PASADENA, Calif. — As the confetti floated in the air and the team rushed the field following the 48-45 Rose Bowl win, super senior Demario McCall stood alone, taking in every bit of the environment and the win.
Although he wasn’t the team’s all-star on the field in the Rose Bowl against Utah and he wasn’t listed on the stat sheet, at halftime, McCall made arguably the most important play of the game — an inspiring halftime speech as the Buckeyes were down 35-21.
McCall, a valuable player who has not seen the field as much as he wanted to in his career, besides as the kickoff returner on special teams, added value in another way. Perhaps one that was exactly what Ohio State needed — not a miracle play on the field, but a spark coming from within, igniting a new focus and mentality amongst the team.
McCall came back for his super senior season with something to prove and after years of playing time already behind him, he knew in that moment what it felt like to be down before. He remembered that the great players before him stepped up for the team when they were down. But it was also personal — McCall wanted to leave his own legacy as a Buckeye.
To his success, in one of the most interesting and hard-fought Rose Bowl games in history, McCall’s teammates and coaches credit him as a major difference-maker for the Buckeyes in their second-half comeback.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game that the difference came from the leadership in the locker room. He didn’t say a word, but instead let his leaders like McCall do what they do best. Usually Day gives a halftime speech but he heard it and let them go. In fact, he didn’t even stay in the room.
“I thought in the second half they made up their mind on defense, that they were going to play different,” Day said. “It happened in the locker room. I heard it, and I got out of the way. Then they played with a different toughness, and we talked about playing fast and violent.”
Safety Bryson Shaw also credits McCall’s speech as the difference for the defense in the second half of the game, inspiring the team.
“Demario McCall,” Shaw said when asked of the defensive improvement in the second half. “The passion he has for this program is unmatched. I love Demario and I’m going to miss him but without him things could have gone sideways there. He really gathered the group and got us in and got us all going.”
As for what exactly McCall said, that would have to stay in the locker room.
“There were some things that I probably can’t repeat,” Day added. “That’s okay. That’s the way football goes.”
Whatever was said, it was enough. In the first half, the Ohio State defense gave up 324 yards. In the second half, that number was just 139, allowing only 3.2 yards per carry as compared to 6.6 in the first half. Utah scored 35 of its 45 points in the first half of the game, with Ohio State forcing a fumble, a turnover on downs, a punt, and just one field goal and one touchdown in the second half of the game for just 10 points.
Although the Buckeyes will be without McCall’s leadership next season, the players and coaches hope that moving forward on defense they play with that level of physicality and the mindset that McCall reminded them of.
Photo via The Lantern