Ohio State Buckeyes: orange bowl 2013


MIAMI -- The night started appropriately enough: Clemson and Ohio State trading scores behind their terrifically talented dual-threat quarterbacks, almost daring each other with a game of "Anything you can do, I can do better."

It was Tajh Boyd first. Then Braxton Miller. Then Clemson jumped out to a big lead. Ohio State refused to bend. Then Ohio State jumped out to a big lead. Clemson refused to bend. Momentum shifted every few drives Friday night, swinging back and forth like a ticking grandfather clock, counting down to the final thrilling minutes.

Indeed, the Discover Orange Bowl fell right in line with every other BCS game to date, providing high drama with a lot of flair and a bit of the unexpected. Both programs needed a victory in the worst way to validate their performances in 2013, almost standing together like mirror images. No surprise then that Boyd and Miller began the game the way they did, considering they run offenses nearly identical to one another.

But where scheme is similar, players are not. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins proved that over and over, thoroughly dominating a flummoxed and injury-depleted Buckeyes secondary in a 40-35 victory. Watkins finished with a school- and Orange Bowl-record 227 yards on a school- and Orange Bowl-record 16 receptions, scoring twice to take home game MVP honors.

Boyd had 505 yards of total offense and scored six touchdowns, ending his career with a triumphant victory he needed badly. But Watkins was the most brilliant player on the field throughout the night, showing off his superior speed at every turn.

“The biggest thing going into this game, we were going to win or lose going through No. 10 [Boyd] and No. 2 [Watkins],” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesOhio State didn't have an answer for Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, who set an Orange Bowl record with 16 receptions for 227 yards.
Hard as it is to believe considering those dual performances, Clemson could not do enough for most of the night to put the Buckeyes away, thanks mainly to its own mistakes and an unevenly officiated game (Clemson was called for 15 penalties; Ohio State six).

Miller, playing through severe pain, was not perfect. But he kept Ohio State in the contest, getting up after one huge sack followed another huge sack, gutting out a gritty performance. He led consecutive touchdown drives to close the first half, giving Ohio State a 22-20 lead at intermission.

“If you ask me how I felt at halftime, I felt fantastic,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Like we’re going to be in a great ballgame here.”

The Buckeyes built that lead to 29-20 after Carlos Hyde scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter. It seemed improbable, quite frankly, that an undermanned Ohio State team held the lead, considering it had yet to find a way to stop Watkins.

You wondered how long that lead would last.

Answer: Not long. But it was not solely because of Watkins.

Ohio State lost its poise.

The Buckeyes closed the game with turnovers on four of their final five possessions. The first two -- a fumbled punt by Philly Brown and a Miller interception -- were converted into touchdowns, giving Clemson the lead back. Miller hung tough, putting the Buckeyes back ahead 35-34 on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hyde with 11:35 remaining in the fourth.

Even still, Clemson had all the momentum. Boyd led the game-winning drive with ease, throwing a perfectly called pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining for the final margin. Miller fumbled and threw an interception on the final two possessions, and Clemson started throwing oranges all over the field.

In the end, it was Boyd who finished with more carries and more yards than Miller. Swinney admitted afterward that Clemson used more designed rushes for Boyd because he felt it gave the Tigers their best chance to run the ball. “A little bit of what they do,” Swinney said, in a nod to Ohio State.

While nobody on the Clemson side said the game plan was made specifically to take advantage of an Ohio State secondary missing starting cornerback Bradley Roby and starting two freshmen, the results on the field spoke for the Tigers.

“We saw the young cornerback out there and how far he was off us,” Watkins said. “The wide receivers and tight ends did a great job of blocking downfield, and coach did a great job of just coming back to the same thing and giving us success.”

While it is true both teams needed a win in the worst way, one could argue Clemson needed it much more. This is a program that has fought for respect for years now, still trying to erase the horror that was the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle, a game Swinney has repeatedly called a “butt whipping.” Boyd and Watkins were in that game, rendered ineffective because an avalanche of turnovers essentially limited what they could do against West Virginia.

But that was their first year playing under offensive coordinator Chad Morris. That was their first time playing in a BCS game, youngsters on a team full of them. Thanks in large part to that loss and more recent defeats to Florida State and South Carolina, there might not be a team in the country ridiculed more than Clemson given where this program stands today: back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in school history.

All behind a record-setting quarterback and a dynamic receiver destined to become a first-round NFL pick.

“The significance of this game, not for me particularly, not for this team particularly, but for the university, for the fans that support us, has been unbelievable,” Boyd said. “I couldn’t pick a better way to go out as a senior.”

Or for Clemson to close out 2013.

MIAMI -- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner huddled with his position group in a corner of the team's locker room following a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl.

Warinner's voice started to crack as he told the players what they'd meant to him and what they'd accomplished. Warinner wrapped it up by saying, "You all are champions in my heart."

