Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flaws exposed as Ohio State comes undone

We need to collectively apologize to Baylor.

The Bears aren't the most overrated team in the country. It's actually defending national champion Ohio State, which lost to Michigan State 17-14 at home on Saturday.

Somehow, it took us 12 weeks to figure out the Buckeyes aren't really that good. We weren't the only ones hoodwinked, though. The College Football Playoff selection committee thought so much of the Buckeyes that it ranked them No. 3 in each of the first three top-25 rankings.

Even as Ohio State struggled to put away teams such as Northern Illinois,Indiana and Minnesota, we figured it would kick into gear once it played a game that really mattered. But the Buckeyes didn't, and now it's too late.

Hopefully, it's a valuable lesson for all of us: Last season doesn't (and shouldn't) matter when it comes to picking the four best teams for this season's playoff.

If Ohio State had played anyone of real consequence in the previous three months, we might have been exposed to the warts and boils that were festering behind the facade. What was supposed to be Urban Meyer's next dynasty was dismantled in about four hours Saturday.

After losing to No. 9 Michigan State on Michael Geiger's 41-yard field goal as time expired at the Horseshoe, it took the No. 3 Buckeyes about 30 minutes to completely implode.

Star tailback Ezekiel Elliott announced after the game that he would not return for his senior season in 2016. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones, the hero in OSU's unlikely run to a national championship last season, announced on Twitter that he would not either.

At this point, I'm not even sure it's fair to call the Buckeyes an actual team. They might be more of a loose collection of star players with one foot out the door to the NFL draft.

Don't the Buckeyes have another important game to play next week, as well as a postseason bowl? Talk about slapping Ohio State's biggest tradition right in the face. Elliott and Jones couldn't have waited until after next week's showdown at No. 12Michigan in "The Game" to announce their future plans? Legendary OSU coach Woody Hayes must be rolling in his grave.

If Michigan State loses to Penn State next week and Ohio State somehow recovers to beat Michigan, the Buckeyes would win the Big Ten East and play in the Big Ten championship game. Isn't that worth playing for?

After losing for the first time in 23 games and suffering their first Big Ten regular-season defeat in Meyer's four seasons at the school, the Buckeyes' world seemed to come to a stunning end.

"It's easy to lead when everything is going well, and you won a bunch of games in a row," Meyer said. "That's not how you judge a team. That's not how you judge character. That's not how you judge a leader. That's how you judge a front-runner."

The Buckeyes sure sounded like front-runners on Saturday. Elliott ripped Ohio State's play calling against the Spartans. He carried the ball 12 times for 33 yards with one touchdown, which were three fewer rushing attempts than quarterback J.T. Barrett had.

"What happened today, it was kind of like a bad, bad dream," Elliott said. "Offense had a rough day, and I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in the play calling, I'm disappointed in the situations we were put in, and I wish it all played out differently.

"I deserve more than [12] carries. I really do. I can't speak for the playcaller. I don't know what was going on."

Elliott certainly has reason to be frustrated, but voicing his frustrations publicly wasn't the smartest thing to do. On a cold, rainy day in Columbus, the Spartans had to figure the Buckeyes would try to hop on Elliott's back and ride to a victory, as they did at the end of last season. Instead, Elliott seemed to be more of an afterthought in the offense.

The Buckeyes also failed to take many chances in the passing game, as Barrett finished 9-of-16 passing for 46 yards with one touchdown. OSU finished with only 132 yards of offense, the lowest-ever total by a Meyer-coached team, with only five first downs.

How conservative was the play calling? Rarely has a Meyer-coached team taken so few chances on such a big stage.

"No, I was not content," Meyer told reporters postgame when asked about the play calling. "I call a lot of plays anyway, so finger will be pointed right here. And I have to do better. We didn't -- it was very conservative."

There's no question the Buckeyes are only a shell of the team that steamrolled Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon in its final three games of 2014 en route to a national championship. In hindsight, the loss of offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who left to become Houston's head coach, seems to be the biggest blow. The OSU offense has sputtered under the direction of co-offensive coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner.

