Ten Things We Learned From Ohio State’s 29-23 Loss in the Fiesta Bowl

JK Dobbins Ohio State Buckeyes Running Back

Ohio State did everything they needed to in order beat Clemson on Saturday night, but along the way they also did everything they could to make sure the Tigers came out on top.

Untimely mistakes trumped timely plays. And then miscues were followed by dazzling Buckeye plays.

This game had everything, it just didn’t have an ending that Ohio State is going to be able to live with.

And yet, even as poorly as the Buckeyes played at times, they still played well enough to win, which is not going to help the healing in this one at all.

The 2019 season is now over for Ohio State, meaning one of the great Buckeye teams of all time has called it quits.

So what did we learn from Ohio State’s 29-23 loss to Clemson in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl?

Mostly that this season was just the start for Ryan Day.

1. JK Dobbins deserved better.

JK Dobbins had the best season for an Ohio State running back in school history, breaking the school record with 2,003 yards rushing. He was amazing all season long. He was never stopped, never stymied. In the biggest games, he was at his best. And had he not tweaked an ankle in this game, he would have had his best day ever as a Buckeye and led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl win. Dobbins has been snubbed all season long for awards and accolades. He deserved better from the voters of those awards and he deserved better from the football gods who removed from the biggest stage of the season for far too long.

2. It’s okay to blame the refs.

You know how players get blamed for dropping a touchdown pass or fumbling right before they cross a goal line or really any time they cost their team a touchdown? Well, when referees do that — as they did in this game when they incorrectly reversed a fumble return for a touchdown by Jordan Fuller — it is okay to blame them for costing Ohio State a touchdown. If it is okay to be upset at a player for making a mistake or a coach for making a bad call, it is absolutely okay to be upset at the officials for removing six (and probably seven) points from Ohio State’s score, in a game that they ultimately lost by six points. That’s not sour grapes, that’s just fruition.

3. Shaun Wade has a $20 million decision to make.

This Ohio State team is better with Shaun Wade than without him. He now has an NFL decision to make. Enter the NFL draft without showing his skillsets as an outside corner and possibly land anywhere in the first two rounds, or come back, play outside, and end up a Top 5 pick like Jeff Okudah. The No. 5 pick this year will sign a 4-year deal for about $30 million. The No. 25 pick will make about $12 million. The No. 40 pick will be around $7 million. All of that is great and a dream come true. This is certainly not how Shaun Wade wanted his Buckeye career to end, so maybe it could play into a decision to return?

4. Josh Proctor has a ways to go to replace Jordan Fuller.

Sophomore safety Josh Proctor has range for days, but until he can tackle like Jordan Fuller, the Buckeyes will need to be careful playing their one-high safety look next season. Fuller was the last line of defense against the pass and the run this season and he rarely missed tackles. Later in the season as the talent got better, the tackling declined a bit, but overall it was superb. Proctor — as he showed against Clemson — is not there as a tackler yet. He is a sophomore, so this offseason is going to be very important for him because he will almost certainly take over for Fuller. As a sophomore two years ago, Fuller was arguably the team’s best tackler. If this Ohio State defense is going to withstand all of the departures it is about to see, Proctor will need to be able to be the same kind of shut down tackler that Jordan Fuller was.

5. Chris Olave has no reason to have his head down.

After the game, Chris Olave felt like he let his team down. He believed his mis-read on what he thought was a Justin Fields scramble cost Ohio State the game. While it led to an interception, it was just one play in a game that had 160 plays — and several of those 160 plays would have been the decider had they been the last play of one team’s chances. Chris Olave was the Buckeyes’ most dangerous passing threat this season and he has no need to feel like he let his team down. He made too many plays in this game and too many plays for the Buckeyes this season to think that he let his team down.