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to settle for those kinds of fond memories from their supporters. They've won 24 games the past two seasons, but it's the "And-2" that will haunt them. As in, 24-2.

Those two losses came at the worst possible times, first in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State with a BCS title-game berth at stake, and then on the wrong end of a wild South Florida shootout. A program that went 12-0 the past two regular seasons managed to end up feeling disappointed at the end an otherwise magical run.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBraxton Miller was on his back as much as he was on his feet at times, but his gutty performance almost got Ohio State a win Friday.
"It's bittersweet," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We had a great year, and the year before was great. But at the end of day, the last two seasons we haven’t won anything."

It's not hard to pinpoint why Ohio State fell short of earning a championship: a defense that literally limped to the finish line and a still-too-inconsistent passing game.

All of the pregame fears about Clemson's passing attack shredding the Buckeyes proved valid as the Tigers tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins abused a makeshift secondary. With star cornerback Bradley Roby sidelined by a knee injury and two players starting at their defensive backfield positions for the first time, Ohio State surrendered 378 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, while Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards.

Even when they applied solid coverage, the Buckeyes' corners and safeties found themselves almost helpless against the best receivers they'd faced in three years. At one point, Armani Reeves was called for pass interference and tipped the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bryant still caught the ball for a touchdown.

"I can’t get any closer than that," Reeves said. "That’s what happens when you play great players."

Then again, Ohio State's defense made a lot of people look great down the stretch this season, giving up averages of 38.3 points and 539 total yards (Clemson piled up 576) in its final three games. If there's any optimism to be found there, it's that six players who were either freshman or sophomores started on defense Friday, and the future for guys such as Joey Bosa, Jamal Marcus and Vonn Bell looks bright.

Despite the defensive problems, the Buckeyes still had plenty of chances to win the game. They somehow led at halftime even after yielding 362 yards in the first two quarters. They were up 29-20 and were getting the ball back late in the third quarter when Philly Brown muffed a punt return to give the Tigers new life. That would be the first of four second-half turnovers that would ultimately doom Ohio State, the next three coughed up by quarterback Braxton Miller.

No one could fault Miller's effort. He accounted for four touchdowns while absorbing a severe beating most of the night. He injured his shoulder early in the game. He lay on the turf for a few minutes after taking a late hit on a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller said he probably had a cracked rib to go along with his throbbing shoulder.

"That's probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in, as far as being hit-wise and being banged up," Miller said. "Probably the toughest one all year."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer rightly called Miller "a warrior" for his performance. But Miller also turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds and didn't see linebacker Stephone Anthony slide underneath a post route on the game-sealing interception near midfield. Miller was non-committal after the game about whether he'd go to the NFL or return to Columbus. Friday's game made it clear he still has a lot to work on in college as a quarterback, though he might want to save his body from more punishment with a nearly brand-new offensive line next season.

Miller had come through at the end of big games so many times before in his career that it was shocking to see him not do so against Michigan State and Clemson. Same goes for Meyer. Ohio State had made a habit out of choking out opponents in the fourth quarter in his tenure, and before Friday he was 4-0 in BCS games.

"That's what we train for," center Corey Linsley said. "We train to finish. It's definitely disappointing, because that was our M.O."

Ohio State was not far away from its championship goals this season. Another play or two against Michigan State, and maybe the Buckeyes are in Pasadena, Calif., right now getting ready to play Florida State, an admittedly frightening prospect given the tattered state of their defense. Friday's game went back and forth and could have ended differently if not for the untimely turnovers.

But a team's record tells the story. Ohio State won its first 12 games again this season. Then came the "And-2."

"Those were championship games," cornerback Doran Grant said. "And we didn’t win 'em. Plain and simple."

MIAMI -- Since the moment the pairing was announced, we thought the Discover Orange Bowl could feature a wild and entertaining shootout between No. 7 Ohio State and No. 12 Clemson.

And that's just what we got in Clemson's 40-35 win Friday before an announced crowd of 72,008 at Sun Life Stadium. Here's quick rundown of how this one went down in South Florida:

It was over when: Clemson's Stephone Anthony intercepted a Braxton Miller pass over the middle with 1 minutes, 18 seconds remaining, capping a crazy series of events. Miller had fumbled on Ohio State's previous possession after he was slammed into by Bashaud Breeland with 3:12 left. But the Tigers gave the ball right back when Tajh Boyd threw a pick of his own to C.J. Barnett on a puzzling third-and-13 call. Miller was battered and bruised throughout the game and appeared to be favoring his arm early on. All those hits might have taken their toll in the end.

