Ten Things We Learned from Ohio State's 44-28 Win Over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl
1. When Ohio State does what they do, nobody can contain the offense.
It could be argued that the only team that stopped Ohio State on offense this year was Ohio State, and that might take some credit away from their opponents, but sometimes you have to do that when you have a lot more talent than those opponents.
The play calling and the quarterback situation hindered the team for most of the season, and all of their bills came due when Michigan State and an ill-timed weather front hit Columbus at the exact same time.
This might sound like the “Stanford didn’t play ‘Stanford Football’” meme, but that argument excuses poor play by an entire team, whereas we know exactly where to place the blame for Ohio State’s struggles on offense this season.
Urban Meyer and his coaches never want their players to either feel comfortable or say they feel comfortable because that equates to a lack of desire or softness, and yet the offensive play calling situation could be described as Ohio State trying to make things as comfortable as possible for their coaches.
And to no surprise, things only got better when Urban Meyer made things uncomfortable by moving Ed Warinner upstairs to the press box
2. This is going to be a very different team in 2016.
This is pretty obvious, but also shouldn’t just be ignored. The identity of the 2016 team has yet to be shaped, as opposed to the 2015 team that already had crowned jewels placed upon their heads. This is going to be a team that gets to write its own story, as opposed to one that will either live up to expectations or fail in doing so. That’s the kind of situation that can build up a team’s appetite and get their hunger going.
And don’t forget the memories of this season’s disappointment. That won’t go away any time soon, especially after watching the essentially unwatchable College Football Playoff games on Thursday and reliving the opportunities that were missed.
3. Joey Bosa’s impact cannot be overstated.
The Buckeye defense played 10 snaps on the field before Joey Bosa was ejected for targeting and the Irish managed just 35 yards of total offense on those 10 plays. In those 10 plays, Bosa finished with three tackles and quarterback DeShone Kizer had pressure coming at him from all over the place, even though it wasn’t necessarily coming from Bosa himself.
Once Bosa was no longer part of the picture, the Irish offense was able to change a few things. Kizer was allowed to take deeper and slower drops, and even when he didn’t, he still had plenty of time to survey the field. Notre Dame averaged 3.5 yards per play before Bosa’s ejection and 6.2 yards per play after it. Even though Bosa’s sack numbers were down all season long, it was easy to see the impact that he had just based on the havoc of the first 10 plays in this game compared to the more comfortable levels of the final 60 plays.
4. Ed Warinner has to stay upstairs next year.
If Ed Warinner is going to call plays again next season — or at least be the facilitator, then it is clear that he is going to have to stay upstairs because the results against Michigan and Notre Dame are just too contrasting from the rest of the season to ignore.
Urban Meyer said they can only keep him in the press box if they have a veteran offensive line. So how will they make that happen for next year? That’s something to work on during the offseason, and it’s clear that it has to be done.
Here’s a stat for you that I just went and researched:
Ohio State pts/game under Urban Meyer with the OC upstairs: 42.8 ppg.
Ohio State pts/game under Urban Meyer with the OC downstairs: 34.3 ppg.
Ohio State pts/game under Urban Meyer with the OC downstairs: 34.3 ppg.
Urban Meyer’s confidence in the offense is so much higher when they can employ the hurry up, and you saw that when they went for it on fourth down pretty deep in Notre Dame territory. Why give that kind of confidence up, let alone the results?
5. The defensive line held up despite being down three starters.
Notre Dame can run the ball when they want to, they’ve done it all season long. Against Ohio State, especially after Joey Bosa was ejected, the Irish were running into a defensive line that was missing three starters. So what happened? They averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Prior to the Fiesta Bowl, they averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
Notre Dame rushed for 121 yards against the Buckeyes, which was their second-lowest total of the season. Their lowest? They rushed for 111 yards in a monsoon at Clemson. Just over a month ago they pounded Stanford for 299 yards rushing on just 35 carries. By comparison, they had 32 carries against the Buckeyes for 178 fewer yards.
No, there wasn’t much of a pass rush in the middle of the game, but the defensive line did enough with what little rotation they had left to keep Notre Dame from controlling the game.
6. Michael Thomas is going to be missed.
Michael Thomas is the living definition of a go-to receiver. When a play needs to be made, or a third down needs to be picked up, or a lockdown cornerback can’t be allowed to shut down a team’s top receiver, Thomas can be expected to emerge victorious. He had success all year long against some of the nation’s top cornerbacks.