6. Ryan Day needs to stay aggressive.

Ryan Day’s aggression led to a roughing the punter call that somehow didn’t result in a blocked punt. Was it necessary to go after the punt block at that point knowing you were going to get the ball at midfield? No. It is better to have an aggressive coach who lets players make plays, as opposed to a coach who is always playing the game “by the book” — a book, mind you, that was written 50-60 years ago and actually features all of the standard coaching situations and decisions written down so as not to have to make any real decisions and be called out for it. Some coaches hide behind the “well, that’s just what you do in that situation” world of decision making. Others actually go out and try to impact the game with aggression. Both can win, but having faith in players to make plays is sure the more entertaining and empowering mode of operating.

7. But there’s no need to go after a punt at that point.

I mean, we all know it.

8. Again, it is okay to blame the refs.

This Ohio State team played well enough to win this game, it’s just too bad the officials didn’t adhere to the same quality in their performance.

9. The tackling sure declined.

Sitting at 10-0 this season, you could have counted the missed tackles by Ohio State starters on one hand. Over the last four games, however, that hand filled up quickly in each game. It is no coincidence that the quality of opponent increased, but it was disappointing nonetheless. The plays were there to be made against Clemson, the Buckeye defense just didn’t make them. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that they did actually make the biggest play of the game, but it was negated for some reason by SEC officials.

10. The Buckeyes will be back.

Urban Meyer liked having an angry team. Next year, the Buckeyes are going to have an angry coach. Ryan Day had this win taken from him by people who were in a replay booth sixty feet above the stadium turf. The stadium turf, mind you, that had more people slipping and falling than the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. This was just the start for Ryan Day and what a start it was. Next time, he may be trying to keep things from ever reaching the point where one egregious call can lead to a victory being stolen.

22 Responses

  1. Any one of the three huge game changing calls goes OSU’s way and the Buckeyes win. Despite the drops. Despite the injuries. OSU wins. But they all go Clemson’s way. Life’s tough that way sometimes. LSU will drop 50 on Clemson and they would have beaten OSU with Fields less than 100%. Joe Burrow will bring the Buckeyes some nice closure after all…

  2. Just watched the second half of the Illinois bowl game. Officials from the SEC again call a critical (non) targeting call followed by a missed call for reply of a fumble. Both resulted in scores for Cal. Unbelievable the trend here. Also Illinois almost double in penalty yardage. Never saw a hold called in either game! Truly an unbelievable trend!

  3. Even after being screwed by the refs, if, instead of being 85% and wearing a knee brace, Fields is 100% and without a knee brace, at least 2 of the 3 field goals would have been turned into touchdowns, and we win. If Lawrence had been 85% and wearing a knee brace, we would have destroyed Clemson.

  4. Overturning the fumble, scoop & score is one of the worst referee calls of all time. The ref who made that call should be banned from officiating any football game. Also, poor punt blocking technique will get roughing calls. The preferred technique is to come at the ball from the side. If you hit the punter head on, roughing will likely be called. Both J K Dobbins and Justin Fields played hurt in this game and they deserve a lot of credit for their toughness. This Buckeye team was fun to watch. Too bad the dream ended with a horrendously bad referee reversal of a fumble/return for TD call. THANKS BUCKEYES FOR A GREAT SEASON !!!

    1. Altbuck:
      Wade was coming from the side at waist level. The problem is that Lawrence was standing straight up but then ducked down and turned toward Wade at the last second to avoid the hit coming from his other side. This why the rule needs to be changed to consider all the circumstances causing the “helmet crown” contact. Currently, the whole thing is a crapshoot and the tackler has to proceed cautiously and adjust if the QB changes his position.

  5. 14. Holding Clemson to only 29 was outstanding. Even though the defense made a few mistakes it was the Offense leaving 26 points on the field that let down. Ergo, Clemson played a helluva defensive game as well.

    That was the most fun season in quite a while. We humiliated Michigan, won the Big Ten and then gave it our best in a big bowl game. I didn’t really care about the national championship but losing to Clemson again is gut wrenching. I’ll enjoy watching Burrow take apart Clemson and then move on.

  6. 1. Dobbins deserved a lot better. He usually catches those passes. It was heartbreaking to see him on the ground with his shoe off. My MVP.

    5. Olave need not hang his head. His mistake was one of many that cost the game and it was made as a result of improvising to make a play. Had the fumble he caused not been overturned he’d have been the savior.