Game ball goes to: Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and Boyd. Playing in what was in all likelihood his final college game, Watkins broke the Orange Bowl receiving record before the third quarter was even over. Going up against a young and injury-decimated Ohio State secondary, the junior was just too good to handle as he finished with a career-high 16 catches for 227 yards, plus two touchdowns. His 16 catches also set an Orange Bowl and school record. Boyd completed 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns while running for 127 yards and another score.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense, though Clemson offset some of its major yardage advantage with a whopping 15 penalties for 144 yards. But the stat that mattered in the end was turnovers. The Tigers committed 10 turnovers in their two losses (Florida State and South Carolina) this season, while the Buckeyes have been mostly solid on ball security all year. Yet it was Ohio State that gave the ball away four times, all in the second half, versus two for Clemson. In a game where every possession loomed large, that made the difference.

Best call: Carlos Hyde wasn't happy that he didn't get the ball on a crucial fourth-and-2 late in the Buckeyes' Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State. Well, Hyde got his revenge in this one. Ohio State faced a fourth-and-1 from the Clemson 32-yard line in the third quarter and decided to go with their workhorse back this time around. Hyde, who only had 62 yards on 18 carries to that point, ripped off a 31-yard run and punched it in for the touchdown one play later for a 29-20 Buckeyes lead.

Second-guessing: Ohio State led 29-20 and had forced a stop late in the third quarter. But Philly Brown was indecisive on fielding a punt return and opted not to call for a fair catch. He fumbled the return, setting the Tigers up at the Ohio State 33-yard line. Clemson quickly scored on a Boyd pass to Watkins, and it was able to reverse all the momentum the Buckeyes had gained starting late in the second quarter. Brown had a terrific game otherwise, catching eight passes for 116 yards, but that turnover helped turn the tide.

What it means: Clemson finished off an 11-win season for the second consecutive year. That's the first time in school history that Tigers have posted back-to-back 11-win campaigns. Maybe more importantly, they won their first BCS game just before the end of the BCS era and helped redeem themselves from the 2012 Orange Bowl disaster against West Virginia. Losing Boyd and Watkins will be tough to overcome, but this program has established itself as a legitimate national power under Dabo Swinney. Ohio State won its first 24 games under Urban Meyer, but went 0-2 when it really mattered in the Big Ten championship game and on Friday night. Meyer lost for the first time in five tries in BCS games, and Ohio State will have to fix a defense that sprung all kinds of leaks late in the season to be taken seriously as a championship contender in 2014.

Join us for Orange Bowl Live (8:30 ET)

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
12:09
AM ET
Clemson. Ohio State. These two tradition-rich programs are meeting for the first time since Woody Hayes’ finale and we’ll be here chatting about it throughout.

At 8:30 ET, join reporters Brian Bennett, Austin Ward, Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna as they discuss the game between the Tigers and Buckeyes. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

ESPN's Ivan Maisel, SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich look back at Oklahoma's stunning upset of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and preview the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl and the big matchup between Florida State and Auburn in the VIZIO BCS Championship.

You can listen here.

Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
11:00
AM ET


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The last and only time Clemson and Ohio State played, this happened. We don't expect any sideline high jinks this time, just a potential thrilling shootout between the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) and the No. 12 Tigers (10-2) in the Discover Orange Bowl (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Who to watch: The two quarterbacks. Clemson's Tajh Boyd, a senior, is one of the most accomplished players in school and ACC history, with more than 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his career. Ohio State junior Braxton Miller has more than 5,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career and has finished in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting the past two years. Although they have similar body types, Boyd is the far better passer, having thrown for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Miller remains most dangerous as an open-field runner. Each has a wingman who is a superstar in his own right -- for Miller, it's running back Carlos Hyde, and Boyd loves throwing to Sammy Watkins because who wouldn't? But the quarterbacks remain the main attraction here, even for the coaches. "That's awesome," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I get to sit up there with my hot dogs and popcorn and Diet Coke and get to watch this thing go down, man. These are two of the top five or 10 quarterbacks in college football today and have been for the last couple of years." About the only thing missing on the résumés for Boyd and Miller is a BCS win. That will change for one of them tonight.

What to watch: Can Ohio State's pass defense do anything to slow down Boyd, Watkins and Martavis Bryant? Clemson had the 11th-best passing attack in the country this season, and, in Watkins and Bryant, it boasts arguably the best pair of receivers the Buckeyes have faced all season. Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss. Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby (bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars.

