For the first time in what felt like forever, I attended an Ohio State football game in The Shoe. Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin was my much-anticipated return to OSU’s campus, although, looking back at it, said anticipation may have been exclusive to yours truly. Perhaps I just missed the “Welcome Back” banner...
In reality, I had not been to a game since the 2019 season. Because the pandemic wiped out 2020, and general life stuff prevented it from happening in 2021. Before that, I had attended dozens as both a student and lifetime Columbus native. So I was very much looking forward to a fun, physical, competitive game between Big Ten foes. Unfortunately, Paul Chryst and the Badgers did not get the memo. In fact, Wisconsin’s head man could have been confused with an early Halloween skeleton on their sideline. He was absolutely D.O.A. But I refused to let it ruin my fun (same goes for the Buckeyes), and as an alternative to one of my weekly columns, I thought I would give some observations from my up-close and personal experience Saturday night. How does 31 of them sound?
1.) Ohio State fans still know how to have a good time, despite corporate takeover attempts. High Street and Lane Avenue – staples of the OSU campus – have been raided by corporations and construction companies, destroying the old aesthetic. Bars, parties, and general unruly behavior will never be the same again, but the tailgate scene around Ohio Stadium was fantastic.
2.) I had a front-row seat (stance) for the Buckeyes’ walk to their pregame Skull Session, and here were my Get-Off-The-Bus All-Stars: Marvin Harrison Jr., Cade Stover, Tommy Eichenberg, and Dawand Jones
3.) You don’t fully grasp how large Jones is until you see him in-person... it’s breathtaking.
4.) Same goes for the “blackness” of Ryan Day’s beard.
5.) I got to snap a picture with Zed Key, and he is also taller than one might realize. It may have been the angle, or a hole I was standing in, but that picture will never see the light of day... I look 5-foot-5.
6.) Coors Light is vastly overrated, even in a tailgate setting.
7.) Energy outside of the stadium was awesome. I was unsure how people would react, given Wisconsin’s 2-1 record, but Saturday still had a big game feel.
8.) Football should never start before mid-September; the weather was perfect, the vibes were great, and I will die on this hill.
9.) The Shoe is still a beautiful sight to behold. Like a fine wine, it gets better with age.
10.) Once players came out to warm up, it quickly became apparent that JSN was not likely to play... He did take part in some jogging and calisthenics but transitioned to bystander once real warmups and pass-catching drills began.
11.) In my very amateur opinion, he seems close.
12.) Wisconsin players lacked juice. Not sure if it was the opponent, the setting, or the lack of passion from their coach, but many did not appear to be amped up.
13.) My wife and I went to get food before kickoff, and Ohio Stadium needs to do better with food options on the visitor side, in my humble opinion. Because no offense to the wonderful people at Panera, but an upscale deli selection is not doing the trick once I’ve had a few “pops”. I need burger availability every 50 feet and more Donato’s Pizza.
14.) Back for kickoff, and I would estimate that 80-90% of Ohio State fans got the blackout memo.
15.) Even on the visitor side, there were very few visiting fans. Shame on you, Wisconsin... Although, if that was the product I was forced to watch, I might skip the roadies as well.
16.) The black jerseys play. Even better in-person.
17.) OSU’s opening drive on offense was surgical. Wisconsin seemingly had no answer(s), and C.J. Stroud looked like he was playing 7-on-7.
18.) The Buckeyes’ offensive line imposed their will from the first snap onward. I was both pleasantly surprised by their efforts, and equally underwhelmed by that of the Badgers.
19.) Credit goes to all five guys, but Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. each put on a clinic throughout the evening. Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig is a hell of a football player, but he had nothing for the Ohio State bookends.
20.) Cade Stover is the real deal, and I feel bad for Jeremy Ruckert. Where has this offense been? Ryan Day utilized Stover heavily during the first half, perhaps to force Herbig into decision-making mode. Regardless of motive, the converted linebacker can do it all, and he has proven then the sticky hands are no fluke. Ruckert must be punching the air during every OSU game.
21.) Even when he’s off, Stroud is still on. The Heisman frontrunner did not put forth his best statistical effort, and he floated a few, but Stroud is such a joy to watch in person. It is easy to appreciate some of his throws on TV — especially via replay — but the touch he puts on others is absolutely incredible. He dropped a few into the proverbial bucket, which had me wondering whether or not he should have even attempted them? And the answer, when it comes specifically to Stroud, is always going to be a “yes” from me.
22.) Miyan Williams might be Ohio State’s 1A. To be more precise, I believe the Buckeyes have two 1A’s. But I can no longer argue that TreVeyon Henderson is clearly the top option — especially if the team is not going to use him as a pass catcher.
23.) I miss seeing JSN out there, but OSU is in great hands with Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and the finally healthy Julian Fleming.
24.) Ohio State’s defense still has questions pertaining to their pass rush, or lack thereof. Jack Sawyer is dynamic, J.T. Tuimoloau has moves for days, and Zach Harrison possesses strong fundamentals... but can any of them consistently get after the passer? Wisconsin seemed like an opponent OSU’s DL could feast on, but they came away with only one sack.
25.) Ohio State’s defense is STOUT against the run. Braelon Allen was largely bottled up until garbage time, when his coach decided 100 yards was more important than preserving your only offensive weapon during a 30-pt blowout. He had to work for it, and I could see fatigue set in during the third quarter.
26.) Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers form a legit linebacker duo. Neither is a perfect three-down LB, but both have steadily improved over time. They love to make a decision and shoot the gap aggressively, and I enjoyed watching them hunt down ball carriers. I was even more impressed than I thought I would be.
27.) I still have no idea what the Buckeyes have at corner. J.K. Johnson and Jyaire Brown had their moments, but they were rarely tested.
28.) Tanner McCallister is a coach on the field. Not only did he play well, but he made sure both Johnson and Brown were well-prepared before each snap.
29.) Sonny Styles could be this year’s version of Braelon Allen, but on defense: An early enrollee who exceeds expectations, and makes an immediate impact while he should still be in high school.
Styles was the de facto third LB early on and appeared consistently on special teams Saturday. While the intricacies of LB or safety are difficult to pick up on – and even more difficult to master – I could see this young freshman earning additional playing time as the season progresses. He loves contact, and will not hesitate to mix it up out there.
30.) High hopes for this team are warranted. You can sense the confidence, and each and every unit passes the eye test. Ryan Day has a squad on his hands, and they obliterated one of the perceived favorites in the Big Ten West.
31.) Nothing beats Ohio State football. We as Buckeye fans are sickeningly fortunate, and I will never take the in-person experience for granted. Go Bucks!