Thomas now has a decision to make, but I would expect that decision to have already been made. He will likely be playing in the NFL next season after being a first or second-round draft pick, and his will certainly be a success story.
His presumed departure will leave the Buckeyes looking for that same type of guy. Who can they rely on when a pass has to be completed? Who can they count on to beat the opponent’s top cornerback? Who can move the chains when they absolutely have to be moved? The Buckeyes knew who that guy was coming into this season, but they are going to have to figure out who that will be in 2016.
7. Ezekiel Elliott was the perfect running back for this offense.
I said it when he was a high school senior and he confirmed it as a collegiate sophomore, and then further confirmed it for us this year. There could not be a better tailback for what Urban Meyer’s offense does and requires of its players. What the Buckeyes do in the future at tailback will no doubt be successful, but it will never look like Ezekiel Elliott again.
Moving forward, there could be three different players next year doing what Elliott was asked to do all by himself. That’s not a shortcoming of the players of the future, merely a statement of Elliott’s skill, versatility and willingness to get as deep into the fray as anybody ever has. There was a level of determination to all aspects of Elliott’s game that is rare and will be missed. It won’t be seen again, and the best you can hope for moving forward is that future players perform well enough to draw comparisons to Elliott and his stellar execution.
8. If the bowl game is a springboard into the next season, then Sean Nuernberger’s sophomore season was not wasted.
If I would have told you that the Buckeyes were going to go 3 for 3 on field goals in this game, you would have assumed that it meant the Ohio State offense stalled deep in the red zone and they had to settle for a few chip shots. But you would be wrong! Amazingly, sophomore kicker Sean Nuernberger hit from 37, 38 and 35 yards, and the 35-yarder was actually the result of Urban Meyer playing for a field goal. Consider our minds completely blown that Meyer actually played for a field goal late in a game.
After losing the starter’s job to graduate transfer Jack Willoughby, Nuernberger was on his way to redshirting after being the starter last year. That plan changed, however, due to a lack of consistency on Willoughby’s part. Put back out onto the field late in the season, Nuernberger finished 3 for 4 on field goals, and there is no doubt that he will take the confidence from Friday’s performance with him into the offseason.
The Buckeyes might be in a few more close games next season, so having a confident and competent kicker is going to be extremely important. If this was our first glimpse at what the 2016 kicking game is going to look like, it was a positive one.
9. Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis are going to be one of the best bookends in the nation next season.
Redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard and redshirt sophomore Tyquan Lewis each notched critical sacks towards the end of the Fiesta Bowl, and when they did they surprised absolutely nobody. Even though a pass rush was hard to come by for most of the game following Joey Bosa’s ejection, they never quit and eventually they broke through in consecutive key moments.
Lewis was a starter all season long for the Buckeyes at defensive end, and while Hubbard started a couple of times, he was generally the third defensive end into the game. Despite that, the two of them combined for 14.5 sacks this season and 22 tackles for loss. Remember when Joey Bosa was a true freshman in 2013 and Noah Spence was a sophomore? As full-time starters, they combined for 15.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss.
While this is going to be a drastically different team in 2016, bringing back a pair of defensive ends as disruptive and productive as these two is definitely a rarity in the college football landscape. In terms of building blocks for a team, these are two pretty good ones.
10. The Ohio State special teams were vastly superior to Notre Dame’s special teams.
We have already talked about the Buckeyes’ success with field goals in the Fiesta Bowl, but that was only one portion of the special teams dominance. There was also punter Cameron Johnston, who put two of his three kicks inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line. And then there were the return teams. The Buckeyes held C.J. Sanders to a 12-yard average on his six kickoff returns. The OSU return game, however, saw Jalin Marshall average over 18 yards on his four punt returns, including a 29-yarder. On the kickoff side of things, the Buckeyes averaged over 29 yards on their three returns by two different players.
Notre Dame had 13 possessions against the Buckeyes and started inside the 18-yard line seven times. Ohio State, however, only had one such possession. In fact, the Buckeyes even had two possessions that began in Notre Dame territory, and both of those were due to punt returns from Marshall.
Everywhere they could get extra yardage in the kicking game, the Buckeyes did it, and it made life constantly difficult for both the Notre Dame offense and defense.
Ohio State won this game in all three phases, proving for just the second or third time this season that they were one of the best teams in the nation this year.