Why to watch: Both teams averaged more than 40 points per game in the regular season and are blessed with an abundance of fast future NFL stars (we haven't even mentioned defensive standouts such as Clemson's Vic Beasley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, coming to a pro stadium near you soon). This has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. Urban Meyer is 4-0 in BCS games and has a 24-1 record at Ohio State. Clemson is seeking its first BCS win and wants to redeem itself from its last Orange Bowl appearance, a 70-33 humiliation at the hands of West Virginia in the 2012 game. It's the final non-championship BCS bowl ever. There's no better way to spend your Friday night.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. The potential loss of Roby and Spence is devastating for a Buckeyes defense that was already going to be under the gun in this game. The Big Ten just can't prepare you for the type of speed and playmaking ability Clemson has at receiver. Ohio State will find lots of success running the ball with Miller and Hyde, but ultimately the Buckeyes will need to match the Tigers score for score because of their spotty defense. And that's a tough way to win a BCS game.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Here are 10 reasons Ohio State will win Friday's Discover Orange Bowl game against Clemson:

1. The Urban Meyer factor: In case you hadn't noticed, Ohio State's coach is pretty good in big games. He has a 4-0 record in BCS bowls, compared with 0-1 for Clemson's Dabo Swinney. Meyer knows how to prepare his teams for this kind of stage, and, with nearly a month to get ready for the Tigers, you know he'll have a great game plan in hand. Meyer might not have a whole lot of fans left in the state of Florida, but everyone has to respect his big-game acumen.

2. Braxton Miller: South Carolina's Connor Shaw had a big performance in Clemson's last game, a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks. Shaw ran for 94 yards and a touchdown and passed for 152 yards and another score. Shaw is a tremendous player, but he isn't as dangerous as Miller, who can take over a game with his speed and running ability. The Tigers will have to commit to stopping the run, which should leave opportunities for Miller to make some plays in the passing game. Except for a rough ending in the Big Ten title game, Miller has a history of rising to the occasion in Ohio State's biggest games. This is a legacy moment for him, as he has yet to win a bowl game and has been waiting for this opportunity.

[+] EnlargeHyde/Miller
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller will team up for the final time, with a goal to run over Clemson.
3. Carlos Hyde: The confident senior running back has talked openly about breaking the Orange Bowl rushing record of 206 yards, and why not? That's a regular day at the office for Hyde if he gets enough carries. Clemson surrendered big rushing days to Georgia's Todd Gurley and Syracuse's Jerome Smith. And neither of those teams also had a dangerous running quarterback to account for. Hyde, who weighs 235 pounds, can break the will of a defense with his bruising running style, and his ability to keep the chains moving will shorten the game and keep the Tigers' offense off the field.

4. 24-1: That's Ohio State's record under Meyer. The one loss was to a top-five team (Michigan State) in a game which Ohio State led in the third quarter. So the Buckeyes know how to win, and they've pulled out many close games in the past two years. The "1" on that other side of the record might be the most important part. After losing for the first time in two years, the team should have plenty of motivation to refocus and get back on the winning track.

5. The ACC, as always, is overrated: If it's early January, that must mean the ACC is doing its annual postseason nosedive. In fact, going into Friday's game, the ACC has lost its past five bowl games, many in blowout fashion. At least Duke played well against Texas A&M. Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College have all looked bad this bowl season. The Big Ten has its problems. But it can still look down at the ACC.

6. "Clemsoning" is still a thing: The Tigers were celebrated for beating Georgia in their opener, making it two in a row over top-10 teams from the SEC after they took down LSU in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl. But the Tigers were flat-out embarrassed in their big home showdown against Florida State and were soundly defeated by South Carolina. Outside of the Georgia game, there's nothing impressive about Clemson's schedule, and that game was a long time ago. The Tigers have never won a BCS game and were roadkill in their last Orange Bowl appearance two years ago against West Virginia, allowing 70 points. It's still not wise to bank on Clemson in a big game.

7. The Buckeyes' BCS track record: On the flip side of our No. 6 reason is Ohio State's long and impressive BCS résumé. The Buckeyes have been to the most BCS games (10, including Friday's Orange Bowl) of any team and have won six of them, tied for the most in the BCS era. They get dinged for a couple of lopsided national-title game losses, but the reality is this team almost always shows up on this stage. Couple that with No. 1 on our list and you have a program and a coach who know how to handle this spotlight.

8. Turnovers: Many wonder how Ohio State's battered pass defense will hold up against Clemson's offense, especially with Noah Spence out (Big Ten suspension) and Bradley Roby questionable (knee injury). That's a valid question. One possible answer is by taking the ball away. In the Tigers' losses to Florida State and South Carolina, they committed a total of 10 turnovers. The Buckeyes, by contrast, have generally been very safe with the ball this season, finishing at plus-7 in turnover margin. Miller has thrown only five interceptions. Tajh Boyd has shown that he is sometimes shaky in big games. Watch out for Ryan Shazier, the ball-hawking Ohio State linebacker who will be playing basically in his hometown. Turning Clemson over will go a long way toward winning this game.

9. Ohio State's offensive line: There might not be a better offensive line in the country than the Buckeyes' group, which includes four seniors playing their final game in the scarlet and gray. Marcus Hall returns after serving a suspension in the Big Ten title game, and he should be fired up to atone for missing that one. Ohio State's offensive line has worn down opponents all season and has a great chance of winning the battle in the trenches against Clemson.

