That was unexpected.
Ohio State was throttled by Clemson, 38-0, in Saturday night’s Fiesta Bowl, a Big Ten representative shut out in a College Football Playoff semifinal for the second straight season. The Tigers are a phenomenal team, but that? The Buckeyes’ offense never came to play, and even their tremendous defense ran out of gas having to stay on the field for so long.
It was the first time an Urban Meyer coached team was shut out. In 193 previous games by Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, they all managed to score at least a point (probably at least three points because it's impossible to score just one point in football). But not Saturday. It was the Buckeyes’ first shutout loss since 1993 and their first shutout loss in a bowl game since 1920.
So, yeah, Meyer was absolutely right in his postgame assessment: This kind of thing doesn’t happen at Ohio State.
“Ohio State is not used to this,” Meyer said after the game. “I'm not used to this, and we will not get used to this.
“That's not going to happen again.”
The shock of how badly the Buckeyes were beaten quickly turned to vows of improvement after the game, really the only course of action for a team that just saw its season end in such a fashion.
This season was an interesting one for Ohio State in the sense that it had some very obvious flaws to its game yet should still be celebrated for doing what it did. The offense was hardly consistent, turning in dazzling performances like the one at Oklahoma during non-conference play but also laying eggs like in a loss at Penn State and of course on Saturday night in Arizona.
But realize, too, that this was one of the youngest teams in the country. Yet it still finished 11-1 and featured one of the best defenses in the country. The Buckeyes’ spectacular secondary didn’t disappoint Saturday, picking off Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson twice.
An inability to run the ball is what buried Ohio State against Clemson, which got a remarkable performance from a ferocious defensive line, one that was in the backfield constantly to pester J.T. Barrett and one that recorded a whopping 11 tackles for loss.
But critics mostly went after the Buckeyes’ coaching staff for abandoning the run. Running back Mike Weber, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had three carries in the game and fumbled on two of them. Barrett had maybe one run of real consequence. Curtis Samuel was utilized but not very effective. All this from a team that entered Saturday’s game with one of the top 10 rushing attacks in the nation.
After the game, Meyer responded with surprise to learn how little his team ran the ball.
“I didn't realize that until you just said it,” Meyer said when told of the mere eight first-half rushes. “That was not the game plan. I think we kind of got taken out of the game plan a little bit. But no, that was our plan, to be balanced. We didn't follow the plan.”
And so came the promises of improvement.
A team that struggled to consistently pass the ball all season long has a quarterback who’s shown good passing ability in the past and will likely have him back in 2017. But Barrett might not have Samuel back, who was the only consistently reliable receiving threat this season.
Still, Meyer made a promise: “We will become a good passing team, we will. Next year.”
The thing is, of course you believe it. This is Ohio State we’re talking about. This is Urban Meyer we’re talking about. The track record speaks for itself, quite evidenced by all those "first time since" stats listed above.
That and more tangible things like the 2017 roster — which will no longer be among college football’s youngest — should make you expect the Buckeyes to be back on this stage next season.
“I'm going to take a hard look at some things when we get back, and obviously there were some great things this year, some great things,” Meyer said.
“I think we have a bunch of good players, a bunch of good guys, and our anticipation is to get back here next year and take a good swing at it and realize we've got a lot of work to do.”