Coming into this season, the Buckeyes easily looked like the most talented team in the country. They had a handful of All-Americans on both lines, one of the country's best tailbacks and two quarterbacks who could seemingly start anywhere. It seemed the only way they wouldn't make the playoff was if the quarterback battle became a full-blown controversy.

The Buckeyes seemed too good to not have a legitimate chance of repeating. They looked so loaded at quarterback that two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller moved to wide receiver in the offseason. Meyer chose to start Jones at the beginning of the season, but then turned to Barrett in midseason after Jones failed to rekindle the magic he had during the 2014 finish.

However, Barrett couldn't get anything going against Michigan State, a 13-point underdog playing without injured star quarterback Connor Cook.

"For the most part, it was tough sledding throwing the ball," Meyer said. "And it hasn't been a smooth run, really, most of the year."

Now, the Buckeyes look like they're out of the playoff. They'll have to hope the Spartans lose to Penn State and they beat Michigan to have a chance of winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We've just been hit right in the gut," Meyer said.

Some of Ohio State's best players sounded like they were knocked out for good.

1. Clemson: The Tigers continued their march to the ACC championship game and possibly the playoff by routing Wake Forest 33-13 at Death Valley. It was Clemson's 14th consecutive victory, the second-longest win streak in school history. If the Tigers win at rival South Carolina next week, they'll finish the regular season unbeaten for the first time since they won a national championship in 1981.

2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide cruised to a 56-6 rout of FCS foe Charleston Southern, which gives them 10 wins for the eighth consecutive season. It's the third-longest such streak in FBS since 1937. Florida State (14 10-win seasons in a row from 1987-2000) and Texas (nine straight from 2001-09) are the only schools with longer streaks in that span.

3. Oklahoma: Playing without star quarterback Baker Mayfield in the second half, the Sooners barely survived in a 30-29 home victory over TCU. The Horned Frogs rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and the Sooners didn't win until they stopped a two-point conversion attempt with 51 seconds to play. It was OU's sixth consecutive victory.

4. Michigan State: The Spartans' upset of Ohio State might be enough to propel them into the top four. Michigan State's earlier wins over Oregon and Michigan are looking better every week, and its only loss was a controversial 39-38 defeat at Nebraska. If MSU beats Penn State at home next week, it will win the Big Ten East.
Next four in contention
1. Iowa: Iowa fans will undoubtedly be upset if the unbeaten Hawkeyes are ranked behind three one-loss teams. The good news: Iowa still controls its playoff fate. The Hawkeyes clinched the Big Ten West by beating Purdue 40-20. If Iowa defeats Nebraska next week and the East Division champion in the Big Ten championship game, the committee will have a difficult time leaving it out of the final top four.
2. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish picked a bad time to have a less-than-impressive game. The selection committee couldn't have been too impressed by Notre Dame's 19-16 victory over Boston College at Fenway Park, in which the Irish turned the ball over five times. They still have to survive next week's trip to Stanford, where they've dropped three straight games. At least Notre Dame's earlier victories over Temple and Navy are still carrying some weight.
3. Baylor: The Bears recovered from last week's disappointing loss to Oklahoma by upsetting previously unbeaten Oklahoma State 45-35 on the road. Baylor piled up 700 yards of offense with third-string quarterback Chris Johnson at the helm. The Bears play at TCU on Black Friday and host Texas on Dec. 5.
4. Stanford: The Cardinal bounced back from a 38-36 loss to Oregon last week by throttling rival California 35-22 to win the Pac-12 North. Stanford can help its case by beating Notre Dame for the fifth time in the past seven meetings. The Cardinal will face the UCLA-USC winner in the Pac-12 championship game.

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: Henry ran for 68 yards with two touchdowns on nine carries on the first two possessions of the Crimson Tide's 50-point rout of FCS foe Charleston Southern. He tied Trent Richardon's school record with 21 rushing touchdowns in a season and extended his school record with his 16th consecutive game with a rushing score.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Watson threw for 343 yards on 24-for-35 passing and accounted for four touchdowns in the Tigers' win over Wake Forest. Watson threw two interceptions, but he also rushed for 44 yards with one score. He ran and passed for a touchdown in the same game for the sixth time this season, the second-most in FBS.

3. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: Cook was as steady as ever in the Seminoles' 52-13 rout of FCS foe Chattanooga, in their 21st consecutive victory at home. He ran 15 times for 106 yards with two touchdowns. It was his seventh 100-yard game of the season, which is second in school history behind Warrick Dunn's eight in 1995.

4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: McCaffrey broke the single game school record for all-purpose yards with 389 in the Cardinal's win over Cal. He'll have two more marquee opportunities to impress: next week against Notre Dame and against either USC or UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.
Best moments
1. After losing to North Carolina 30-27, Virginia Tech's players carried retiring coach Frank Beamer off the field in his final home game.

2. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh lost his cool (again) on the sideline.

3. Clemson offensive lineman Daniel Stone proposed to his girlfriend on the field before Saturday's game against Wake Forest at Death Valley (she said yes).

4. Snowplow races! Iowa's field crew had some fun at snow-covered Kinnick Stadium during the first winter storm of the season.

Best plays

1. Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger's 41-yard field goal to beat Ohio State was one for the Spartans' history books, and his celebration was pretty epic too.

2. Alabama's Richard Mullaney made a sick touchdown catch before landing on his back in the Crimson Tide's rout of FCS foe Charleston Southern.

3. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey turned a short screen pass into a 49-yard touchdown by making defender after defender miss.

4. Mississippi State's Fred Ross made an amazing, one-handed catch across his body to score a 55-yard touchdown against Arkansas.
Worst plays

1. Virginia Tech defensive end Dadi Nicolas should know you never put your hands on ACC ref Ron Cherry.

2. Somehow, Big Ten officials overturned Jazz Peavy's apparent touchdown catch and ruled it incomplete late in the Badgers' 13-7 loss to Northwestern.

3. Michigan State has had some luck against Australian-born punters. Ohio State's Cameron Johnston had an ugly 5-yard punt against the Spartans on Saturday.

4. Wisconsin's cheerleaders left the field after being pelted with snowballs -- by Badgers fans.
Quotes of the night

1. "I don't really like comparing humans to chickens or any other type of animal." -- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, when asked if he was worried about the Wolverines laying an egg at Penn State before next week's showdown against Ohio State.

2. "The headline in the Columbia paper today said we had no chance. Twenty-five years ago, they said the same thing. At some point, they better start respecting the kind of young men we have at The Citadel." -- Bulldogs coach Mike Houston, after FCS The Citadel beat South Carolina 23-22 to end a 27-game losing streak against FBS opponents.

3. "I'm sure the guys next week are going to take a look at this and probably go on vacation." -- Florida coach Jim McElwain, after the No. 8 Gators barely survived a 20-14 overtime win over the 2-9 Owls at the Swamp. Florida plays FSU next week.

4. "I do think we had more yards rushing than Leonard Fournette did." -- Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell, after the Buccaneers ran for 85 yards in their 50-point loss to Alabama. Fournette had 31 in LSU's 30-16 loss to the Tide two weeks ago.
Stats that matter

2: Winless teams remaining in FBS, after Kansas fell by seven touchdowns to West Virginia. Kansas and UCF are both 0-11. The Jayhawks finish the season against Kansas State, while the Knights host USF.

2: Alabama's Cyrus Jones returned two punts for touchdowns in the Tide's rout of Charleston Southern. He's the first Alabama player to return multiple punts for touchdowns in a game since the school started keeping official records in 1944.

6: Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. tied a school-record with six touchdowns passes -- all longer than 20 yards -- in a 48-28 win over USC. It was the most touchdown passes ever allowed by the Trojans.

7: Touchdown passes by Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen in a 51-50 loss to Mississippi State. Allen became the school's all-time leader with 63 career touchdown passes, which broke the previous record of 62 held by Ryan Mallett.

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