Three years ago, college football’s selection Sunday looked quite similar to the 2019 edition for Ohio State –– matched up with Clemson in a No. 2-versus-No. 3 battle for a place in the national title game.
The Buckeyes were riding the high of a double-overtime home victory against archrival Michigan in the final week of the regular season, but after a month-long comedown, Ohio State was assertively planted back into reality via a 31-0 loss to the Tigers.
Then finishing up his senior year of high school, redshirt sophomore center Josh Myers watched the game alone in a hotel room the night before heading out to the Army All-American game.
“I think I was in shock at how it went,” Myers said. “Definitely didn’t expect it to go that way.”
It wasn’t shock, but disappointment that redshirt senior defensive tackle Robert Landers said he felt during a “rough” and long-lasting aftermath to the loss.
“We put in so much hard work, especially with the group of guys that we had, and we just fell short, and it was one of those things, we asked the question, ‘What did we not do? What did we miss? What did we take for granted?’” Landers said.
Both Landers and redshirt senior defensive tackle Jashon Cornell played in the game as redshirt freshmen, and are among the few Buckeyes who have a shot to avenge the crushing defeat in what may prove their final college football performance come Dec. 28.
Cornell said he has since blocked out how it felt to lose to Clemson in blowout fashion, and the 2019 Buckeyes are a new team with a new scheme.
He added that the players who were around for the loss have made strides in development both on and off the field since that game.
“We had a lot of guys on our team that just weren’t ready to be in that college football scene. We weren’t prepared to go to class, play football. I think people had that mindset, like, ‘Oh, I’m a college football player. Now I can do whatever I want,’” Cornell said. “They didn’t know about the extra things, like going to school, focusing on class and football and being able to split everything up and being in the big city.”
Maturity isn’t the only change that’s been made since the 2016 season.
Much like this year, the Buckeyes boasted one of the top defenses in the nation three years ago, ranking top six in both total and scoring defense.
It was the offensive output that couldn’t keep up, as the Buckeyes were No. 31 in total offense and No. 81 in passing yards per game.
With a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in sophomore Justin Fields, the 2019 Buckeye offense has thrown 21 more touchdowns and rushes for 30 more yards per game. Ohio State’s 85 offensive touchdowns are the most in the nation.
Cornell said he sees changes that run deeper than statistics, though. He said the team is having fun and playing for one another –– something he called one of the biggest variations from years past.
“That’s one thing that’s so different about this team now is that we’re willing to lay it down for one another,” Cornell said. “We’re willing to die for our brothers. We’re willing to do anything to win the game.”
Clemson has changed too.
Since the teams last played, the Tigers have won two of the past three national titles, most recently toppling Alabama’s decade-long dynasty by a record margin and haven’t lost a game in two seasons.
Landers said 2016 was a different era of Ohio State, and the team is focused on the future, but it hasn’t quite taken the sting out of the past Clemson loss just yet.
“It was one of those moments where, for me, I’ll never forget. But at the end of the day it’s history,” Landers said. “Try to rewrite a new chapter in this book and see what happens.”