Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Senior sendoff: Looking for happy ending
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is no shortage of fairy tales in the senior class.
A tight end made a transition to right tackle, struggled early and became one of the most important blockers on the team. A fullback moved over to defense in the middle of the season and became a starting linebacker after three days of practice.
A cornerback overcame an up-and-down career to lead the team in interceptions, much like a linebacker who took his time developing finally emerged as a marquee playmaker. A defensive end battled back from microfracture surgery and played almost the entire season. A two-time captain is playing at perhaps the highest level of his career and reaching rarified air in school history.
The Buckeyes have special stories all over the place, and of course, they've all added up to something pretty magical in the win column as well. Their collective tale won't exactly be cheapened if it doesn't end with a victory in the blood feud with Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but the coach who has only been with them for one season would clearly prefer to help write a happy ending.
"What they’ve done, I know this is a very proud tradition here at Ohio State, but what they’ve done -- I want to do the best I can that they can find a way to win this game," Urban Meyer said. "And they could go down in the history books as one of the greatest senior classes of all time."
First things first, the Buckeyes have one more major hurdle ahead of them in the bid for a perfect season. But heading into the last game in the careers of those seniors, three of them have stood out this year as perhaps under-appreciated for what they've offered compared to some higher-profile veterans.
Stats sheet: 39 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries, a pass broken up and a forced fumble
What it means: The Buckeyes couldn't be sure what they would get out of the lineman as he returned from a year spent rehabilitating a knee after microfracture surgery. Even during training camp, his reps were limited and Williams was forced to spend a lot of time working on technique on his own without any live contact against teammates. And after that, he still had to come along slowly in practice even while getting action in games, which kept him from really looking sharp during the first half of the season. But as he got stronger and more confident, the entire Buckeyes defense did the same as Williams provided flexibility with both the rotation and the scheme thanks to his ability to rush the passer and drop back in coverage as a hybrid linebacker.
He said it: "Nobody plays harder. There are going to be guys who play just as hard, but nobody plays harder. Nathan throws his body around for our defense and for our team, and he’s seeing good results." -- defensive line coach Mike Vrabel
Ohio State cornerback Travis Howard leads the Big Ten with four interceptions.
Stats sheet: 38 tackles, 6 passes broken up, 4 interceptions and a blocked punt
What it means: The goal was for the Buckeyes to have the best cornerback tandem in the Big Ten heading into the season, and with Bradley Roby establishing himself as a bonafide playmaker on one side, it was going to be up to the inconsistent senior opposite to raise his game and meet that standard. It only took one game for Howard to make it clear he was ready to take the next step, and he hasn't slowed down since intercepting two passes in the season opener against Miami (Ohio). Teams have challenged Howard plenty throughout the season, but he's responded by leading the Big Ten with four picks heading into the last week and certainly held up his end of the bargain.
He said it: "Travis, to me, I can say this because of how much respect I have for him now -- he was not a good player. He was a guy that kind of lined up out there, but I wouldn't consider him to be a good player. He and his coach have worked themselves into what I consider a very good player." -- Meyer
Stats sheet: The Buckeyes rank No. 9 in the country in rushing offense, averaging 245.5 yards per game thanks to some of the road-clearing blocks on the edge from Fragel
What it means: The size and experience of Fragel gave him an edge to win the job even as he transitioned from tight end, but he still didn't have it locked up until midway through training camp in August. The other option was a true freshmen, which illustrates now how far and how quickly Fragel has progressed since then as he's developed into a potential professional prospect at tackle and one of the most consistent members of a bulldozing offensive line.
He said it: “We want to show him a little bit of spring practice film, because he wasn’t going to be our right tackle. He just wasn’t -- and the problem was we didn’t have any other choices other than a true freshman. In my own mind, I kind of made the decision he wasn’t going to be playing right tackle for us.Now I think he’s played 11 games on an offense that’s ranked ninth in the country in rushing offense. [In the spring] I would have argued, I would have said that can’t happen.” -- Meyer