The Columbus Dispatch
SCARLET & GRAY MATTER
Observations on Saturday’s Ohio Stateutah game by Joey Kaufman:
The game at hand
• Short-attention span synopsis: An epic Rose Bowl filled with twists and turns. The Buckeyes started off looking lethargic. Utah was motivated, poised to capitalize. Onlookers contemplated the possibility of Ohio State’s first losing streak since 2013. C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-njigba became a historymaking duo to save the day. A season that included disappointment down the stretch ends on a positive note. • Pregame buzz: Far more Utah red than Ohio State scarlet could be spotted in the Arroyo Seco on New Year’s Day, with Utes fans traveling in droves, taking advantage of the day’s drive to Pasadena from Salt Lake City and seeming especially eager to watch their team’s first-ever appearance in the “Granddaddy of Them All.” It was an atmosphere that was far more hostile to Ohio State than the usual bowl game at a neutral site. Buckeye Nation was outnumbered.
• Spread the wealth?: It remained risky for any gamblers picking the Buckeyes to cover, even though they closed as only four-point favorites over Utah, the smallest point spread of the season. Favored in all 13 games this season, and as a double-digit favorite in 11 of them, Ohio State finished 6-6-1 against the spread.
• Strategically speaking: The Buckeyes were in trouble early in the second quarter, trialing by two touchdowns. On a third-and-1 at the Utes’ 25-yard line, running back Treveyon Henderson was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. But needing momentum, coach Ryan Day kept the offense on the field and let Stroud drop back to pass. Stroud then lofted a touchdown to Marvin Harrison Jr. for their first score, keeping them within reach.
• How the team sees it: The loss to
Michigan stung for weeks. This eases some of the pain.
• How Buckeye Nation will see it: That saves face.
What did Day say?
• What he said: “For us to respond the way we did at halftime and to come out and play in the second half says a lot about the character of this team to win this game.”
• What it means: “They passed that gut check.”
They said it
• Talking heads: ESPN’S Kirk Herbstreit, on Ohio State’s defense: “There’s just so much space in the middle of the defense.”
• Pregame chatter: Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, had strong words Saturday for players such as Buckeyes Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Nicholas Petit-frere and Haskell Garrett opting out of bowl games so as to not risk injury. “What’s the difference as a player and saying these games are ‘meaningless?’ ” Herbstreit said. “We played in quote-unquote meaningless games. I just don’t understand that if you don’t make it to the playoff, how is it meaningless to play football and compete? Isn’t that what we do as football players, we compete? I think this era of player doesn’t love football.”
A thrilling comeback win in the Rose Bowl is enough to leave Ohio State with a feeling of euphoria entering the offseason, one that’ll likely wash out some of the bad taste from a loss to Michigan and overshadow issues that reemerged on defense in the first half against Utah. But the Buckeyes shouldn’t get too carried away. They host Notre Dame to open next season on Sept. 3.
— Joey Kaufman