Ohio State leaves disappointment behind, focuses on Notre Dame
After an impressive win at Michigan in the regular-season finale, Ohio State held out hope for a shot at defending its national championship, which didn’t come to pass Sunday when the Buckeyes weren’t included among the four College Football Playoff teams.
But the consolation prize was pretty decent. Ohio State fell one spot from No. 6 to No. 7 in the rankings released Sunday and drew an attractive date with No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tempe, Ariz. (1 p.m. on ESPN).
The Buckeyes (11-1) were on the fast track for a return trip to the playoffs until they suffered a devastating home loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21. The No. 3 Spartans (12-1) ended up in the playoff spot, which seemed earmarked for Ohio State two weeks ago, after defeating Iowa in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes’ bowl fate could have been worse had they not rebounded with a convincing 42-13 win over Michigan. The Fiesta Bowl wasn’t the ultimate destination, but it’s a matchup of traditional powers with Notre Dame, where Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer served as an assistant earlier in his career before taking his first head coaching job at Bowling Green.
“There’s no disappointment,” Meyer said after the Buckeyes learned for certain during the weekend that they weren’t headed back to a playoff game. “You start talking about that level of football and this level of bowl game and the level of opponent you’re going to play, you better put the laser lights on that and keep going.”
There are other ties that bind the Ohio State and Notre Dame programs. Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, running backs coach Tony Alford and tight ends coach Tim Hinton worked for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. The schools last met at the Fiesta Bowl in 2006, when Ohio State, coached then by Jim Tressel, beat Charlie Weis-coached Notre Dame 34-20.
“There were two places that were near and dear to my heart my entire life and that’s Ohio State and Notre Dame,” Meyer said. “I spent five years (at Notre Dame), my son was born there, baptized there. We loved it. A lot of respect for that great place.”
Ohio State was one of three Big Ten teams in the top eight of the CFP rankings. Iowa fell from No. 4 to No. 5 after its three-point loss in the conference championship. The Rose Bowl selected the higher ranked team. There was speculation that the Buckeyes might be headed to Pasadena, but the Hawkeyes’ close loss to the Spartans at a neutral site helped put them ahead of the Buckeyes, who lost at home to Michigan State.
Meyer believes his team has moved on from the Spartans’ stunner. The proof, he said, was in the pounding that Ohio State gave Michigan on Nov. 28 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I think that’s gone,” Meyer said of the disappointment after failing to land in the playoff. “I think that found its way out the week of the rivalry week, and the way they played that week, pretty sure it’s gone. Now it’s go play our tails off one more time. They’re a great football team and let’s go finish this thing the right way.”
When the players return to practice, they’ll start preparing for Notre Dame, which narrowly lost to No. 1 Clemson (26-24) and No. 7 Stanford (38-36), both on the road.
“It’s two legendary programs, programs I am very familiar with,” Meyer said. “I have a great respect for the Fighting Irish. It’s also a great bowl game.
“I personally have been there and I know Ohio State has a great tradition there. I’m very excited and we will do our best to play well.”
–RB Ezekiel Elliott bounced back from the loss to Michigan State and whining about his lack of carries with an exceptional showing in the win at Michigan, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. With 1,672 yards for the season, Elliott has an outside shot at surpassing 1,800 yards for the second consecutive season with a good bowl game, which will likely be his final appearance in an Ohio State uniform. He’s almost certainly headed for the NFL next season as one of the top running back prospects in the draft.
–QB J.T. Barrett, like RB Ezekiel Elliott, responded in a big way against archival Michigan after a rough day against Michigan State in Ohio State’s only loss this season. The dual-threat sophomore ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries and completed 9 of 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. His running ability coupled with Elliott’s presence makes it difficult for opposing defenses to shut down Ohio State’s offense. Barrett still looks somewhat tentative on his reads and on timing routes with receivers, which could improve during bowl preparations for Notre Dame’s defense.
–WR Braxton Miller will be playing his final game for Ohio State in the bowl after a storied career that was rerouted by a shoulder injury. It seems Ohio State has never found a way to integrate Miller, a two-time Big Ten player of the year, into the offense and use his dynamic ability this season. Fans were waiting for big plays from him that for the most part never happened. In the win over Michigan, Miller had one catch for 5 yards and three rushing attempts for 7 yards. Will the bowl finally be the game that the coaches allow the former quarterback to sling the ball down the field? There’s nothing to lose now.
–LB Joshua Perry led Ohio State in tackles during his last regular-season game against Michigan with 10. He was credited with half a sack and one pass breakup. The senior has proved a stabilizing force for the defense the past few years and is a highly respected, high-character athlete. With 98 tackles in 12 games this season, Perry is second on the team behind fellow LB Raekown McMillan and his 8.2 tackles per game puts him in a tie for 11th in the Big Ten.
SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State holds a 3-2 lead in five previous matchups with Notre Dame. The Buckeyes won the most recent game 34-20 in 2006 in the Fiesta. Ohio State also beat Notre Dame in the last two regular-season meetings in 1995 and 1996.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “He has put Notre Dame back where it belongs and that is one of the top five football programs in the country.” — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.