10. Woody's revenge: Ohio State legend Woody Hayes' last game came against Clemson in 1978, when he earned a pink slip by punching Charlie Bauman. Somewhere in football heaven, the irascible Hayes is cursing and screaming and kicking some clouds over this rematch. Even if he has to reach down and use a divine hand to trip a Tigers player on the way to the end zone, there's no way Woody is letting the Buckeyes lose to Clemson again in this or any other dimension.
Breaking down the critical areas and key players as No. 7 Ohio State closes the season against No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl (TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).

Embrace the challenge: As if the Buckeyes haven't had enough challenges thrown their way defensively down the stretch, things have only become more difficult for them despite having all the extra time to prepare for the bowl game after dropping the Big Ten championship against Michigan State. The top pass-rushing threat is at home after Noah Spence was suspended by the conference for three games. The most skilled defensive back is on the shelf thanks to a bone bruise for Bradley Roby. Starting middle linebacker Curtis Grant is still banged up. Even a player who was already ruled out for this game received bad news this week with Christian Bryant's appeal for a medical redshirt denied by the NCAA. That is a lot of adversity for the Buckeyes regardless of how explosive the offense their facing is, and they can either take the challenge head on or shrink in the spotlight.

Secondary shakeup: Urban Meyer vowed changes were coming for his beleaguered defense, and a couple have already come into focus with tweaks to the personnel. Picked on down the stretch, senior Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown is expected to be replaced by Tyvis Powell at safety, and talented freshman Vonn Bell will slide into the nickel back role and see his most extensive playing time of his debut season just before it ends. Those two guys represent the future for the Buckeyes at safety, and they will certainly have their hands full against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and his talented cast of receivers. No matter what happens, Powell and Bell figure to at least gain some valuable experience heading into an offseason where starting roles are likely to become permanent for them.

Passing fancy: Braxton Miller can change a game without ever throwing a pass thanks to his fleet feet, but the Buckeyes would certainly like to see his accurate arm again. The junior hasn't completed more than 13 throws or topped 160 yards since the first week of November, and while Ohio State still put up a lot of points during that dip in his passing totals, the lack of balance caught up with it against the Spartans. Aside from winning a BCS game, Miller is also trying to impress NFL scouts and prove that he's ready for the next level, and that combination should provide plenty of incentive for him to put his best foot -- or arm -- forward.

Fond farewell: For all the seniors have both been through and accomplished during their careers, there is plenty for them to feel proud about as they suit up for the program for the final time. They battled through the adversity that came with the NCAA sanctions, posted a perfect record in 2012 and a handful provided memorable moments that Ohio State will never forget. Carlos Hyde's relentless rushing style, Kenny Guiton's invaluable work off the bench at quarterback and the physical blocking of four senior starters on the offensive line, just to name a few, have certainly left a mark for the Buckeyes. All of them should be properly motivated to finish on top against the Tigers.

On the Marcus: Noah Spence obviously wasn't working alone as the defensive line quickly went from question mark to one of the most effective units on the team, but the sophomore clearly deserved plenty of credit as he led the team in sacks with 8 and chipped in 14.5 tackles for a loss overall. Now facing a three-game suspension that starts with the Discover Orange Bowl, at least temporarily the Buckeyes again have to replace a starter up front after rebuilding the defensive line completely after last season. Jamal Marcus moved up from linebacker to defensive end as part of that process, and in a supporting role he offered a pair of sacks among his 15 tackles, forced a fumble and showed glimpses of the kind of athleticism that have allowed Spence to thrive in the opposing backfield. Against Clemson, Marcus will have to prove he can do it for an extended period of time, particularly since it will be critical for the Buckeyes to disrupt Boyd and try to force some mistakes with the football.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Immediately following the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and several of his assistants hit the road to recruit.

Recruiting is as much salesmanship as anything, so the coaches had to act like they were in a good mood around the prospects they visited. It wasn't easy to do.

"You had to go walk in with a smile, and it was the phoniest smile you've probably ever seen," Meyer said Thursday. "And then you get back, and you see the players you care about and see the pain on their face."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesUrban Meyer admits losing in the Big Ten title game hurt, but he says the Buckeyes have moved on from that disappointment.
We've seen this before. A team falls just short of reaching the national championship game, as the Buckeyes did that night in Indianapolis, and proceeds to sleepwalk through its consolation bowl game. So it's natural to wonder about the motivation for Ohio State in tonight's Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson when it came so close to playing for the national title on Monday night.

Buckeyes players and coaches won't pretend they weren't crushed by that loss to the Spartans. But they also say they're plenty driven to win this BCS game, both for themselves and, to a lesser extent, the Big Ten.

Meyer called a team meeting after he got back from that recruiting trip. For the first time in 25 games as Ohio State's coach, he had to address the players after a loss.

