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.