Fitting End: Buckeyes Fumble Away Gator Bowl
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It was a fitting end for DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and the entire 2011 Ohio State football team.
The two seniors responsible for much of what has gone wrong this season both had costly fumbles in the Gator Bowl and the Buckeyes (6-7) allowed two specials teams touchdowns in a 24-17 loss to Florida (7-6).
In a largely meaningless game between two 6-6 football teams, the Gators came in favored and played like the less dreadful team for most the day. They scored first on a 17-yard pass from John Brantley to Deonte Thompson, and never trailed in what will serve as Luke Fickell’s final game as interim head coach.
"The big plays is what kills us,” said Fickell, who will remain on staff at Ohio State as the defensive coordinator.
“Special teams‑wise is obviously the glaring thing. I know third down situations, defensively, we're doing a decent job, just weren't getting off the field. We needed four, they get five. They needed six, they got seven.”
The Urban Meyer era officially begins Tuesday with a 7 a.m. meeting where Meyer will introduce the Buckeyes to his new coaching staff—which is now expected to include former Notre Dame assistants Tim Hinton and Ed Warriner.
He will also set the tone for the future of Ohio State football after one of the roughest seasons in school history.
“It’s been a rough 12 months.,” senior center Michael Brewster said.
“I’m not going to miss 2011. I’m sure a lot of other guys feel the same way.”
The Buckeyes finished the season with a 6-7 record, the first losing season since 1988 and the first season with seven losses since way back in 1897. It was also the first time Ohio State lost the Michigan game and a bowl game in the same year since 2000, which was the last year under former head coach John Cooper.
Cooper was replaced by Jim Tressel, who led the Buckeyes to nearly unprecedented success over the last decade. His exit came under the shroud of scandal in Columbus, and sent the program into a downward spiral that finally hit rock bottom in Jacksonville.
Ohio State actually tied the game 7-7 early in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Posey, but the Buckeyes immediately gave up a backbreaking 99-yard kick return to Florida sophomore Andre Debose.
The talk will be about the speed of Debose, and the Gators, but Fickell wasn’t sure that was exactly the issue on the kick return, which gave Florida a 14-7 lead with 11:13 to play in the first half.
“I think that's still something that the media likes to speak about. I don't know if you truly believe that,” Fickell proposed.
“Special teams‑wise, obviously, the big plays. Speed factor wasn't a thing. Nobody touched him on the kickoff return, so I'm not sure it was just straight speed.”
The Buckeyes should have tied it up just before the half on a long touchdown pass.
Posey turned his defender inside out and broke wide open in the right corner over the end zone at EverBank Field. All Miller had to do was put the ball in Posey’s general vicinity, but his pass sailed over his receiver’s head and out of bounds.
“I just threw it too hard,” said Miller, who made a few similar throws to Posey in the regular season finale at Michigan.
“I just couldn’t get into a rhythm today.”
A lot of that had to do with Florida’s pass rush. The Gators weren’t as dominant up front as Meyer’s group was five years ago in the BCS National Title game, but they got to Miller enough to disrupt almost everything Ohio State was trying to do offensively.
Led by Sharrif Floyd, Jon Bostic and Jaye Howard, the Gators sacked Miller six times and kept him from using his dangerous legs to take over the game. The Buckeyes settled for a 47-yard field goal after the missed connection between Miller and Posey and it was a 14-10 game at the half.
After everything they had been through, victory was suddenly within reach for the Buckeyes. Just as abruptly, it was snatched away from them by Graham Stewart, who scooped up a blocked punt and bolted 14 yards into the end zone.
Tailback Chris Rainey was credited with the block early in the second half and it completely changed the feel of the game, especially after Caleb Sturgis added a 17-yard field goal to make it a 24-10 game.
“That's huge,” Fickell said.
“You go down with 14 points, and obviously they can play you a lot different as well as some of the things you have to do are different.”
The Buckeyes were largely forced to abandon their running game, which had been effective in the first half, but Miller finally got them back into the end zone with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Hall.
He broke at least four tackles before scampering into the end zone with 57 seconds remaining. It was enough to give the Buckeye faithful in attendance new hope, but that hope would be short-lived. Ohio State was unable to recovery the onside kick they desperately needed.
“I’m proud of these guys. I wouldn’t trade these four years for anything in the world,” Brewster said.
“It’s been a long season, but I’ve met some of my best friends in the world and it’s time for me to recharge my batteries for a couple days.”
That is probably how everyone feels after this season.
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