IF NOT 31-7, BUCKEYES STILL MAKE STATEMENT
Tempe, Arizona, might sit in the shadows of Phoenix, but after Ohio State's impressive 34-20 win over Notre Dame yesterday in the Fiesta Bowl--OSU's third Fiesta Bowl win in four years--the sunny skies above Sun Devil Stadium closely resemble the wintry haze over Columbus' Horseshoe; in both places, the Bucks feel right at home.
I predicted a blowout, and I didn't quite get it, but I can't say I wasn't thrilled at nearly every second of the game. I didn't expect the Ohio State big-play offense (I can say that now for the first time since Cooper was coach) to erupt like it did. Before the game, my dad, who at 63-years-young is astute as ever, said, "I think Ted Ginn is going to have a big game. He already admitted he made a mistake in focusing too much on football and too little on track. He'll be looking to avenge for his sophomore slump." OK, whatever, Dad. I hope you're right, but I'll settle for a performance where the guy doesn't fumble any punts.
Then Ted Ginn Jr. went off.
His 56-yard touchdown catch from Troy Smith, who was also brilliant and more on that later, completely flipped the momentum after the Irish stampeded to a touchdown on their opening drive. His 68-yard touchdown run on the reverse--along with some of the most devastating fakes I've ever seen--reminded America "Hey, I was a Heisman candidate at the beginning of the year, and I will be next year, too."
Troy Smith may have slightly tainted his early brilliance with that second-quarter fumble deep in OSU territory, but the defense bailed him out. AJ Hawk, Mike Kudla, and the rest of the defense might not have terrorized the Notre Dame offense like I said they would, but they came up with the big plays (and five sacks) when they needed them. Of course, the four-down stand set up Smith's bomb to Santonio Holmes and a lead that the Buckeyes would never relinquish.
I have to give Notre Dame and Charlie Weis credit; in fact, I will probably give them more credit than most commentators and writers have been giving them today. The play calling was good. The Irish made adjustments, they ran effective slants and draws and they didn't turn the ball over. They, however, just couldn't match the firepower Ohio State displayed. Of course, Antonio Pittman capped that explosiveness by putting the game out of reach with his 60-yard touchdown bolt down the sidelines.
It was a great moment to see the seniors get this win. They go out with a national title, three Fiesta Bowls, a win over Notre Dame and a 3-1 record against Michigan. You have to believe, though, that if this offense, this Smith-led, spectacular offense had been around at Week 2 instead of Week 6, the Scarlet and Grey would be playing USC for the national title--and probably be beating them, too. In a playoff system, I would have loved to have seen OSU take on the likes of Penn State, Texas, West Virginia (who is a lot better than people thought) and, of course, the Trojans. But let's not get greedy. You can't win the national title every year, and with all the talent returning, next year holds a lot of promise.
Craig Krenzel was a terrific, smart college quarterback. He also has a national title. For that reason, if I had to have one guy to start a big Buckeye game, he would be my choice. However, last, it became appearent to me who the most talented Ohio State quarterback in my lifetime is. If it weren't enough that Troy Smith owns Michigan, he also throws for 342 yards in his first bowl game. He also displayed his outstanding mobility in another fantastic 3rd down conversion where he eluded a pass rush, spun, and fired a completion (ca. Ann Arbor). I realize Smith made a big mistake last year, but the growth he has made as a leader is incredible. Next year, he will get that shot to do what Krenzel did, though he'll take a much different approach.
I hate to close with this, but it's a matter that needs addressing. Maurice Clarett "allegedly" robbed two people outside The Opium Lounge in downtown Columbus very early in the morning Jan. 1. What a way to begin the new year, a new year in which Mo C was certain to get a contract to play in NFL Europe. Sure, it wouldn't have been glamourous, but it would have been something. Instead, after a police manhunt, Clarett awaits trial after turning himself in. He could see ten years behind bars. Just like Art Schlichter, here is a guy who has seemingly thrown it all away. I would laugh, but it is almost too tragic. Instead, I will pray that somehow, via football or another method, Clarett will resurrect his life.