Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State’s 24-7 Cotton Bowl Win


About eight times this season, I have wanted to start Ten Things with “It wasn’t pretty, but…” and I think I have always gone in a different direction because I’m worried I have already written those lines.

Or maybe I was just saving them for the bowl game.

This was a game dominated on the scoreboard by Ohio State, but the scoreboard really only showed the difference that turnovers can make.

The Buckeyes beat USC 24-7, but did it without much in the way of offense. Three lost fumbles and an interception by the Trojans led to Ohio State’s three touchdowns and at 24-0 with five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the game was essentially over.

Still, we had to learn something from the Buckeyes’ stifling, yet stilted, win over USC. Right?

1. This was a nice preview of next year’s cornerback rotation.

Just like when Joey Bosa was ejected from the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame and we got a good look at the 2016 defensive line, with Denzel Ward’s decision to sit out the Cotton Bowl, we got a very good and long look at the initial three-man cornerback rotation for next season. Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield improved steadily in 2017, and should continue that climb during the offseason. Freshman Jeff Okudah, meanwhile, stepped in on Friday and was in on as many snaps as both Arnette and Sheffield. He had a couple of freshman moments, but wasn’t out of place, and is only going to get better. There’s a reason Kerry Coombs said he wants to Spring Football to start tomorrow. And we haven’t even talked about Marcus Williamson, Amir Riep, and Shaun Wade, or incoming freshmen Tyreke Coleman and Sevyn Banks, both of whom are expected to enroll early.

2. The wrinkles weren’t much, but they could become more.

When the two most noticeable additions to the Ohio State offense in the Cotton Bowl were actually having Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins on the field together, and handing the ball off to Parris Campbell on the jet sweeps, this is a positive step forward. Unfortunately, neither Weber nor Campbell may be back next year, but here is hoping the plays will stay in the playbook moving forward. And whether it’s Dobbins with Antonio Williams, or Master Teague, or Brian Snead, there’s no reason not to see what split backs can do for this offense. Also, if Campbell does leave, there will be an opportunity to continue running the ball from the H in the form of Demario McCall and Jaelen Gill. If the quarterback isn’t going to be running the ball as much next season, they’ll want to find those yards on the ground somewhere.

3. Austin Mack finished well.

Being part of a four-man rotation out wide isn’t going to allow for a bunch of catches for any one particular Ohio State wideout. To get an understanding of what he could be doing, you could even double his numbers and that would give you a realistic look at that receiver’s production without having to split reps. For Austin Mack, that would turn his 24 receptions and 343 yards into some much better numbers. Still, despite the lack of reps, Mack finished with three catches for 56 yards against USC and looked like the strong X receiver that the Buckeyes need. He moved the chains and did it while showcasing strong hands and drive. Next year he should be hitting his wheelhouse.

4. So did Damon Webb.

It is hard not to be happy for Damon Webb on a very strong finish to his career. An interception against Wisconsin and a pick six against USC are things that he will remember for the rest of his life, and we shouldn’t forget them either when thinking back on Webb’s growth as a player. Now he will give way to a new starter at free safety for the Buckeyes, but he leaves the position in good standing and with a legacy to continue living up to.

5. Ohio State finished with an elite run-stopping defense.

The Buckeyes finished with the No. 6 rush defense in the nation, allowing just 105.1 yards rushing per game. If you take the Army game out of the equation, the average drops to 93.2 yards rushing per game, which would have led the nation. Against their five ranked opponents this season — No. 2 Oklahoma (104 yards), Penn State (91), Michigan State (64), Wisconsin (60), USC (57) — Ohio State allowed just 75.2 yards rushing per game. That’s four top 10 teams, by the way. In their two postseason games, OSU allowed just 1.7 yards per carry. This group was elite, and the odd blip against Iowa (243 yards) doesn’t change that, it just makes that game that much more confusing.

6. Neither of these two teams were playoff-worthy.

The Ohio State offense — arguably the best in school history — needed turnovers in order to score because they couldn’t move the ball against a USC defense that had zero fear of the Buckeye passing game. That’s two years in a row where the offense has held Ohio State back. That needs to end.

7. Denzel Ward’s decision is the new normal.

An Ohio State cornerback choosing to not play in a bowl game is not new, as Derek Ross opted for shoulder and toe surgery following the 2001 season in preparation for leaving early, and nagging injuries following the 2013 season kept Bradley Roby from playing against Clemson, Round 1. Ward’s decision to skip the bowl game without an injury now brings this growing trend to Ohio State, where Ward’s teammates were convinced it would never happen. The cap is never going back on the toothpaste, but that doesn’t mean the bathroom sink is going to be a mess every year. The only way to keep it from happening in the future is to make the playoffs, because as long as Urban Meyer continues to sell the NFL, he can’t be upset when his pitches work.

