For some Ohio State fans, Saturday’s loss against Virginia Tech might have been a flashback.
The last time OSU dropped its home opener, it started a freshman quarterback against a non-conference opponent and turned it over eight times in a 19-0 loss to Penn State.
While Saturday’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech wasn’t as bad statistically as that September afternoon in 1978, there are some interesting similarities between Woody Hayes’ team and coach Urban Meyer’s current squad.
For instance, the last time OSU started a freshman quarterback in a season opener before this season, it was Art Schlichter as he threw five interceptions to the Nittany Lion defense. Redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett made his first start in Ohio Stadium on Saturday and threw three picks.
Despite completing just nine of 29 passes, Barrett led the Buckeyes in rushing with 70 yards on 24 carries, averaging 2.9 yards per rush. OSU’s leading rusher in its 1978 loss was tailback Ron Springs, who rushed for 58 yards on 20 carries — which also comes to 2.9 yards per rush.
After the loss in 1978, then-OSU coach Hayes said that the ineffectiveness of the rushing game was the biggest problem for OSU, according to a 1978 Lantern article about that game.
“The biggest single thing that hurt us … was our inability to establish a running game,” he said. “Penn State’s fine defense had a lot to do with that, but we didn’t help ourselves as we should.”
Meanwhile, OSU’s 108 rushing yards on Saturday marked the worst rushing performance the Buckeyes have had under Meyer.
Former Buckeye linebacker Tom Cousineau, who recorded a then-OSU record with 29 total tackles in the 1978 loss to Penn State, said after the game that he believed the Buckeyes could run the table despite the loss.
“It’s not the end of the world. We still have a chance to come back and win the Big Ten title and maybe even the national championship,” Cousineau said. “We can win the rest of our games and finish with an 11-1 record. That’s not too bad.”
Fast forward to 2014.
Current junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said something similar following Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.
“Coach Meyer let us know in the locker room that 11-1 isn’t bad,” Washington said. “We just have to come back hungry next week.”
Despite the high optimism, the 1978 Buckeyes finished their season 7-4-1, culminating in a loss in the 1978 Gator Bowl against Clemson. Hayes infamously struck Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman during that game, effectively ending his coaching career, as OSU fired him the next day.
Fast forward 36 years, the 2014 Buckeyes are trying to avoid a similar fate.
Meyer said after Saturday’s loss that he spoke to his team following the game about moving on to the next matchup.
“So anxious to get back to work tomorrow and get a little better,” Meyer said. “We had a good meeting as a team (after the game).”
Junior linebacker Joshua Perry — who led the Buckeyes in solo tackles Saturday — said there is plenty of time for OSU to salvage its season.
“It’s a long season, and anything can happen. There are a lot of games to be played across America, so we have to wait and see,” Perry said. “We have to play Buckeye football and, if we do that, we will put ourselves in a situation for something. We don’t know what it is yet, but we’re hoping.”
The Buckeyes will have to do more than hope if they want a shot at a major bowl game or a chance to make the first-ever College Football Playoff. With Michigan and Michigan State dropping prime-time games against ranked opponents, the Big Ten appears to be on the outside looking in on a playoff spot.
Sophomore safety Vonn Bell, who made a diving interception in the second half, said in order for the Buckeyes to be successful, the team cannot become divided.
“We need to get better and stay together,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed but we’ll be back to the drawing board tomorrow.”
That drawing board will include getting back to the basics and regrouping to turn the loss into motivation, Perry said.
“Put in the work, watch film. Make corrections, really study your opponent, be professional,” Perry said. “That’s going to be the one thing is you can’t let this loss get in the way of preparing for future games. We’ve got to keep rolling, because we could make a positive thing out of this.”
Later this week, the Buckeyes are set to take on the Kent State Golden Flashes, who are coming off of back-to-back losses to Ohio University and the University of South Alabama to start their season.
Kent State coach Paul Haynes spent seven years as an assistant at OSU, including one year as co-defensive coordinator in 2011 when current co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell assumed the head-coaching role after the resignation of Jim Tressel.
Haynes and his staff are not only entering Columbus with an 0-2 record, they are also dealing with the death of one of their starters, Jason Bitsko, who passed away just 10 days before the start of the season.
Bitsko, who was a high school teammate of OSU senior quarterback Braxton Miller at Huber Heights Wayne High School, passed away Aug. 20 because of what police said at the time was an undetermined medical issue.
The Buckeyes and Golden Flashes are scheduled to kick off at noon on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.