10 Things We Learned from a Gator Bowl Loss
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Florida — College football seasons typically go by in the blink of an eye.
One day it’s the season opener and the next it’s bowl season.
Sometimes it is actually hard to enjoy the entire season because it goes by so quickly. That was not the case in 2011, not for Ohio State fans.
It was long. It was agonizing and, at times, downright unwatchable.
It’s over now. Ohio State fell 24-17 in the Gator Bowl, but there was to plenty to be learned from the loss to Florida.
1. It’s time to hit the reset button. There are million things we could talk about that went wrong this season, but why bother? Why take the time to analyze something that was hard to watch the first time? Everyone in that locker room deserves a fresh start, and so do the fans. This team was frustrating for everyone over the course of the year and like a wounded animal, it was time to put them down. Some guys fought valiantly. Some of the seniors deserve to be remembered, guys like Michael Brewster, Andrew Sweat, Tyler Moeller and Nate Ebner all had noteworthy seasons, even if they weren’t always at their best on the field. Remember that when you think back on the 2011 season someday, but forget the rest. It was ugly, and it’s time to move on.
2. Braxton still has a long ways to go. Watching Braxton Miller play, it’s easy to see why Urban Meyer and others have drooled over his physical ability at the quarterback position. He is a dynamic playmaker. He has quick feet and a rapid release. The tools are all there, but this is a freshman who played in an archaic offense without the proper tutelage he needed to become a good passer in his first season at Ohio State. The future is bright, and under Meyer it stands to reason that Miller will blossom into one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
It’s not going to happen over night. Miller has to shake some of the ideas that were planted in his head this season. Avoiding turnovers is not the most important thing in football. Turnovers hurt and you never want your QB to throw the ball up for grabs, ala Terrelle Pryor at Purdue in 2009, but Miller looked like a caged animal against Gators. He overthrew Posey again on a sure touchdown because he had to make sure either Posey was going to catch it or it was going to end up in the stands. Eventually he will learn how to find that touch, but give him time.
3. Luke should spend a few years as a coordinator before he takes another head coaching job. It is completely possible that Luke Fickell will make for an outstanding head coach some day. That day is not coming any time soon. Fickell, who had never been the head coach of a football team one day in his life before this season, simply wasn’t ready. That’s not a knock, necessarily, because most people who haven’t been a head coach don’t realize the demands that come with the position. Fans like to think they would always make the right call, but it’s different when you’re in it and it’s in the heat of battle. It takes time to learn how to make important, game-changing decisions at a moments notice. Luke struggled with that this year, but a few years as a coordinator under Urban Meyer should help him hone his leadership and decision-making skills. No doubt he will be a head coach again somewhere at some point. For his own sake, he should wait.
4. Ohio State needs to get faster on offense. This is not a debate about SEC vs. Big Ten speed, because the Buckeyes have had plenty of speed on their roster over the years. It was obvious Monday, however, that this current Ohio State team is lacking speed at the skill positions on offense, and it really hurt them against the Gators. Corey Brown, who is supposed to be their speed guy, has battled injuries all year. He had a big touchdown grab at Michigan, but has done very little the rest of the way. Without him, the Buckeyes have nobody to stretch the field vertically, and they don’t really have anybody who can make plays in space either. It’s hard to tell if nagging injuries hampered Boom Herron and Jordan Hall, but neither of them showed much explosiveness late in the year. Hall did have the nice touchdown grab against Florida where he eluded four tacklers, but those plays have been few and far between. Some of it has to be put on the shoulders of the offensive staff, but this team needs more guys with speed who can get the ball and make a play.
5. DeVier Posey is going to have a career at the next level. Whether you love Posey or despise him, the fact remains that he is a pretty good football player. He has clearly worked hard on his route running, and by the end of this year, one could argue he was the best—or at least one of the best—route runners Ohio State has had in the last decade. I would still probably take Dane Sanzenbacher, but Dane didn’t make corners look downright silly the way DeVier has in the final three games. We didn’t get to see enough of him this year to draw any sweeping conclusions, but Posey looks like a guy who will have a nice career in the NFL. He is physical enough to get off the press, fast enough to get down field and he runs excellent routes, ones that will actually work at the next level. The big question will be his hands, which were an issue in the past, but this is a guy who should get snatched up in the second or third round.
6. The Buckeyes showed little improvement over 13 games. It is somewhat scary how much better Posey was when he came back after missing 10 games than all the other receivers who had been playing all season. Part of that is the fact Posey is pretty good, but how many guys on this Ohio State team actually improved over the course of the season? How many guys showed dramatic improvement during the always-critical bowl preparations? Jake Stoneburner seemed to regress over the course of the season. The same could be said for Jordan Hall and a number of other guys. The special teams didn’t improve, as a whole or individually. Even Braxton seemed to have regressed a little from what we saw in Ann Arbor, although maybe that was partially because of the difference in defenses. The only guy who really seemed to improve was Ryan Shazier.
7. Shazier has guts, skill. Speaking of Shazier, how about the freshman gutting it out again with an injury. He said he felt about 70% after tweaking the knee on that early fumble recovery, and yet he stayed in there and led the team in tackles. He has the kind of toughness Urban Meyer is going to love and when he gets healthy, look out.
8. John Simon was Ohio State’s real MVP. We can’t mention the words toughness and Ohio State together without talking about John Simon. This guy was a monster again Monday, stepping up when his team really needed him. He nearly took John Brantley (and Xavier Nixon) out of the game with his ferocious hit in the first half, and he was in the backfield wreaking havoc all game. It is scary to think what Ohio State’s defense would have looked like without him, and there is no question in my mind that he was their real MVP. Boom Herron had a nice couple games, but the drop-off without Simon on defense would have been astronomical.
9. Special teams require Meyer’s immediate attention. It seems strange with all the attention Jim Tressel placed on special teams, but Ohio State’s have been eroding for quite some time. They continue to have kick coverage issues, which hurt them again Monday. They can’t protect Ben Buchanan, they can’t block an opponents kick, they can’t kickoff without the ball going out of bounds. If it weren’t for Buchanan, this whole season would be a wash on special teams. Drew Basil actually had a good year kicking field goals, including a 47-yarder against Florida, but Urban Meyer has to overhaul the entire system when it comes to special teams at Ohio State.
10. This game was much ado about nothing. In the end, Ohio State finishing 6-7 instead of 7-6 is big because it means the first losing season since 1988. Otherwise, it hardly mattered. No one will remember or talk about this game in a matter of months and ultimately neither team really deserved to be there. I’m still not a fan of allowing 6-6 football teams to play in bowl games, especially against each other, because this is what you get. There is a reason Ohio State lost six games during the regular season: they simply weren’t a very good football team. It showed in this game, but that doesn’t mean Florida was very good either. In fact, Ohio State probably only lost to one really good football team this year, and I’m not even sure how good Michigan State is. They beat a pretty good Wisconsin team, but they made a bunch of average football teams—Miami, Nebraska, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan and Florida—look a lot better than they really are.
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