From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about asking “What If?”. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ‘What If?’ articles here.
Well... damn. Each and every time I am forced to recall or think about this, I become irrationally angry. Probably should have chosen a different ‘What if’ huh?
But Marvin Harrison Jr.’s concussion and its impact on the game against Georgia (in the College Football Playoff semifinal) will likely go down as one of the biggest Ohio State-related what-ifs of the 21st century. And I don’t consider that statement to be of the hyperbolic variety.
So I simply had to focus on Super Marv’s unfortunate injury as part of LGHL’s theme week, despite my deep desire to avoid self-induced torture. Damn you, Javon Bullard!
Up 35-24 and driving on New Year’s Eve, the Ohio State Buckeyes had the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs on the ropes and gasping for air. C.J. Stroud looked nearly unstoppable moving the ball up and down the field against UGA’s “vaunted” defense, and Harrison Jr. was or had been on the receiving end of many of his quarterback’s most important – and most impressive – throws.
Wildly impressive in his own right, MHJ racked up 5 catches for 102 yards and 2 TD, all before the end of the third quarter. However, with just 35 seconds left in that third quarter and OSU facing a 3rd and goal, disaster struck for both he and Buckeyes.
Or, you could say that Javon Bullard struck... illegally. As Stroud was pressured behind the line of scrimmage, he lobbed a pass toward the back of the endzone, where his No. 1 target was perfectly positioned to reel in a TD that would have given Ohio State a three-possession lead.
But as the pass arrived in MHJ’s hands, Bullard, a starting defensive back for Georgia, ran across the back of the endzone, lowered his helmet, made forcible contact with the helmet of MHJ, and separated the second-generation star from the ball.
Referees immediately threw a flag and called Bullard for targeting, while MHJ lay on the ground receiving medical attention. But then inexplicably, the call was reversed and the laundry picked up, forcing OSU to attempt field goal. MHJ of course suffered a concussion as a result of Bullard’s vicious hit, and his Buckeyes settled for a 14-point lead instead of the 18-point advantage they had been seeking.
The hit, the concussion, and the absence of MHJ completely flipped the Peach Bowl script. Ohio State was outscored 18-3 in the fourth quarter, struggled to move the ball without its star WR, and ultimately lost the CFP semi 42-41. Sure, the Buckeyes still had a kick to win it, even without MHJ, but his mere presence in the game would have eliminated the need for said kick. And that is just a big, fat fact.
So what if Harrison Jr. never suffered a concussion? How would the rest of the Peach Bowl and the rest of the 2022 college football season have played out? Well, I think the answer to both is obvious. OSU would have finished the job against UGA, before taking TCU to the woodshed and eventually winning another national championship. There is just no debate.
If a penalty is (rightfully) called against Georgia in that game, Ohio State gets a 1st & Goal, putting them in prime position to go up 42-24. Admittedly, Kirby Smart’s squad had a stout defensive line last season, so running or sneaking may have been a challenge, but Ryan Day was in his bag that night. The Buckeyes probably score on a Stroud bootleg or a goal line fade to Route Man Marv, and the boat race is on.
Even if the Bulldogs score on the ensuing possession – which they did, via FG – we’re talking about a 42-27 game in which MHJ is still involved.
On OSU’s next possession, he (MHJ) would have opened the offense for the Buckeyes and likely prevented a quick three-and-out. But say their drive ends in a punt again. Then Georgia draws closer with the 76-yard strike to Adrian Smith, and the Scarlet and Gray are suddenly looking at just a seven-point advantage (42-35). No problem. Ohio State had two more possessions. And all they would have needed was three points... Which they got!
On the Buckeyes’ penultimate possession, Stroud led OSU down the field and set up a 48-yard field goal for Noah Ruggles, which he banged through the uprights. Ruggles’ kick made the (real) score 41-35, but with four additional points from “the MHJ drive”, that same kick would have pushed the lead to 45-35. Or maybe MARVelous makes another big play, banks a third or fourth TD, and puts the game out of reach for good (49-35). Who knows what the final score could have or would have been? Not me.
But what I do know, is that if Harrison Jr. had played the fourth quarter of the Peach Bowl, we would absolutely be talking about Ohio State as the reigning champs. Because much like UGA, OSU would have made easy work of TCU in the title game. No disrespect to Sonny Dykes, Max Duggan, and/or Quentin Johnson, but the Horned Frogs would not have stood a chance against the Buckeyes. They would have had no answers on defense for the trio of Stroud, MHJ, and Emeka Egbuka. And even if Johnston made plays against a below-average (OSU) secondary, the Frogs were just too one-dimensional without star running back Kendre Miller.
So there you have it, folks. A big ol’ what-if and a biased view of how things would have played out differently. Have I been eating bitter berries? Perhaps. Will I cry about it – literally or figuratively – in the future? Probably. But Ohio State played a hell of a game against Georgia and Ryan Day really deserved that one. Likewise for Marvin Harrison Jr. and the rest of the Buckeyes.
Here’s hoping most of the same group gets another crack at it in 2023.