"We had a real emotional meeting," he said. "Well, I don't know if emotional is the right word, but it was just like you would with any type of family members going through a hard time. From that point forward, they've been fine."

The carrot of a national title might have vanished, but other potential rewards remain. Ohio State has not won a postseason game since the 2011 Sugar Bowl (which would later be vacated), meaning the majority of the team has not tasted a bowl victory. The older players suffered through a 6-7 season in 2011, including a Gator Bowl loss, and dealt with probation last year.

"With coach [Jim] Tressel my freshman year, we won a Rose Bowl and then a Sugar Bowl, and then it kind of went down," fifth-year senior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "So to show that we pulled ourselves back out of it and got back on top would be real important to us older guys. I don't think it's in our nature as competitors to be sulking or to be held down by something that has happened."

Meyer has traveled this road before. In 2009, his Florida Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC title game with a BCS Championship berth on the line. A not-so-sexy matchup with Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl awaited. Even through some serious distractions -- Meyer said he planned to step down before the bowl game then changed his mind -- the Gators ripped the Bearcats for an impressive 51-24 win.

Meyer takes detailed notes during each week of the season and said he reviewed the notes from that Sugar Bowl preparation to see how he handled the disappointment. He chatted about it with former Florida star Mike Pouncey at practice earlier this week.

"I would anticipate, from everything I've seen with this team, the competitive spirit is there," Meyer said. "I've also been in situations where I didn't feel the competitive spirit, and that's where you've got [to use] the secret Tshirt or the secret handshake to get guys to play hard. I don't feel that."

It doesn't hurt that the Orange Bowl means 80-degree temperatures, South Beach excursions and an escape from the winter in Ohio. The Buckeyes also have several players from Florida.

"We're having a great time," said tight end and Naples, Fla., native Jeff Heuerman, who, it should be noted, said this before he caught the stomach bug that plagued the Buckeyes this week. "South Beach is a ton of fun. But we're trying not to do anything differently than any other game week, and we've been super successful with what we've done."

If Ohio State needs any further motivation, then the chance to salvage some Big Ten pride could provide it.

The league is guaranteed a losing record in the postseason after going 2-4 in its first six games. But Michigan State gave the conference a BCS win by beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes can add another one if they get by Clemson. Two BCS wins and a victory over an SEC team (Nebraska beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl) would mean a highly successful bowl season for the Big Ten.

"Playing in the Big Ten, people sometimes have been down on us the last couple of years," Mewhort said. "That kind of lights a little fire under you that makes you want to go out and represent your conference well. I think that would be great for us and the Big Ten."

Meyer said he watched the end of the Rose Bowl and found himself rooting hard for the team that handed him his only loss as Ohio State coach.

"Any time a member of your conference does well in a big game like that, I do think it's important," he said. "Because the truth is the upper-level Big Ten teams are excellent football teams. The conference is getting better. Guys are working extremely hard to close the gap on the SEC."

The Buckeyes' main concern is finding a way to beat an ACC power tonight. They might not get that done, but it shouldn't be because of a lack of interest in the proceedings.

Video: Clemson safety Robert Smith

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
4:00
PM ET

Andrea Adelson talks to Clemson safety Robert Smith about the matchup against Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Braxton Miller had a pretty uneventful New Year's Eve.

He went to the mall. Bought a new T-shirt. The most excitement he had was watching Johnny Manziel go nuts in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller, Isaiah Lewis, Darqueze Dennard
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsIf this is his final game with the Buckeyes, Braxton Miller hopes to make it a memorable one.
"He was ballin'," Miller said Wednesday. "He's a baller. That's how you go out there for your last game of the season."

Manziel's performance -- 455 total yards and five total touchdowns -- couldn't help but inspire his Ohio State counterpart as Miller gets ready for Friday's Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson.

"Everybody is going to be watching so you've got to be prepared to go out there and have fun with it," Miller said. " That's what he was doing. He was having fun."

And like Manziel, Miller could possibly be playing his final college game this bowl season. The junior says he'll decide a few days after the Orange Bowl whether he'll head to the NFL early. He hasn't given any indications of where he's leaning yet, but he said last month that he was getting tired of taking hits as a runner and that he understands Ohio State loses four starting offensive linemen next season.

So the Orange Bowl looms as an important game for Miller. Colleague Andrea Adelson wrote today about how the game could be a legacy-defining moment for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who can add a BCS win to his already-impressive résumé. The same can be said for Miller.

Sure, in some ways, Miller has already built quite a legacy for himself. He's the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year. He has led the Buckeyes to a 24-1 record the past two seasons, including a perfect 12-0 season in 2012. He has beaten Michigan twice in three tries. Unlike Boyd, there were never really questions about whether Miller could win the big game early in his career, as he showed a preternatural ability to come through in clutch moments, like his game-winning touchdown pass to beat Wisconsin as a true freshman.

