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Grumpy Old Buckeye: Ohio State vs. Georgia

College Football Playoff grumpiness is one way to ring in the New Year.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

There are always things I can find to be grumpy about when watching a football game. Flaws are often easy to see, and when things are largely going in a positive direction, the negative things stand out even more. I could probably fill the entire internet with things that I didn’t like about Ohio State’s 42-41 loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, but I’ll try sticking to just some of the basics because that wound is still raw, and I don’t really feel like picking at it.

These are the things that had this old Buckeye yelling at clouds.

Free Rein

Ohio State’s first drive was undone by confusion on the offensive line. The center and right guard blocked the same Georgia defensive lineman, and that allowed a free rusher to come up the middle unimpeded to sack C.J. Stroud on third down. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but Ohio State could have used a few points on that drive, as it turned out.

Secondary Play

This section started out being about one specific play — Tanner McCalister had decent coverage on an early third down but didn’t locate the ball and allowed Dominick Blaylock to convert. However, it became a massive issue throughout the game. Everyone took turns getting burnt, but probably the safeties more than anyone. Cam Brown struggled for a few plays, then others took turns. At one point, Tommy Eichenberg was forced to cover a much faster receiver down the middle, which was never going to work.

The secondary was exceedingly disappointing in 2022, and was the area of the team the coaching staff could never get a handle on to find a solution. Opposing wide receivers aren’t supposed to be running freely deep down the field but they did so all night and the worst of those incidences came on Georgia’s go-ahead touchdown drive late. If there’s ever a time to lock things down, it’s when protecting a late lead.

Uh… Chris?

It’s now 2023, but even way back in 2022 we knew that it wasn’t cool to pick at someone’s physical appearance. ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler decided to body shame Miyan Williams on national TV upon his entry into the game, noting that after the month off between games, Williams looked to be “a few biscuits” heavier. This, despite the fact that Williams was known to have a stomach bug the week before the game, meaning he had probably lost a few pounds recently.

Fowler, who chuckled at his own remark, needs to remember that body shaming a player is wrong and adds nothing to the broadcast.

Thanks for the Effort

On the second Georgia touchdown, Ohio State seemed to be in good shape to stop the play, with three defenders against one blocker and runner Kendall Milton. Those should be good odds to get a stop. Instead, Milton powered through them and scored. Brown looked like he wanted no part of getting involved in the tackle. In the buildup to the game, Ryan Day said he wanted his team to play violent football. Whatever the defense was doing on that touchdown was the opposite of violent.

Nope, Don’t Like That

After Georgia’s second touchdown, Ohio State went three and out. That alone was aggravating enough, but the most bothersome part of it was the third-down play. Consensus All-American left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. got blown up on a regular four-man rush. The defender who cast him aside like a dirty work shirt at the end of a shift was Mykel Williams, a freshman. Every player gets beaten from time to time but it’s troubling when a freshman gets one over on a seasoned All-American one on one in such a big moment. Stroud was sacked on the play, quickly cutting the drive short.

Inside, Outside

Teams are going to have weaknesses. Some teams get beaten on the edge and others give up plays up the middle, but Ohio State couldn’t decide, so the defense just did both. After Johnson allowed the sack, forcing a Jesse Mirco punt, Georgia had the ball at its own 38-yard line. I noticed Jack Sawyer standing as if playing linebacker on the right and then Steele Chambers moved to the left side of the line. I don’t know if someone lined up wrong or Ohio State was expecting a pass, but I was thinking that middle of the defense looked awfully vulnerable just before the snap. It was.

Kenny McIntosh took a handoff and went right up the middle for 52 yards. Luckily, he fell down on his way to a sure touchdown. Unluckily, Ohio State wasn’t done with getting gashed on the drive. Daijun Edwards carried for seven yards on the next play and with just three more yards to make, Stetson Bennett took the snap himself and ran untouched around the left end as the Buckeyes were outflanked at the goal line.

Getting Cute

The Buckeyes didn’t have a huge night running the football, but they did manage to show some balance by sticking with it throughout the game. Except that time they didn’t. Day sometimes gets too cute and he did after Georgia tied the game. Ohio State had second-and-1 on its next drive and Day called a short pass play that didn’t work. I’m generally OK with taking a shot down the field when you’ve got a favorable down and distance, but this always appeared like one of those horizontal passes that the Buckeyes have failed to successfully execute time and again this season.

The Buckeyes ran on third down and Dallan Hayden was stopped for little to no gain. It would have been nice to have done that on second down to get the extra opportunity of grinding out that yard, but the Buckeyes decided to go for it on fourth, despite being at their own 35. But then Mitch Rossi inexplicably turned up the field before the snap on what would have been a conversion and that killed the drive, as Day sent on the punt team.

