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2018 Ohio State Postmortem: The Long Goodbye

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Chimes and Change

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Ohio State vs Washington Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Days of Future Past

There was always something about Urban Meyer’s teams that defied logic and expectations. Sometimes it was miraculous: losing Braxton Miller a week before the season and somehow winning 11 games with a freshman backup, then losing him too, and winning the national title with a third string pro-style passer. More often, it was a gaffe that verged on criminal negligence—like trying to throw the ball in driving gale, or showing Iowans that the Kinnick scoreboard doesn’t stop at 50.

Last July, few had the sense that 2018 would be the last stand of Urban Meyer. After the crushing of Michigan and a B1G title, probably fewer still thought that the victorious coach would hang it all up. And yet in retrospect, it seems rather clear that his retirement from coaching was all but written.

Now, after a season of remarkable highs and stunning lows he has passed into the hallowed hall of former coaches. A stunning morning announcement handed the future to Urban’s capable protegé and left him poised to walk off into the sunset—or at least into the next chapter of his life—having turned OSU into one of the few powerhouses outside of the South. This 2018 season would be his last in Columbus (and perhaps his final act).

The Zach Smith Saga

There’s nothing more to say about Zach Smith that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam. If you hate Urban Meyer, you think he masterminded an insidious cover-up for a man who abused his spouse. If you love Urban Meyer, you believe he got caught up in the machinations of a dysfunctional couple and, by virtue of the media’s love for scandal, was tried in the court of public opinion before being exonerated by an investigation. Either way, you’re wrong. But there’s no convincing you otherwise.

The Haskins Effect

Perhaps the strangest part of Urban Meyer’s last Buckeye team was the bold and unmistakable departure from the run-first power spread that defined the Buckeyes for the preceding six years of his tenure. Most fans around the B1G and the country knew that when the going got tough, OSU would turn to the read option, inside zone runs, and the RPO to flummox defenses and get points on the board. Braxton Miller did it. JT Barrett did it. Dwayne Haskins...did not do it.

What Haskins did—by virtue of his insane talents—was force Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes to become a pass-first team. After nearly two decades of Tresselball and the QB-as-a-runner look, OSU fans were as stunned as anyone to see the Buckeyes throw on 1st Down. And 2nd Down. And 3rd Down. But when you have a Dwayne Haskins in the pocket (when there was a pocket), you make that deal with the devil and become a Big XII offense.

Did it work? Boy, howdy. To wit, the achievements of Dwayne Haskins:

B1G QB of the Year

B1G Offensive Player of the Year

B1G Offensive Player of the Week x 6

B1G Single Season Passing Yardage Record

B1G Single Season Touchdown Passes Record

OSU Total Offense Record (4100+ yds)

OSU Total Single-Game Offense Record (477 yds)

OSU Single Game Total Passing Yards (470 yds)

Threw for more the 225 yds in every game this season.

Threw for more than 300 yds in 8 games

Threw for more than 400 yds in 4 games

The Stumble

This is where I, your humble scribe, must go on record to say that I knew OSU would lose to Purdue. While I certainly did not expect the result to be tantamount to gutting a taun-taun for warmth, but there was always a sense that the lack of a running game and the glaring defensive issues would come home to roost. And if there’s one place they absolutely do come home to roost for OSU, it’s Ross-Ade Stadium.

I take some solace in knowing that as beloved Purdue superfan Tyler Trent slipped from his failing body into the great hereafter, he might have smiled one more time at the memory of Greg Schiano walking all three linebackers up on the line...

Unhappy-ing the Valley

Two wins defined this season for Ohio State. In the B1G East, that’s hardly surprising. While the who is hardly a shock, the how was quite a show.

Penn State. The closest thing to competent competition in the B1G East, the Nits had the Buckeyes on the ropes—including a KJ Hamler touchdown that was the longest the Buckeyes have surrendered in 129 years of football. Haskins looked rattled after spending most of the game in a smoking crater where the pocket should have been. Yet, as the fourth quarter waned, he proved why he was the best B1G QB in a generation.

First, the scrambling, leaping, cross-body throw to Binjimen Victor...

Then, when the defense was prepped for an end zone shot, a simple screen to K.J. Hill...

The Game For The Ages

Winning the B1G is great. Winning the Rose Bowl is great. Two fantastic capstones on a coaching career. And yet nothing could top the parting shot Urban Meyer gave to that accursed, loathsome team from America’s blighted, post-industrial embarrassment. Sixty-two points. That’s 8 touchdowns. Only eight because the Buckeyes kneeled on the ball in a show of benevolence and mercy to a thoroughly out-classed, out-played, out-schemed, out-hustled, and out-recruited foe.

Harbaugh, as ever, shakes the hand of his superior while choking on his own defeat. Beautiful.

The Champs

A picture is worth 1000 words. Or 499 yards passing if you’re Dwayne Haskins. Ohio State’s 45-24 victory in Indianapolis gave the Buckeyes back-to-back titles and Meyer’s third in five seasons.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference-Football Championship-Northwestern vs Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Verdict

However you feel about Urban Meyer, two things are clear. The first is that he was an imperfect man and an imperfect coach—both of which were borne out in a season marked by amazing victories, one truly stunning defeat, and an off-season scandal that will swirl on for years like a patch of trash caught in an eddy off Zug Island.

The second is that he presided over a golden age of Ohio State football. In so doing, he forced the recalcitrant and stodgy B1G to enter the modern era of recruiting, assistant coach pay, and facilities (in part, anyway). Whether the greatness he built at OSU will live on remains to be seen.

As a season, 2018 was both a triumph and a disappointment. That is mostly because Urban Meyer set the bar so very high in Columbus, making even a B1G Championship feel like a consolation prize.

The 2018 season should be best remembered as a championship run by a version of the Buckeyes most had never seen before, and the swan song of a man who brought greatness to Columbus.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, though it will likely include yet more victories over Michigan. Time and change will surely show...