    11. Ohio State needs to schedule better out of conference games so they get “tested” early and are better able to ascertain where they are and what needs improvement. It’s better to stumble early if you’re going to stumble.

    12. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. What we learned is that this was not really “the best team in Ohio State history”®. Recency bias, rules changes, longer seasons, and abuse of stats, cast a scarlet & gray spell over many in Buckeye nation, leading them to believe the best team in history stuff. Perhaps it was the most talented team that ever lost a game as big as this with such high expectations. We need to learn to wait until a season is complete before starting on the greatest in history crowd meme. That’s the mistake Michigan always makes.

    13. Don’t try to take Trevor Lawrence out of the game with a questionable hit. Instead of intimidating him he took it personally and it made him angry. He came back a couple of plays later and ran 67 yards through our defense. That’s what I call an answer. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, everybody has a plan until they punch the wrong guy in the face. That was a game changer. It wasn’t intentional targeting but had that been Fields being laid out like that Buckeye fans would agree with the call.

    1. all star: the scheduling comment makes no sense. the miami game was
      supposed to be the tcu game that tcu essentially cancelled when they moved the home and home to Dallas last year. and tcu is historically a high quality big 12 teams, and when this was scheduled, they had just beat wisc in the rose. schedule is not a problem–have no not seen the future out of conf schedules?
      c’mon man

    2. Play better non-conference games? Where have you been?
      Miami and FAU won their league championships and Cincinnati lost in their league championship game.
      You are a master second guesser but the coaches don’t have that luxury.
      Fields injury reduced our offensive firepower by nearly 50% and after Dobbins turnoff his ankle we were left with about 25% of our firepower. How do you think Lawrence would have done with the knee brace Fields was wearing?..
      We also made several key execution errors and yet we still played well enough to win if not for the replay ref absolutely screwing us out of our scoop and score touchdown.
      Why don’t you find a different team to root for. . . One that is as perfect as you are.

      1. Are you really listing Miami, FAU, and Cincy as tough games? Really? Wow! The Big 10 is sad and delusional. Play tougher teams, and stop running the scores up on weak opponents. You’re like Kansas St. many years back, or more recently Oregon a few years back. Your conference is full of overrated slow 2-star players—Indiana, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois, MSU, Maryland, Northwestern, etc.

  7. Great article; Watching the game, at one point, I thought OSU might be on the way to blowing Clemson out, proud that OSU rebounded, scored and made it one of the best BCS playoff game ever. What I learned;

    1. OSU is an elite team, We out gained Clemson by 100 yards and Clemson must be feeling a little lucky today after escaping that game.
    2. Experience does matter, in probably no other venue would Olave and Fields have made that mistake, but the stakes were high.
    3. The entire game flipped on one play.
    4. The NCAA needs to ban one conference referees for these sorts of games.
    5. Talking about refs, I really don’t mind the targeting ejection, not sure how anyone could have over turned that fumble return. But The biggest blunder by the refs is a non call no one is talking about. In the play where Wade was ejected #73 for Clemson had a blatant and prolong face mask of Chase Young, so severe it lifted him up off the ground even after the play was over. Earlier in the game being doubled team there was just as severe of a face mask of Chase Young. When people ask where was Chase Young, double teamed with multiple non called fask masking.
    6. Football really is a game of inches, a few inch shorter pass to Dobbins and he scores. Wade not lowering his helmet a few inches and he could of been i the game and prevented a few of those TD’s, a few slips…..
    7. Lawrence was the game changer and w/o his feet we win.
    8. Clemson played an OSU on us. They dominated the last half of the 2nd quarter and most of the third. That has been OSU’s strategy for years.
    9. I said that OSU would needed to score 30 to win. We can blame the D all we want, but we all knew that Clemson has the talent for quick strikes. The reality is that after our initial 16-0 outburst, we were only able to put 7 more on the board.
    10. Thanks OSU for a terrific year, and a great game that scared the heck out of Clemson and made LSU wonder. It seems like Day is recruiting the players to play and beat the elites of the CFB world; Clemson, AL, LSU, OK, etc. Now if only we can get the refs at an elite level.