But Miller also plays for Ohio State, a place that aims for nothing less than championships and huge bowl victories. That's where Miller's portfolio could use some help.

Because of probation, he has played in only one bowl game -- the 2012 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl vs. Florida. The Buckeyes lost that game 24-17. Miller played decently, throwing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but it was in an offensive slog that characterized much of his freshman year.

Miller has led the Buckeyes to two Leaders Division titles, but of course he lost the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State last month. He ran for 142 yards and two scores but went only 8-of-21 for 101 yards through the air, failed to complete a pass in the fourth quarter and got stuffed on a crucial fourth-and-2 running play. It was one of the few times where he didn't come through late in a crucial game.

Ohio State will need much more than that from its leader against Clemson, especially given the state of its defense right now. He understands that. Teammates said they have noticed Miller taking on a bigger leadership role lately.

"He's definitely been getting on us a little bit more than he has usually," center Corey Linsley said. "You definitely hear his presence more than you have in the past."

"You've got to get guys going," Miller said. "Guys get lazy at times, you've got to pick them up. As the leader I am, I just tell 'em to keep going."

Whether Miller will be staying or going becomes an immediate focus after the game. Head coach Urban Meyer said Thursday he has no idea which way that process will go.

"He's not there yet, but the ceiling is pretty high," Meyer said. "And it's a special place not many guys can go, [but] because he's got just incredible ability, quick release, and fundamentally, when he's on, he's on. So we just need to keep pushing that envelope."

Maybe Miller returns and shoots for a third straight Big Ten offensive MVP trophy, perhaps even a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if this is his last game at Ohio State, he can put himself in the discussion of all-time Buckeyes greats with a memorable final performance.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Both head coaches met with the media on Thursday morning in the final press conferences before Friday's Discover Orange Bowl. Here are some highlights from the session with Ohio State's Urban Meyer:

• Safety Christian Bryant's request for a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility has been denied by the NCAA. The senior broke his ankle late in the win over Wisconsin in September. NCAA rules state that a player can compete in no more than 30 percent of a team's games -- bowl games not included -- to be eligible for a medical redshirt. Bryant's injury occurred in Ohio State's fifth game. Meyer said there may be room to appeal the ruling but added "appeals haven’t been real good to the Buckeyes here lately." Ohio State just lost an appeal to the Big Ten over Noah Spence's three-game suspension.

• Speaking of Spence, sophomore Jamal Marcus is poised to take Spence's defensive end spot in Friday's game. Meyer said Marcus has practiced well this week, and the coach is expecting big things out of a guy who played sparingly in the regular season.

"Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy," Meyer said. "He's one of the more talented guys on our team. I'm anxious to watch him play. We had a staff meeting this morning at 7 a.m. and [defensive line coach] Mike Vrabel made that comment to me. He's a quick-twitch guy. This is his kind of game."

• Linebacker Ryan Shazier is from Fort Lauderdale and will have many friends and family in the Sun Life Stadium stands. Meyer said Shazier, who took over Bryant's No. 2 jersey number after he went down, has also assumed a lot of Bryant's leadership responsibilities.

"He has done a really magical job at that," Meyer said. "He was not a leader a year ago. He was a very good player -- by the end of the year a great player. He's been a very good player this year, but he's done a nice job leading, leading by example, practicing hard and even being more vocal."

• Not surprisingly, Ohio State is using this trip to Florida as a way to recruit. Meyer and his staff plan to visit powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School on Thursday night. That's the same school that produced current Buckeyes standout Joey Bosa.

"I can list at least two dozen high schools right in this area that are loaded with talent," Meyer said. "We have not good relationships but great relationships with these high school coaches. A lot of them came to visit us at a bowl practice.

"We attack it. It's a primary area for us. Because we have so much experience down here, it's nothing new. We know most of these coaches. And the good thing is, people know Ohio State."

• Shazier and quarterback Braxton Miller have big decisions to make about whether to enter the NFL draft. Meyer admitted that NFL decisions have created distractions for teams "hundreds of times." But he said he knows this group of players well enough to spot potential distractions and "I haven't felt that at all. I've had a couple conversations, many about, 'Hey, we'll discuss this afterwards. Let's go win this game.'" Meyer also said he had no idea what to expect from Miller's postgame decision process even though he has a great relationship with the quarterback.

• When asked what young players have stood out during bowl practices -- something Ohio State didn't have the luxury of using last year -- Meyer named the following guys: Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Joshua Perry, Chris Worley, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Billy Price.

• Meyer's most famous former player, Tim Tebow, agreed this week to serve as an analyst on ESPN's new SEC Network this fall. Meyer said he and Tebow still talk frequently, and he hopes the former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't finished playing football yet. Meyer said he's never had a serious conversation about Tebow joining him in some capacity at Ohio State.

