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Football: Ohio State defense moves forward to familiar Rose Bowl

Ohio State sophomore defensive end Chase Young (2) takes down Northwestern senior quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) in the first half of the B1G Championship Game vs. Northwestern on Dec. 1. Ohio State won 45-24. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

LOS ANGELES — In 2017, two losses kept Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff: a 31-16 home loss to then-No. 5 Oklahoma and a dominant 55-24 road loss against Iowa. The consolation prize: a date with No. 8 USC in the Cotton Bowl.

In 2018, the same thing happened. This time, it was only one loss — a 49-20 shellacking by Purdue — that placed the Buckeyes on the outside looking in at No. 6.

But Ohio State was invited to play in the Rose Bowl, the “Granddaddy of them All,” the one bowl game head coach Urban Meyer has wanted to coach in, but never has. The one he would end his coaching career with.

The history of the game is clear for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won seven of 14 appearances in the Rose Bowl, including their last appearance: a 26-17 win against Oregon to end the 2009 season.  

“I think it’s especially in my generation, you grew up watching this game. And it’s so special,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “I think our players appreciate that. I think coach Meyer has done an excellent job of conveying to them the history and tradition that goes with this game.”

This has been ingrained in the minds of the players.

“Like we’ve always been preaching, this Bowl is the granddaddy of them all. Coach Meyer grew up watching us play in it. My dad told me he grew up watching it,” sophomore defensive end Chase Young said. “So it’s just — this game is really highly respected, and it’s an honor to play in it.”

For Ohio State, it could be viewed in the same lens as the 2018 Cotton Bowl, which likely could have been a Rose Bowl game if not for the fact a playoff game was held in Pasadena, California that year. It’s the consolation prize of a goal that was not achieved.

Schiano knows this, especially for a defense, expected to become one of the more dominant forces in all of college football at the beginning of the season, especially up front, that underwhelmed, that did not meet his expectation.

Schiano said the defense had its moments, stepping up in a ranked road matchup against Penn State and a home game against Michigan. But the overall feeling matched the mentality redshirt junior Dre’Mont Jones proclaimed earlier in the season: that Ohio State plays down to inferior opponents.

“Overall, I was disappointed, but there was a lot of positive things in those big games that gave us a chance to win those games,” Schiano said. “So opportunistic, probably. But not our expectation level.”

The overall storylines for the past two bowl games, between the Ohio State defense and the offense it is facing, has remained relatively stagnant over the past two seasons. The Buckeyes will face a Pac-12 offense led by a household name, this time a former conference player of the year in senior quarterback Jake Browning, who has aspirations for the NFL, despite not being as high of a draft prospect as USC’s Sam Darnold was last year.

Surrounding Browning is a similar cast of characters: a 1,000-yard rusher who has gone under the radar for the offense as a whole, this time in senior Myles Gaskin, who has recorded more than 5,000 rushing yards in his four-year career with the Huskies. A passing game that has two major receiving threats but continues to be relatively spread out, this time with junior wide receiver Aaron Fuller and sophomore wide receiver Ty Jones, who have combined for 10 of Browning’s 18 touchdown passes.

Last season, Ohio State took the opportunity in the Cotton Bowl to set the tone for the 2018 season, sacking Darnold eight times along with 14 total tackles for loss. The future first-round draft pick completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 356 yards, but failed to record a touchdown while throwing an interception.

Schiano’s view of the Rose Bowl is not one of what could have been. It’s looking ahead, what the Buckeye defense can do to catapult Ohio State into a successful 2019 season.  

“This bowl preparation we’ve had growth and this group we’ll have plenty of room for growth because the predominance of them will be back and a chance to be a good defense,” Schiano said. “But you’re not allowed to take skip-its. You’re not allowed to take years where you don’t play great defense at Ohio State. That’s not the way it works.”

Ohio State has one last opportunity to make a lasting impression on college football after a season that many could be considered as underwhelming.

Jones said this is what bowl games, especially the Rose Bowl, are for: to create a legacy.

“The opportunity to put some legacy in this program, really,” Jones said. We’ll get a [14th] game, and that’s pretty much it on the legacy side. Besides all the great players that played before us.”

But Jones seemed to still be holding back on his answer. He had higher expectations for this group.

And the Rose Bowl did not seem to be it.

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