Whatever we witnessed on Friday night was the furthest thing from Ohio State football I can remember seeing in a long, long time. At least the defense played well (until it didn’t) and the Buckeyes fell 14-3 to Missouri in an embarrassingly poor Cotton Bowl performance. It would take far less time to write what went well than to spell out the entire laundry list of things that I found exasperating about the Buckeyes. In fact, if not for the punting of Jesse Mirco and the play of Jack Sawyer, I’d probably say the evening had no redeeming value whatsoever.
But here are some of the many irritants from the egg Ohio State laid against the Tigers.
Offense Sets the Tone Early
It wasn’t a good tone that the Buckeyes set with their first possession. Missouri made a tackle for loss on TreVeyon Henderson on first down. Devin Brown made a terrible throw to waste a second down. Brown was then flushed out of the pocket by the pass rush on third down. The first-time starter could have tucked the ball and gotten something positive — perhaps even the first down if one man missed — but instead threw a poor pass. The offensive line was porous all night, and it seemed like any additional rusher was never accounted for and came through cleanly every time Missouri tried. Early drives are usually about emotion and the Buckeyes did not match Missouri’s level.
Delay of Game. On a F*%#ng Punt
OSU Special Teams Coach Parker Fleming, who has been absolutely stealing money from the university, is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving. He’s the brick-hard, two-year-old fruitcake your ancient aunt sent for Christmas, and you have to eat it every single week. Ohio State couldn’t even manage to get the game’s first punt away without taking a delay of game penalty. Fleming’s unit rarely does anything well, but the minimum expectation should be to line up correctly and snap the football.
Don’t Be Untrue
The two Joshes wrecked the second Ohio State drive with false start penalties. Josh Simmons and Josh Fryar have struggled to avoid penalties throughout the season, but to have both commit them on the same drive was just…[chef’s kiss]. Brown got sacked on third-and-20, because they joined the rest of their teammates up front in not pass-protecting all night, and the second drive was over quickly.
Fake Grass Sucks
I’m fully aware that Ohio State plays on artificial turf, but I don’t like it and I don’t like any artificial turf being used ever. My view on that did not change when Brown’s foot got stuck in the turf while he was being tackled and he came up limping. He sat out a couple of plays before giving it another go, but a brutal hit on a sack — one that happened because Simmons got roasted on the left side — ultimately was the last straw and he exited the game, leaving me to curse the name of Kyle McCord, and leaving Ryan Day with no choice but to throw freshman Lincoln Kienholz into the fire. Like many, I had concerns with a first-time starter in a bowl game, but it sucks not knowing how Brown would have fared as the game went on after a bit of a rough start.
Speaking of the Devin Brown Injury…
What kind of idiot would fall for a fake handoff to a quarterback who has shown he can barely walk for the last few plays? No player on Missouri, so it was a ridiculously bad call for Day to opt for a play with a direct snap to Henderson and a fake to Brown. The fake was never going to slow the defense down and only allowed them to get to Henderson faster. I’m not sure it was the worst play call of the 2023 season, but it’s at least in the conversation.
Missouri was able to pick up a fourth-and-short in the first half and it was curious to me that on such an important play Larry Johnson’s unit had the backup defensive tackles on the field. Rotation is necessary, but it seems a smart move to have your best players on the field for key situations like that. I’m not a coach, so don’t take my word for it.
More Fun from Fleming
Missouri was about to attempt a 65-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half. When they showed the view from the end zone, Ohio State had nobody standing in the end zone. It’s a 65-yard kick. If it’s left short, you’ve got a chance at returning it against a field goal unit that typically doesn’t feature a lot of speedy guys. And I’ve seen Missouri’s kicker. He’s not chasing down one of your faster guys. Parker Fleming felt it wasn’t necessary to have someone back in case of a short kick for some reason. This is a man who is paid in United States dollars to think of what to do in various special teams situations. It didn’t matter in the end, as Missouri took a penalty and did not end up attempting the kick.
Fleming isn’t directly responsible for Jayden Fielding doinking his second field-goal attempt off the left upright. That’s on the kicker, but there’s a coach responsible for that unit and it’s the same guy I’ve had to talk far too much about this season. Other college teams make moves when a coach’s group isn’t performing. Ryan Day has shown a willingness to do that in the past when Kerry Coombs’ defense wasn’t up to snuff. But for some reason not known publicly, Day has refused to admit the obvious: his dedicated special teams coach has one of the team’s most reliably bad units on the team.
The Conversion / The Drives
Ohio State’s defense had played well all night. In fact, it had done such a good job that when the Tigers took over at their own 5-yard line late in the third quarter, the players on the OSU defensive unit shouldn’t have been any more tired than the underworked Missouri defense. Ohio State had to stop a third-and-7 from the Tigers’ 8-yard line to set up the offense in good field position. Instead, cracks started appearing in the dam. Missouri got exactly the seven needed yards and a fresh set of downs.
From that point on, the defense seemingly had no answers, and the Tigers put together consecutive long touchdown drives. The first one essentially ended the game, because there didn’t seem a prayer of Ohio State’s offense scoring a touchdown, and it started with that conversion. The Tigers drove 95 yards on a defense that had stifled them all night. After Ohio State’s offense failed again, the Tigers went 91 yards to put it away.
And that’s the season. It wasn’t one to remember, although it started out well. At this point, it seems like the only fond memories from 2023 will be of watching Marvin Harrison, Jr. and the return to form of Denzel Burke. With starters Kyle McCord and Mirco having entered the transfer portal, this off-season has already started to feel like rats fleeing a sinking ship, but that may just be the effects the last two games have had on my psyche. At any rate, I can now be a grumpy old basketball fan until the fall.