8. This is the end of teams not respecting Ohio State’s deep passing game.

Safeties sinking down in run support, cornerbacks talking trash on every snap, and an Ohio State offense not concerned with sending a scare into any of them. That’s what the Buckeye offense faced in the Cotton Bowl, and it needs to be the last time a defense can do that to this offense and not pay for it. No matter who the quarterback is.

9. It’s time for Urban Meyer to become ruthless again.

The Big Ten has gotten better because the coaches have gotten better. It’s time for Urban Meyer to throw away his favorite recliner and get back to the uncomfortable Iron Throne that he brought with him from the SEC. Talking to Tom Orr after the game, we kept referring to the second half as “Tressel Ball,” but Urban Meyer has done this enough now over the last few years that his name shouldn’t go unattached to such a strategy. I have no problem with what he did in this game, because silly offensive mistakes were the only thing that was going to cost Ohio State the win. But moving forward, it’s okay to become a villain again.

10. This is going to be the most exciting offseason in years.

The quarterback battle. Where does Tate Martell fit in? Will Mike Weber be back? How many receivers will return? Who will replace them? What would Rashod Berry look like as the team’s go-to tight end? Who replaces the irreplaceable on the offensive line? Is everybody ready for non-stop talk about Demario McCall? Or Chase Young? What does the linebacker situation look like next year? Where does Baron Browning end up? Justin Hilliard? Keandre Jones? Etc? Is Isaiah Pryor ready to become the next great Ohio State safety? Is Jordan Fuller already there? How many cornerbacks can rotate next season? Which freshmen will contribute right out of the box? Is there a J.K. Dobbins in this class. Oh yeah, remember J.K. Dobbins?


37 Responses

  1. Nice spirited conversation! Great stuff!

    If you look at the history of Urban Meyer at OSU & Florida, you see the same trends.
    1. Great success on the field.
    2. An RPO QB.

    It does not matter who the OC, in the end OSU will be an RPO team. Urban was thrilled to inherit BM and respects JT greatly – and he should. The next QB better be ready to run the football and pass when/if needed. We as fans watch these other games and say “why don’t we do that?” But nobody can argue with the results.

    As great as Baker Mayfield is, he will depart without a championship – too many mistakes in the big games. As great a QB as Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley – they will not be playing for a national title. In the 13 game run that is required to make the CFP, there is not room for mistakes. If you depend on the QB throw, you will have 1 or 2 bad days and be eliminated.

    I understand the desire for a QB that can sling the ball – but unless he can run effectively, you hurt your CFP chances. IMO, Bama has the same philosophy. 1. Don’t let the QB position hurt you, 2. build a great O-line, 3. build a strong D = compete for championships. I don’t see Bama QB’s flooding into the NFL – but their RBs, O-line & Defensive players are all over the draft board.

  2. Golly, the fans are pumped up! I think there is a little excited/scared feeling about next year. JT’s gone but what will we look like?
    I have absolutely no problem with OSU winning the way they did. Shoot, the Cowboys won their final game 6 to 0. That’s exciting?
    Said it a couple of days ago, but i thought the Buckeyes looked like the 70s Steelers Friday night. It was fun. It was like arm wrestling. Grunt, grunt, grunt, grunt, you’re down!
    73 and 8 in 6 years?? Why do we put up with so much mediocrity??!!?
    Tony, love your stuff, and keep it up. This is a fan site, not a Ken Burns’ documentary.

  3. Michigan State , Wisconsin and Penn State are all going to have Quarterbacks next year. Urban has one year to turn this around or he could end up in third place just barely ahead of Michigan. But that is hi M.O. Winning at Florida with the previous coaches recruits, winning at Ohio State with Tressel’s recruits, then the long slow decline.Man di Greg Schiano get that defence chugging by the end of the year. If those guys had been that good against Oklahoma….. but the offence… 227 yards in his last game.

    J.T. was clearly guy playing above his ability, all effort and guts, but, in the big games, his lack of ability really hurt us. What would be wrong with a quarterback with a big of passing accuracy? Seriously, is that not a pre-requisite for the position. Watching Wisconsin, Michigan State, even Iowa and especially Penn State, I seriously enjoyed those games more than the dismal performance the Ohio State offence delivered. 227 yards and one decent drive in a whole game. 17 points most of which were set up by the defence. If it had been anyone but Ohio State playing I probably would have turned it off and gone to bed. Unlike all those teams with young players like Michigan State who are already performing, and seeing how well they played, it’s a strange feeling. I personally don’t see how games like that help the program. Will any accurate passer ever come to Ohio State, knowing an inaccurate running quarterback will always be favoured over a NFL style pocket passer? Coming to Ohio State for a real quarterback pretty much would mean 5 years sitting on the bench. with the option to win a few games when the running back/quarterback is hurt (which he will be, because Urban Meyer quarterbacks take way to many hit. It’s just all so predictable. Some things never change.

