No. 3 Ohio State’s game against ninth-ranked Michigan State on Saturday was a game of many firsts, but also many lasts.
It was the Buckeyes’ first loss since Sept. 6, 2014 against Virginia Tech.
It was the first time they lost a regular-season game to a conference opponent in 208 calendar weeks, dating back to OSU’s 40-34 loss to Michigan on Nov. 26, 2011.
It was the first time in 16 games that junior running back Ezekiel Elliott did not rush for over 100 yards. He had just 33 on 12 attempts in the 17-14 loss against the Spartans.
It was also the first time the Buckeyes had less than 200 yards of total offense under coach Urban Meyer.
However, for 18 seniors — and potentially any underclassmen who opt to bolt for the NFL — it was their last time playing a football game inside Ohio Stadium.
But unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the storybook finale they envisioned when they signed letters of intent to come to Columbus.
Instead, their final Saturday in the ‘Shoe — a last-second loss at the hands of the rival Spartans — would be more accurately described as a horror film.
“You come out here and a play a tough game against a top-10 opponent, especially on my senior day, highly emotional and you can’t pull it off,” Joshua Perry said following the game. “It’s a really tough feeling.”
The co-captain and senior linebacker had arguably his best home game of his career, statistically speaking, as he registered 15 total tackles, his highest total on home turf.
But for the rest of his team, it would be hard to say the same. In nearly every facet of the game, OSU was outmuscled by Michigan State.
“That was not a good performance,” Meyer said.
Poor performances, however, are relatively uncommon for the senior class that was recognized with pregame ceremony, as it is one of the more successful in program history.
The seniors were a part of two 20-plus game win streaks and won a national title, while also winning 30 straight games over conference opponents in the regular season, a national record.
“Sometimes you honor senior classes and you honor them because I guess you have to honor senior classes,” Meyer said on Monday. “And other times you honor senior classes because of the contributions to great university and a great football program or kind of over the top, and this one is.”
Even though individual performances are more like participation trophies than anything else in losses like Saturday’s, not every senior was able to have a strong individual performance like Perry did.
Redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller, one of the most decorated Buckeyes of all-time, had just 12 total yards on four touches, while three offensive linemen — left tackle Taylor Decker, right tackle Chase Ferris and center Jacoby Boren — struggled against the Michigan State front seven.
Though they might normally go unnoticed, Saturday was also the home finale for players like linebacker Cam Williams, defensive lineman Chris Fong and injured defensive back Armani Reeves.
“It’s hard,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said about the seniors losing their final home game. “Those guys and what they give to our program, what they’ve given to our program, what they continue to do for us — (us coaches) will get up tomorrow and have another game. Coaches will continue to to coach, for some of these guys this is their last time ever to have an opportunity (at Ohio Stadium).”
There were, however, some non-seniors who technically have another year of eligibility remaining who appear to have played their last game in Columbus.
Redshirt junior quarterback Cardale Jones posted a photo of him walking into stadium on Twitter after the loss, saying it was the “last time” he’ll do that and he wishes the results were different.
Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott said there was “no chance” he would be back to OSU for his final year of eligibility.
On top of those two, there is a host of other underclassmen who might have competed in their final home game, such as junior defensive end Joey Bosa or redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Despite the bad taste in their mouth, Perry said the Buckeyes won’t be rolling over, as the season is completely over.
“We’ve got a couple games left still, you never know what’s gonna happen,” Perry said. “We have to go to work. We have to take a good look in the mirror and see what we really are.”
Fickell acknowledged that fact as well, noting that the team will continue to find ways to improve.
But still, the coach, who also lost on his senior day while playing for OSU in 1996, did not hold back his emotions for his players.
“I don’t know if I’ll sleep a wink because of how I feel for those guys,” he said.