  8. Interesting that the officiating crew in LSU-OU was from the ACC, and the officials in OSU-CU was from the SEC. ESPN owns the ACC network and SEC network. Officials in these games should not be from conferences that have skin in the game. All of it is bad optics!

  9. Hey ACC, SEC, is owned by ABC, with SEC refs.
    Now you have an a ACCSEC title bout .On the network ABC. Never leave the game in the hands of the refs specially SEC refs. Three red zone field goals that’s the game set match

  10. 1. that was a terrific college football game! Two titans punching & countering!
    2. if the receiver runs out of bounds, that would have been ruled a completed pass, so why it was ruled incomplete is a mystery.
    3. 4th & 4 at the 40 yard line – what to do? If you don’t make it, then Clemson only needs 30 yards and they’re in range. If you punt & pin them at the 10, they need 60 yards. That’s a tough call, but either way, I did not expect the defense to get gashed that easily.
    4. I do not know how a defender running at ~20 mph is supposed to not meet the helmet of an offensive player, if the offensive player lowers his head to brace for the blow. Blitzing Clemson defender did exact same thing on final drive. Fields had his back to the defender and was hit square in the #1 on his back. Which is more dangerous? If Justin would’ve laid on the ground for a minute, maybe it would have been reviewed?!
    5. On the final drive I was really expecting the WR screen to KJ Hill (the same one that beat PSU in Happy Valley). It’s a safer throw to the best receiver in OSU history.
    6. I hope Master Teague has learned from JK – he must improve his “shiftiness” to become the next great OSU RB.
    7. It was a pleasure to watch this year’s Buckeye team – one of the greatest of all time IMO. Some years there are several great teams, some years everyone is mediocre & one team sorta wins the natty by default (think Tennessee 98, LSU 2007).

  11. #2. BIG difference between a mistake a player makes and a decision by a replay official. Wade, Brown, Dobbins and Olave made critical mistakes that led to this loss. But they didn’t decide to do the wrong thing. In the moment, they simply made the wrong move.

    The replay official was allowed to calmly look at the fumble in slow motion, where it is clear to anyone that the ball was firmly secured and didn’t move for three full steps, and he deliberately and consciously decided to reverse a correct call to favor one team over another.

    To compound it, his cohort rushed to the media to blatantly lie about the ball moving to cover his corrupt and sorry ass. Not at all surprised this was an SEC crew.

  12. Did our defense game plan for Lawrence to run the ball as much as he did? I didn’t watch them much this season because the ACC sucks so bad but I doubt he ran as many designed runs as he did against us Saturday night. Obviously this was a wrinkle they added for this game. His running really hurt us all night long. I totally agree about JK. The dude was a monster all season and if this was his last game as a Buckeye, I feel for him because I’m sure he is hurting over dropping two TD passes from inside the 10 that probably make the difference in the outcome.

  13. I must edit your article because you have neglected to mention the number one lesson we as Buckeye’s needed to take away from Saturday night. Which is when in the Red Zone score TD’s and don’t settle for FG’s. This is the main reason we lost!

  14. It is difficult to be objective after your team comes out on the bad end of a robbery like Saturday. Now that the smoke is clearing, I think it’s fair to say that OSU is at worst a Top 3 program as 2020 looms. LSU goes years without being relevant, don’t even get me started on OK and UGA, and even our friends at AL may be in for a let down. We are one of the real toughs- keep it up Buckeyes!!

  15. I love Day’s aggression. I don’t mean to throw all caution to the wind, but always “playing it safe” approach to the game is one of the most frustrating traits for me about most coaches. That 4th down TD pass to Olave happened so fast I almost missed it…and it took me a minute to process that. It made me pause and ask, “Did that just happen? Did I just see what I thought I saw?” I love that about Day. He has an inner killer instinct I’ve been craving in a coach. Now we have it and I hope he’s at tOSU for a very long time.

    1. Too bad he turtled on our drive before we gave it back to clemson for their game winning drive. Needed another score. Didn’t notice
      anything new or any new wrinkles on offense.

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