Pain of Orange Bowl Loss Spurs Buckeyes to Get Better
By Rob Ogden
The 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes weren't a national championship-caliber team.
Based on expectations, the 2013 season will be viewed by some as a disappointment, but maybe expectations never should have been so high.
The Buckeyes began the season ranked No. 2, and looked like possible title contenders throughout much of the year, but were exposed in the final weeks.
Excitement surrounding the team peaked prior to the Big Ten championship game, but expectations should have been quelled following the win at Michigan.
Ohio State surrendered an absurd 603 total yards to a Wolverine offense that finished the season ranked 45th in FBS.
That's nearly 200 yards more than MAC bottom-feeder Akron allowed at Michigan in September.
In Indianapolis, the same Michigan State team that managed only a single offense touchdown against Purdue picked apart the Buckeyes' defense nearly as easily as their instate-rivals had seven days prior.
The defense struggled at times with Christian Bryant —it allowed more than 500 yards to Cal. The Bears finished 1-11. Without Bryant, the secondary was doomed.
Outside junior Ryan Shazier, an average group of linebackers offered little help.
The defensive line was the question mark on defense coming into the season, but turned out to be the most effective unit.
Noah Spence and Joey Bosa turned into dominant pass rushers to lead the Big Ten's best defensive line, but they couldn't carry an entire defense.
Coach Urban Meyer knew as much.
"We're not a championship-caliber defense right now," Meyer said following Friday's 40-35 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. "Our defense made some plays to help us go win a game, but is that what we expect? No, we expect top ten defense at Ohio State, top ten offense and top ten special teams, and I don't think we established any of those."
As Meyer alluded to, the offense was historically great, but not great enough to compensate for a historically bad defense.
The Buckeye offense wowed at times this season, but as Friday's game wore on, it became increasingly obvious that the two best receivers on the field were both clad in orange and white.
With his completion percentage above 70, quarterback Braxton Miller looked like he was morphing into one of the nation's elite passing quarterbacks in the first few weeks of the season, but regressed as the year wore on.
Over the final five games, Miller was ineffective, completing only 50 percent on his passing attempts.
During that span, Buckeyes receivers combined to make only 32 receptions.
Running back Carlos Hyde was dominant. So was the offense line, but even that unit showed some vulnerability as Clemson's pass rush got to Miller five times.
The passing game didn't establish enough balance to command the ground as Hyde had all season.
The Buckeyes were a few plays away from playing for the national title, and a drive away from winning a BCS bowl, so they were close, but not there yet.
The loss of Bradley Roby and Spence hurt. It could have even been the difference in the game, but Shazier said it wasn't an excuse.
Ohio State had trouble containing Tajh Boyd and the Tigers. Imagine what it would have been like trying to stop Jameis Winston and Florida State.
The Buckeyes are in good shape. The talent waiting in the wings might someday be better than what just walked out the door.
But for now, the and-2 attached to the 24 wins still hurts.
"It's not what I expected," Shaizer said. "We had a lot of ups and downs. We could have done a better job but we didn't.
"We're gonna use this pain to grow."
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