a way moving forward to correct this lingering issue, whether that be utilizing more of an RPO concept with Fields or committing more to the run game inside the 20.
(Buy) Fields improving in 2020: It’s hard to believe a 50-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio could be improved upon, but Justin Fields will certainly be able to learn from some of his mistakes in 2019 that could lead to a scary-good OSU QB next season. Fields’ biggest downfall this season was without a doubt taking sacks. It’s something you almost had to live with, as half the time he would wind up escaping and making a miraculous play downfield. However, it is an area he will definitely look to hone in on moving forward. Even though it wasn’t really his fault, I'm sure Fields would want his final throw of this season that resulted in an interception back. He can use that play to fuel the fire and hopefully lead his team to redemption in 2020.