  4. From watching the second half of the Clemson/Alabama game, the two teams combined only attempted to go sideways (jet sweep, bubble screen, etc.) 5 times and the result against those two fast defenses was negative 6 yards. Can someone please share that with Wilson and Meyer. Against staunch, extremely fast defenses that compete for national championships, those plays are largely ineffective. I’m not saying to scrap them from the playbook as they can be sparingly used, particularly as decoys for future plays, but these plays need to stop dominating the play calling.

    1. From watching it, they also weren’t going north/south very well.

  5. Long TIme Fan what you said is what I also learned. Our offensive problems can no longer be blamed on our OCs. It is a problem coming from somewhere else. Kevin Wilson with inferior talent put an exciting offense on the field against much more talented squads.

    Funny to also hear Tressel Ball discussed as I wish we could bring back Tressel to coach our special teams. I know they will be a lot more complete with Tressel.

    Fans I really think Paris Campbell has the talent to be a Heisman Contender and I do not think he even caught a pass against a weak USC team missing a starting CB.

    The Ozone needs to make a special tape of this game. Showing all of our kickoffs and all of our plays on defense and only a handful of our offensive plays that were not offensive. This is the only way to watch this game again and enjoy the game.

    Larry Johnson of course deserves praise for this game, but so do all of the other defensive coaches. We played great against an elite QB and had no help from offense. I root for all of our guys to have excellent NFL careers after leaving OSU, but will not root for Denzel Ward. I could understand if we were 7-5 and playing in the Idaho Potato Bowl, but this is The Cotton Bowl against an elite QB and USC. How do you sit out this game especially a CB?

    I hope JT proves me wrong and has an excellent pro career, but I can not wait for 2018 and knowing I never have to watch him play QB for OSU again.

  6. One thing I learned is that Meyer likes a challenge. How else could one explain why he played his worst of four qbs season after season. It was just too easy winning championships with his best QB.

    Feel bad for the qbs that deserved to start

  7. As I said at the beginning of the season “You can win a Big 10 title with Barrett but not a National Championship”. They DID & they DIDN’t!!! By the way, what was the score of the Michigan game?

  8. I learned that:
    1) Once the pieces were in place, Ohio State’s defense was championship caliber and they saved the inept offense’s bacon in many games.
    2) The weak link was the offense which couldn’t move the ball several games. For all his records, Barrett’s inept passing was the Achilles heel that kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs.
    3) The Buckeyes never belonged in the playoffs and USC wasn’t quite as good as advertised but OSU’s defense clearly dominated or else it would’ve likely been a loss as the offense did squat. USC outgained us by a large margin as it was. If not for the turnovers…
    4) “Arguably the best in school history”…Lol! Give the superlatives a rest. Far from the best except maybe theoretically on paper in a younger writer’s mind. They couldn’t move the ball in this game or in several games where the opponent had a pulse. That includes the running backs. Thank goodness J.T. got hurt or arguably we’d have lost to Michigan. Statistics can be used to make any argument and can thoroughly mislead and nothing new there. I’ve learned that if I precede any dopey claim with “arguably” it becomes true! That must have been “stupid Tony” saying that. I got a laugh out of it so it was arguably one of Tony’s funnier lines.
    5) This game was not the offensive shootout that most pundits and fans expected but for a Buckeye fan it was the least stressful USC in history and never threatened to turn sour.
    6) Despite the Buckeye defense’s great job of disrupting Darnold, he didn’t have a bad day passing with 356 yards and threw some scary good sideline passes. I hope one of our new young QBs can throw with such precision.

    1. Keep in mind that whatever offense you believe to be the best in school history also was not perfect.

      1. Keep in mind this commenter NEVER used the word “perfect”, Tony. Your absurd comment about this year’s offense is being blasted apart by people who know better. You wrote something foolish and are correctly being called on it.
        Lucius- you are dead on regarding this year’s USC team. They were by far the most “soft” USC team I’ve ever seen OSU play. Glad our defense brought it.

