There’s a bitter taste in the mouths of Ohio State football fans that will likely not go away until well after Alabama or Clemson wins a national championship for the 2016 season. Buckeye faithful sat back and watched quite possibly the worst performance by the team in the last decade, barring some horrendous disasters in the 2011 season.
There was little to lift coach Urban Meyer’s spirits, and even less to make the players smile following the game. All season long, the coaching staff has preached about the adversity the team had and would face.
This is a little taste of what true adversity is like for a football team. An embarrassingly bad performance might leave a player bitter, but it also invites room to grow.
Following the 31-0 drubbing of OSU at the hands of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his Tigers, here are five takeaways as the Buckeyes look ahead to 2017.
Billy Price is returning, and other players should too
This one is big news for Buckeyes fans. After questions over which key players would leave and which ones would stay, Price decided after the smoke had settled that it was a great time to announce his return.
He said it was motivated by his friend and teammate Pat Elflein. Price expressed his desire to follow in his mentor’s footsteps and return to lead the team, but also said there was some family motivation as well.
“I told my grandfather before he passed, and my mother, I promised her I’d graduate,” Price said. “To graduate from the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University was definitely one of my goals when I came here.”
Price received some criticism for what some called a down year, but there is little denying the brute strength and dominant ability of the Ohio native.
Plus, if he truly is following in Elflein’s footsteps, does that mean OSU will have a returning starter become center?
As for the other players who are on the fence, a blowout loss could be the motivation to push them back to Columbus. Afterall, ending your college career with a blowout loss would be far from ideal for most players.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard expressed his desire to return, while most others said they would have to dwell on the question. Even though most would be making millions immediately if they left for the NFL, expect to see more than a few sticking around for one more chance at glory.
OSU needs to address it’s passing game
It’s been quite the four years for redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett in Columbus. From season-ending injury, sharing playing time and criticism over his arm strength, you could say he’s had some rough patches.
Barrett has been a solid leader for the Buckeyes, flashing great skill and peak athleticism along the way. But, the mostly quiet leader of OSU has yet to personally deliver so much as a Big Ten title in his time with OSU.
Although he is easily the best option at quarterback for OSU next year if he returns, Barrett could have some harsh criticism if he falters early. Still, changes in the pass game would most likely come at the coaching level.
Even though the offense has been good enough to reach the playoffs two out of three years, there needs to be something more if the Buckeyes hope to win it all again. And maybe, just maybe, OSU will have a new offensive coordinator next season.
Tim Beck, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was not too positive in his outlook after he was asked if he would be back next year.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s coach Meyer’s decision.”
Deshaun Watson is very good, but not great
The game seemed like it would all be on the shoulders of Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson if the Tigers hoped to win. However, it was the defense that carried the majority of the load.
Watson is a good quarterback, as solid as you can ask a dynamic quarterback to be. On Saturday, he showed he can be the guy who does what is necessary to bring home the win.
It was far from his best performance as a Tiger, and was not the prettiest game he could have had. Be that as it may, this game will go down as one of his best performances.
On the first interception he threw, his receiver, senior wide receiver Mike Williams slipped, giving an easy lane to the ball for OSU redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley. As for the second one, OSU redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker happened, running halfway across the field to hunt down a potential touchdown pass.
Other than an instance of bad footing by his receiver and a highlight-reel play by a defender, Watson was near perfect. Alone, he had three total touchdowns and 316 yards of offense.
This game was statistically average, or maybe even somewhat subpar. But, add on the circumstance of the gravity of the matchup and how OSU’s defense had been playing, and his performance was nothing short of outstanding.
Gutsy players can make big time plays and make a difference in big games. Watson essentially described himself as gutsy during post game interviews.
“I’m a quarterback, so if I throw a pick or make a mistake I’m not going to shy away and not just going to throw it,” he said. “I’m going to take my chances, take my shots. I feel like the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”
Mike Weber needs a good offseason
Picking up 1,072 yards and nine rushing touchdowns as a freshman foreshadows a productive career. However, work will need to be done if redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber wants to keep racking up big numbers.
Ezekiel Elliott was not the same running back his freshman year as he was during his sophomore and junior season. Most players who line up in the backfield take time to develop.
It was quite apparent the last two games of the 2016 season for the Buckeyes that Weber needs more work, as he had just 50 yards on the ground in his last two games. A good offseason camp to improve his ball security and ability to bounce off tacklers would be just what the doctor ordered for Weber.
Although he is the clear front-runner for the starting tailback role next year, it’s all about development from here until next season for the Michigan native.
Ohio State exceeded some expectations in 2016, failed to fulfill others
In a season with so many new players filling starting roles, it was difficult to determine just how the team would perform. Overall, OSU met many expectations, while also falling well short of others.
For starters, many of the young members of the Buckeyes performed admirably in their new starting roles. Although his time was sporadic in the Fiesta Bowl after suffering a leg injury in the first offensive series for OSU, freshman offensive guard Michael Jordan had a solid season playing alongside seasoned veterans.
While the young guns had success, some seasoned veterans failed to meet expectations. At wide receiver, graduate student wide receiver Corey Smith had little to no impact this season, while senior wideout Dontre Wilson failed to finally live up to the hype that followed him when he first arrived in Columbus.
Overall, the Buckeyes did not have to even make it to the playoffs to impress OSU fans. But, as is true for most teams that start off the season hot, fans of the the Scarlet and Gray will be feeling disappointed from this season for months to come.
OSU had an offensive line returning two standout offensive lineman in Elflein and Price, and some solid names coming into starting roles. However, the Buckeyes failed to protect Barrett in key moments, leading to a heartbreaking loss in the biggest game of the year.
Still, OSU showed off a dynamic rushing attack with players like Weber and Samuel. For every negative, it seemed like the Buckeyes could find a positive.
In the end, 2016 was a year of growth, disappointment, exhilaration and learning experiences for the Buckeyes. Looking ahead to 2017, while things might change in coaching staff or starting players, OSU might be back into the playoffs for the second straight year, and the third time in four years.