In a game in which I thought Day largely avoided some of the play-calling that has been questionable (like when he completely abandons the run against opponents the offensive line can bully), that second-down call was the only one I really hated. I know some people didn’t like the run on first down on the last OSU drive, but with Georgia blitzing on every play, there was a good possibility of the running back beating the first defender and picking up eight or 10 yards. It’s easy to blast the play call when it doesn’t work but there are variables. Trying that wide pass that the team has struggled all year to execute helped to derail that crucial drive and Georgia took the lead on a field goal on the ensuing drive.

The Timeout and Stuff

Ohio State was up by 11 early in the fourth quarter when Stroud scrambled just a yard short of a first down on a third-down play. Ohio State faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 34-yard line. Day sent out his punt unit, but the fake was on. We saw the play get stopped, but did Kirby Smart really get the referee’s attention in time for him to blow his whistle? I’ve watched it a lot of times, but I can’t tell. It seemed to get blown as Rossi was catching the snap. Regardless, the timeout was given.

That irked me, to be sure, but so did the ensuing decision to punt it. Sometimes you’ve got to roll the dice when you’re the underdog and that seemed like a good time to take a shot at converting. You’re willing to let Rossi pick up your first down but not willing to let Stroud try? That seems like a mixed message to me. Obviously, if this is considered a ”play call” rather than an in-game decision, my earlier point about only having an issue with one play call all game was a lie.

Missing Marv

Stroud made an incredible throw to the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the Georgia 7-yard line and it looked like Marvin Harrison Jr. would catch it to put Ohio State up 42-24. Now he might have stepped out of the back of the end zone and the play could have been called back anyway, but then we all saw him get absolutely blasted. The flag flew immediately, and targeting was called.

Ohio State looked to have a first-and-goal on the doorstep of putting the game away. But the call was reversed upon review. Day was told Harrison never got hit in the head, but the side end zone shot certainly appeared to show him getting hit where his neck and shoulder meet with the defender’s shoulder and then a glancing helmet-to-helmet hit. I’ve read the targeting rule repeatedly and you’ll never convince me that call shouldn’t have stood.

Not only did Ohio State’s ensuing field goal leave the door open for Georgia’s comeback, but it deprived the Buckeyes of their best offensive weapon. Without Harrison, the Bulldogs could move their best cover corner to Emeka Egbuka. Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson are good complementary players but they aren’t nearly as adept at getting separation as Harrison and Egbuka and that showed in the fourth quarter. Georgia was rewarded for a vicious hit — the kind that the game is correctly trying to eliminate — in multiple ways.

Fair and Balanced?

Really cool, ESPN. You gave us the Georgia radio call of the go-ahead score while the game was still in doubt, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t get any Paul Keels calls after any Ohio State touchdowns all night. But maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe the plan was to play the Keels call of the Ruggles field goal if it had gone in. Let’s just say I would not be willing to bet my house on it.

The Aftermath of the Field Goal Attempt

I’ve already talked about the secondary above, so I’ll just skip the comeback and get right to the end of the game. Ohio State did well to get into long field goal range in the game’s final minute, and it looked like another 10 yards would nearly assure a late victory. Noah Ruggles has been a reliable kicker and had made a 48-yard kick earlier in the game. The running play didn’t work, but I’m not faulting the call due to Georgia’s blitzing giving the line and Stroud problems in the second half.

It was sound reasoning to think the play would at least gain a couple of yards and could potentially turn into 10 or more if Hayden could make the first man miss. He didn’t, and in fact he lost a yard. Two incomplete passes later, Ruggles lined up to try to kick a 50-yard winner.

OK, it didn’t go well. Was the snap a little slow getting to the holder? Was the hold perfect? I’m not a special teams coach, so I’m not going to try to definitively analyze why Ruggles sent the worst-looking kick of his OSU career well wide. It never even had a chance. Were the moment, distance, and pressure too much? Did Smart successfully “ice” him? I don’t know. But what I do know is that a lot of people on social media took completely vicious shots at a kid whose only crime was to miss a field goal (he also made two in the game).

It’s a good policy to never tweet at athletes, especially those in college or even younger. No one was more upset about that miss than Noah Ruggles was, and he has to live with that memory the rest of his life while you and I go back to our jobs and families. Those people who felt they should tweet hateful things at Ruggles need to grow the hell up. Honestly, nothing else about the night made me as angry as seeing some of that garbage.

Saturday night was a difficult one. A big upset and a trip to the final were right there for Ohio State to take. Stroud played such a great game that it’s a shame he didn’t earn one more. But in the end, at least Michigan also lost.

These were the things that ruined my New Year’s Eve. What struck a nerve with you?

Thanks for reading my rants all season.