        1. 4th-highest scoring team in school history. 3rd-most ypg in school history. I didn’t say it was the best offense in school history, I said others could argue that it is. And my remark about offenses being perfect is that all OSU offenses have had flaws. Which offense do you guys think is the best in school history? I might go with 2014, but that team was three different offenses in one single year.

          1. You said “arguably the best in school history” while DIRECTLY contradicting that same remark within the article itself (points 6,8,9). Regarding your question about which is the best offense in school history, I have 2 answers:

            1) any OSU offense in a highly successful season that didn’t repeatedly need to be rescued by the defense against better competition. The stat argument you keep making is skewed by inflated results against poor teams. For example, I got sick of hearing the garbage about how “great” Oregon’s offenses in the earlier part of this decade were. How would poor little OSU stop the Oregon assault in the Rose Bowl and Natl Championship? By playing straight up defense and showing them the difference between Big 10 and Pac 10, that’s how. Those Oregon offenses were “arguably the best in program history” UNTIL they ran into someone who could fight back- just like the 2017 OSU offense. Getting 7 million yards of offense vs UNLV does NOT compensate for curling up into the fetal position vs. better opponents.

            2) who cares?? The entire conversation is vapid space filler. There is a sizable portion of the fan base on this site that has grown tired of the blatant homer commentary, and simply craves thoughtful and accurate reporting. Many of us have been to tons of games and watched OSU on the tube before you were even born. We don’t need the constant rhetoric, that’s the stuff UM clowns need to convince themselves they are still relevant (and which fuels the fire of OSU haters everywhere by the way).

            1. Thank you for continuing to read everything that you continue to hate.

              1. I don’t “hate” it, Tony- I’ve grown tired of it. I stopped reading the fluff after UM but before the bowl game (“fascinating” stuff about UM’s transfer QB for example). I began again close to USC and after it, hoping fort substance. There are writers on this site who stow the pom poms before they hit the keyboard. I have remarked on their work and will do so in the future. Done with you, though- your writing is not compelling enough. You are part of the problem- and you’ll never understand that. Ciao.

              2. Thank you, Longtime! I’m a Buckeye ’til I die but I’m also a realist. Keep bringing the truth.

    2. I just learned that the pride of Ann Arbor and their brilliant coach just got the only Big Ten bowl loss. They are even elite in their incompetence! Way to ruin the conference’s perfect bowl record, you maize and blue bottom dwellers. I feel sorry for real wolverines.

  9. Admittedly I am a Joe Burrow fan. I stood on the sidelines of a few of his his high school games and have not seen a more accurate passer….that being said he has no chance of starting or playing for the Buckeyes this year. I will be surprised if Joe goes through spring training. He will graduate soon and could transfer and play for any other team that values his talent and abilities.
    I would also agree with others who have recognized that this offense was more offensive than elite. Meyer and JT held this offense back. You win with defense was certainly true this year. I trust moving forward that the Buckeyes will do exactly that….move forward!

  10. My first thoughts at halftime were “Tressell ball” & with our defense clearly controlling the line of scrimmage the prospects of scoring 4 tds seemed unlikely. So play it safe,,move some chains , burn clock, raise the trophy. Only thing that could beat us was our offense so their job is clear.Protect the football we win the game. I love Tressell ball when its executed so perfectly !!

  11. Point 9 has really become the issue. Urban plays not to lose in the big games which is a 180 from the urban who addressed the media at his first press conference in 2011. This is the third straight year the offense has held the team back. Why is the million dollar question. Is it wilson or is it urban? Did urbans loyalty tailor the offense to what JT did best which is run the ball which has puzzled me given the fact of how slow JT has become. Hopefully we’ll have some answers next year. Not sure urban can win another NC if he doesnt resort to being a steely eyed killer again.

    1. Hi Tim-, first off, Happy New Year! Second, the answer to your question is, the culprit is Meyer. The OCs keep changing but the game plan remains the same. Meyer tells the fans he lets his OC dictate the plan, which is a bald faced lie. For 5 years the offensive plan involves the unnecessary step of trying to force the QB into some god-like status while shying way from the best players. It goes all the way back to the infamous 4th down cluster vs Sparty with Braxton Miller years ago. The real question is, now that JT is done, will Meyer allow his OC to do the job he was hired to do?

  12. Please make a million copies of numbers 6 and 9 and and tape them to his office door, car, house, dog, kids, wife and cover the entire Woody Hayes Center so that Urban gets the message. Most of Buckeye nation is still waiting for the ruthless, offensive genius, run up the score, “I went for two because I couldn’t go for three”, dominator we hoped Meyer would be instead of the Tressel.2 he has become. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind winning but like to try winning big in big games and having chances at a National Championship every year not once every decade. Yes selfish I know but so are all that remember the Woody vs the Cooper years.

