The Ohio State Buckeyes will finish the 2003 season ranked no worse than No. 5 in the nation, and I can't for the life of me figure out how that happened. They held on to beat Kansas State last night in the Fiesta Bowl by a score of 35-28, and finished 11-2 for the season, showing the "two faces" of Jim Tressel's Buckeyes in the process.
First the determined, dominating defense, opportunistic special teams, and methodical (OK, boring) style of offense that won the National Championship last year.
But they also showed that over-conservative offense, schizophrenic quarterback play, and curious late-game defensive lapses that allowed the opponent to make the game closer than it had any business being. It's hard to argue with 25-2 over two seasons (and don't forget that Ring) but if you watched this team play all year, it's still difficult to think of them as being a Top 5 outfit, much as it pains me to admit it. To paraphrase Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, no team with an offense this bad has ever been ranked this high in the polls, and in contention for the National Championship. But enough about that for now. It's time for congratulations.
What a run for these seniors! Krenzel, Jenkins, Allen, Smith, Anderson, Scott, Reynolds, Olivea, Clarke, Stepanovich, Bishop, Sander, Carter, Hartsock. At least eight of these guys will be playing in the NFL next year, and that doesn't count Chris Gamble who announced after the game last night that he will forgo his senior year to go pro. These were guys not recruited by Tressel, but who thrived under his leadership. Thanks guys, for two great years.
To the game...
You can read the accounts of the action from the Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal, and look at the Bucknuts.com Photo Pages here and here. Bucknuts carries a whole page of links to various news articles on the Fiesta Bowl here. See also the ESPN recap and box score.
The blocked punt was huge as a way to get the team fired up after a boring exchange of punts in the first quarter. The Bucks had a spring in their step after that gift touchdown.
I thought Krenzel had one of his worst performances ever, despite throwing 4 TD's. I know that sounds nutty. He was constantly behind his receivers, even on the first TD to Holmes. Both picks were on horribly underthrown balls to wide open receivers. I had hoped for better by him in his last football game ever. But you can't deny that he's a winner. 25-2 is no accident, even if it's the product of the Tressel system as opposed to the physical talents of the QB. So how does a guy who only completes 11 passes all night, and looks bad even on some of the completions, win the MVP Award? Just by winning the game, I guess. Such has become the habit of Craig Krenzel. Thank for the memories... and the ulcers, Craig Krenzel.
The game will also be remembered for having seen perhaps the dumbest move by a player that I have seen in any game in many years. With OSU trying to run down the clock with a 7-point lead and 1:20 left in the game, we have one more play, on 3rd and 16, before we have to punt it back to KSU, who have no time outs remaining. Therefore a running play is called so we can run off the full 30 seconds or so between plays, leaving KSU only about 45 seconds to try to tie the game. Lydell Ross gets the ball and runs left, and then manages to put every Buckeye fan on the planet into a screaming fit of rage and disbelief by RUNNING RIGHT OUT OF BOUNDS! As soon as the play is called in the huddle, ten other guys should have been reminding him to, above all else, STAY IN BOUNDS! As if he shouldn't know that basic fundamental rule from playing football his whole life. To me it points up yet again that Ross has no football instincts whatsoever. How many holes did he miss last night alone? He seems to have regressed from his freshman year. That play alone tells me that the guy should never start another game for this team. I'll take my chances on a true freshman next year. Ross has nothing. Sorry man, nothing personal.
Then we had the pity party for Kansas State QB Ell Roberson, which was carried on in the national media for 24 hours or so before the game and then by the ABC announcers throughout the telecast. Roberson was accused of rape by a woman with whom he said he had consensual sex early Thursday morning, but what was not in doubt was that he had violated his team's 11 p.m. curfew by about six hours, and so his status for the game was in doubt right up until kickoff time.
Meanwhile, all we heard from the announcers was one long sob story about the terrible "distraction" that this young man had to deal with, and that so much was "weighing on his mind" coming into this football game, owing to situations in "his personal life". When he went about 3 for 16 passing to start out the game, we were supposed to feel sorry for the guy who had apparently decided the team rules were for everybody but him.
I of course have no quarrel with the "innocent until proven guilty" principle that defines our system of justice, but what about the open-and-shut curfew violation? If there hadn't even been any accusation of sexual assault, the guy deserved to sit out at least part of the game on the basis of being out at 4:30 in the morning. It's almost as if Snyder used the assault "allegations" as a reason to ignore the blatant team rules violation that would have forced him to take some action. That's chickenshit, and bad enough in and of itself.
But then we have to listen the whole game to the announcers lament this poor guy's plight, what with "all that he has on his mind" as a rationale for why he's going 20 for 51 passing. Give me a break! He did a selfish and irresponsible thing just by being out till 4:30 a.m., and he let his teammates down by putting himself above the rules. Let's give the Buckeyes defense a little credit for Roberson's poor passing stats too, shall we? It might have had a little to do with the fact that OSU held Roberson's teammate, star running back Darren Sproles, to 38 yards rushing for the game. Was he also "distracted" by his situations in his personal life?
As a Buckeye fan I'm glad Roberson started, so our victory isn't tainted by this kid's absence. He's a great talent, and he almost brought them all the way back. Oh, by the way, KSU's Coach Snyder has said that Roberson will be subject to discipline after the conclusion of the game. Just one more detail. Roberson is a senior, and the Fiesta Bowl was the last game of his college career. I hope Snyder's proposed punishment isn't too severe. Meanwhile, Ohio State played the entire season without their preseason 1st Team All-American running back, who was suspended for the year, though he has been accused of no crime. Different strokes...
Random game thoughts...
Regardless of how well Brandon Joe performed last night, how sad is it that the state of our depth at running back is such that when our starter gets hurt, our backup tailback is a fullback?
Carpenter was MVP on defense without question. A TV graphic near the end of the game had Bobby with "5 tackles". I counted that many in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter! The guy was just everywhere. What a promising performance he put on.
At this point I'm not sure whether to congratulate Tressel and the rest of the staff and players for taking this team to a Top 4 finish, with all the MoC distractions, and one of the worst offensive schemes in the history of OSU, or try to hold them accountable for settling for one of the worst offensive schemes in the history of OSU football. In my opinion, Bollman must go. He is responsible for an offensive line that never seems to live up to their talent/billing, and he presides over our Neanderthal offensive concept as Offensive Coordinator (even though Tressel calls plays). It seems obvious to me that this is an area that cries out for change. Just one man's opinion.
And how lame were ACC's announcers? If those two dips ever work another Bowl Game it will be a crime. My favorite line was when the one guy commented that the Kansas St punter had had a "fantastic game".
My comment at the time was "Yeah, except for that one shank of about 16 yards that went out of bounds at midfield, and the other one that was blocked and run in for a touchdown, he's been having a great night!"
But they really made themselves look like total fools at the end of the game, when, after a first down by KSU, the referees started the clock after placing the ball ready for play, as they always do by rule, and the announcers are screaming that KSU is getting robbed of precious seconds because they are so ignorant of the rules of the game. The one guy commented about how Coach Snyder was "furious...and he should be..." and just then the camera panned over to Snyder, who was at that moment calmly instructing his players in the final seconds of play. It was classic. At least Snyder knew the rules.
Memo to Ed Cunningham, and whoever your second-stringer boothmate is: After the first down, when the ref places the ball down at the line of scrimmage, and the yard markers have been advanced, and the ref steps away from the ball and makes that big circular clock-like motion with his arm, that means "Start the Clock!" Get it?
It's enough to make a Buckeye fan long for Dan Fouts.