There’s always that one player who you have nightmares of because of what he or she does to your team. Sometimes all it takes is one moment to become hated. Just imagine how many Michigan basketball fans still have nightmares of Evan Turner’s buzzer-beater in the Big Ten Tournament.
Other times it is an accumulation of destruction on the playing field that has the opposing fanbase foaming at the mouth when their hated rival is mentioned. J.T. Barrett and Aaron Craft are a couple of Buckeyes who spent nearly half a decade tormenting the rest of the Big Ten.
Today’s question: Which opposing player of years past still haunts you for what they did to the Buckeyes?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s pick: Sammy Watkins - Clemson
Even though there wasn’t anywhere close to as much on the line as the last three meetings between the schools, Ohio State and Clemson put on quite a show in the 2014 Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes were coming off a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game that snapped their 24-game winning streak, and gave Urban Meyer his first setback as Ohio State’s head coach. While Ohio State was disappointed they weren’t going to be playing for the national title, they were still looking to close out the year strong.
Much like Ohio State, Clemson came into this game on a loss, falling to rival South Carolina 31-17. You could see what Dabo Swinney was building at Clemson, as for the third season the Tigers had registered at least 10 wins. Not only did Clemson have Sammy Watkins on their roster at wide receiver, they also had future NFL wideouts Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries, and Mike Williams.
I remember watching the game at Panini’s in Columbus and it felt like Watkins came right out of the gates catching passes. The Tigers took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter when Watkins blew by safety Vonn Bell for a 34-yard touchdown reception. The punishment from Watkins only got worse from there. For his second touchdown of the game, Watkins high-pointed a 30-yard touchdown pass to cut Ohio State’s lead to 29-27.
Clemson would continue the comeback and eventually down the Buckeyes 40-35. Watkins went on to be named Orange Bowl MVP after finishing the game with 16 catches for 227 yards and those two touchdowns. It seemed like whenever Clemson needed a crucial first down in the game, Tajh Boyd would look to Sammy Watkins and the wide receiver would get what the Tigers needed. It was one of the most dominant performances that I can remember seeing a player have against the Buckeyes.
While the game and performance by Watkins against the Buckeyes might seem harmless because Ohio State wasn’t in the BCS title game, it had ramifications for me personally over the next few years. Just a few months later, my Buffalo Bills would go on to trade up in the first round to take Watkins with the fourth overall pick. To take Watkins, the Bills passed on University of Buffalo stud defensive end Khalil Mack, who was taken with the next pick by Oakland.
As if all this wasn’t already bad enough, the team that the Bills traded with was the Cleveland Browns, who slid back to the ninth pick in the draft with the trade, but couldn’t stay put, moving up one spot so they could draft legendary cornerback Justin Gilbert. A few notable players who got picked after Gilbert were Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald, and Ryan Shazier.
Watkins’ career in Buffalo didn’t start all that bad, as he caught at 125 passes for 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two years in Buffalo. Injuries derailed what was looking like a promising career with the Bills though, limiting Watkins to eight games in 2016 before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Not only was the former Clemson wide receiver able to earn a Super Bowl ring at the end of the 2019 season, but his Chiefs beat my Bills in the AFC Championship Game in January, so Watkins continues to live rent-free in my head.
Meredith’s Pick: Penn State’s Defense (2016-18)
One of the benefits of being an Ohio State fan is that there really aren’t that many teams the Buckeyes have lost to, so there aren’t all that many boogeymen players who continue to haunt us with their existence.
For some reason, the 2006 National Championship game (played in 2007) is a particular stinger — probably because everything looked like it should have gotten easier after beating Michigan that season. From Percy Harvin just being fast to Tim Tebow coming in for Chris Leak to destroy my dreams, everything is just...sad. To this day, 41-14 is the standard by which I judge a blowout. But Tebow is long gone (well, at least he can’t go back to Florida) and Harvin is out of the game. Plus, we got Florida’s coach, so, naner naner naner, Gators.
No, while the players on that Florida team definitely burned Ohio State, the reality is no one scares me like the Penn State defense. Is that cheating, to pick the whole defense? In particular, the defensive unit of the Nittany Lions from 2016-18 ensured that watching what would inevitably be a night game would mean an evening of tension where the outcome of the game would remain in question until the bitter end.
To quickly recap:
- 2016: Penn State beat Ohio State 24-21 in State College
- 2017: Ohio State beat Penn State 39-38 in Columbus
- 2018: Ohio State beat Penn State 27-26 in State College
Ohio State might be riding a four-game win streak over the Nittany Lions, but that doesn’t make me any less stressed.
And stressful these games were. No matter the offensive fireworks either team might have shown in previous games, these two titans of defense wouldn’t give an inch — or at least a hundred-yard back. For goodness sake, Saquon Barkley was held to 36 yards in 2017. And even if offenses managed to gain some ground, the Penn State defense would make it stressful — like when Ohio State was down 35-20 in the third quarter in 2017 and FUMBLED. It took a four-touchdown performance from JT Barrett to secure the comeback in a game would still come down to the wire.
Even now that the balance has seemed to have shifted in favor of Ohio State, that streak wasn’t that long ago, and the Penn State defense continues to terrify me to this day. The fact we tend to play the Nittany Lions around Halloween every year definitely boosts the fear factor.