    1. Buckeyedad, this, this and MORE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh yeah, and 3 of the 10 above really zero in on the offense in one way or the other and the lack of a downfield passing game.

      And, most of all, MORE NUMBER 9…PLEASE Urban!!!

  13. We are playoff worthy. As you said later, we played “Tressel Ball” after getting up 24-0. SC wasn’t scoring and so we went vanilla and took the air out. Not pretty to run into a stuffed box but unless they threatened us (they never did), no reason to do otherwise.

  14. I see Martell with a wildcat package next year to play off the starter, either Haskins or Burrow, probably Haskins.

    1. Same. Except to call it a wildcat package ignores the fact that he’s a QB.

      1. Compared to the regular offense we will see, what Martell will do will look like a wildcat offense. All the better he is a real QB since the threat of the pass will be more likely.

    1. MUST learn to type wearing my glasses!

  15. OMHO it was a todd up to which of the DB’s were the best and most consistent. Denzel War and Jordan Fuller. Jordan is already the next great safety from Ohio State. He just makes plays.

    Been saying if for quite sometime. Urban Meyer quit being a coach and became a CEO. He’s dimmed down his own expectations of winning with 4 quarter demolitions and become an active pacifist feeling sorry for opponents rather than unleashing hell and pillaging every ounce of will they had. That MUST come to an end or it won’t end well for him in Columbus. Opponents are getting better coaching and the talent gap, regardless of what the ratings say, is getting narrower. Much of that is on CEO Meyers assistants who just aren’t delivering on their hire. Wilson was an EXTREME disappointment. Day never should have been hiree in the first place. I know that I’m in the minority but, Greg Schiano was awful for most of the season. Pretty telling when the line coach, who IS one of the best in the game has to scream at the DC to turn his forces loose. Playing scared is recipe for IOWA and every other crap show. If the team is going to get beat, at least get beat while attacking. The talent suggests there is no reason to be getting clown showed by inferior teams, and even if young they are just as good as the guys across from them. Games like Wisconsin and USC are the results of taking it to the opponent even with younger players. That defense devastating when they are turned loose.

    I’m happy for JT that he was able to finish his career on a good run following that humiliating performance in Iowa City. It’s on to better passers. One comes with top shelf skills in RPO and good passing. The next comes with decent RPO skills and better passing. The 3rd is a pure stretch the field passer with below average RPO skills. If Meyer runs the current philosophy it’s a no brainer. Tate Martell all day every day.

  16. I’m just glad that we’ve reached the end of JT Barrett and Urban Meyer hijacking and hand-cuffing the offense!

  17. If you want to be an elite team and compete for championships, you can’t do it with an offense stuck in neutral. You have to have the ability to score from anywhere on the field at any time. If USC didn’t have the turnovers, they would have won.

  18. Point number 6 states that the 2017 offense was “arguably the best in school history”. No, it wasn’t. Heck, even portions of point 6 itself, point 8, and point 9 contradict that assertion. This year’s offense largely made its hay by chicken kicking outclassed opponents, with MSU being the lone exception to that rule. In several other games- the harder ones- the offense was inept and, in fact, the OTHER team’s best weapon. It was woeful vs OU and Iowa, and had to be bailed out by its defense vs Wisky, UM, and USC. There were individually nice pieces, but it was essentially a shell game against the better opponents.

    1. Statistically it is at or near the top. People use statistics to argue things. Hence, “arguably.”

      1. Yes Tony, and some people actually watch the games and understand what’s really going on rather than defaulting to the company line. Here’s hoping Christmas and the New Year bring you some MUCH needed clarity.

        ” To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”- Thomas Paine

        1. “Yes, Tony, and some people actually watch the game and understand what’s really going on”.

          What a ridiculous line.

          Tony DOES watch virtually every game, Mr. Longtime Fan, you make very good points with many of your posts about OSU football per se, but what rankles at least me is that many of your posts are used to primarily attack Tony, not make any valid counter-argument. IMHO your opinions could be much better received if you would just talk about football and not spend your time attacking Tony. That smacks of some sort of vendetta,

          You quoted Thomas Paine, Another comment that was directed at Tony. Like you, Tony has his own opinions about OSU football that don’t always mesh with yours. He’s entitled to that opinion, and you are entitled to yours. That’s fine, but denigrating Tony about everything he posts is akin to the King shooting the messenger because he didn’t have what the King wanted to hear.

          Lay off the Tony attacks, and just comment on your own opinions on OSU football. You have good things to say when you do.

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