"I don't want to disrupt his dream," he said. "His dream is to go play quarterback in the National Football League, and I don't think we're there yet in his mindset that he's done."
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ohio State announced Wednesday morning that it wouldn't have defensive end Noah Spence for the Discover Orange Bowl (or the first two games next season). This afternoon, head coach Urban Meyer said the defense would likely be without another star: cornerback Bradley Roby.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBradley Roby's career at Ohio State is likely over. The redshirt junior cornerback has already declared for the NFL draft.
Roby has been dealing with a bone bruise on his knee that he suffered in the Big Ten championship game, and he has practiced on a limited basis this week. Meyer said Wednesday that he didn't think Roby would be able to play vs. Clemson on Friday night.

Roby's loss is even bigger than Spence's, because he was the one player in the secondary who was playing at an extremely high level. Now Ohio State could have new starters in three spots when they go to the nickel package against the Tigers' high-scoring passing attack. And Roby would have been the guy to try and stop Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins.

Instead, Ohio State finds itself playing shorthanded on defense.

"That''s tough," Meyer said. "What's my confidence level? We recruited a lot of them and we coached a lot of them. I have a lot of respect for our players. I'm anxious to see Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell at the safety positions. Josh Perry is one of the most improved players on our team. We've got [Ryan] Shazier. So we've got some very good players."

They just won't have two very important starters on defense.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State didn't accomplish everything on its checklist in 2013, but it came pretty close in what has to be considered a successful year. If the Buckeyes are going to top it in 2014, it can start with these resolutions moving into Urban Meyer's third season with the program.

Fix the defense: The lack of depth was evident even before injuries started taking a toll on the defensive side of the ball, but that really doesn't excuse the breakdowns that popped up frequently at the end of the season. Giving up nearly 260 passing yards per game will never be acceptable at a program that's proud of its defensive tradition, and that weakness in the secondary is a big part of the reason Ohio State is opening 2014 in the Discover Orange Bowl and not playing for the national championship. In recruiting, the Buckeyes have been accumulating the pieces they need to get back to having a complete two-deep capable of playing at a high level and not just a talented group of starters without much support. Making the right hire to replace co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers could be critical in helping that entire unit reach its potential.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsRegardless of whether Braxton Miller returns for the Buckeyes, Ohio State needs better offensive balance in 2014.
Find balance: For a while, the Buckeyes looked like they had already become the kind of balanced offense Meyer has been trying to build. Braxton Miller's accuracy clearly improved, the receiving corps was hauling in passes deep down the field and tight end Jeff Heuerman was giving Ohio State a matchup nightmare to throw at defenses to keep them from loading up the box to stop the powerful rushing attack. But that aerial attack vanished almost completely down the stretch, with poor weather, good defenses and the success of the ground game all eventually producing too much reliance on Miller and Hyde to make plays with their legs. In the end, the Buckeyes wound up rushing 243 more times than they threw the ball, which isn't close the 50-50 split Meyer has targeted as ideal for his spread offense.

Identify leaders: A core group of veterans that included four senior starters on the offensive line made it easy for the Buckeyes to figure out who to follow last season. But with those stalwarts moving on, along with captains such as C.J. Barnett, Philly Brown, Kenny Guiton (and potentially Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier, if they leave early for the NFL draft), there will be a significant void to fill. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett could be at the front of the pack to become the voice and face of the program, but he's going to need some help -- and the sooner the Buckeyes find out where it's coming from, the better off they'll be as they head into offseason workouts.


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- We now know for sure that Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence won't play in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl. He won't play again until the Buckeyes' third game of 2014, in fact.

The team announced Wednesday morning that Spence has been suspended three games by the Big Ten for violating an unspecified conference rule. The suspension begins with the bowl game and includes the first two games of next year, at Navy and vs. Virginia Tech.

It's unquestionably a big loss for the Buckeyes, as Spence led the team with eight sacks, finishing second in the league in that category. He also had 14.5 tackles for loss and is as quick coming off the edge as any player in the Big Ten. His pass-rushing ability will really be missed against Clemson, which has an explosive passing attack. If Ohio State can't generate some pressure on Tajh Boyd, its battered secondary will be hard-pressed to get stops.

The emergence of true freshman Joey Bosa as a star at defensive end mitigates Spence's absence somewhat. Bosa was incredibly disruptive in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and had 6.5 sacks this season. Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller have been splitting reps at Spence's defensive end spot in practice this week.

We don't know what rule Spence broke and it would be reckless to speculate. Ohio State did mention in its release that Spence was an academic all-Big Ten selection who would continue working on his degree next semester, so this does not sound like it was related to academics. The league also likely would not have stepped in on a criminal matter, and there was no on-the-field reason for the suspension, like fighting. Ohio State said Spence's parents disagreed with the league's ruling and penalty and that the school assisted in exhausting the appeals process with the conference, which is why Spence's status has been up in the air all week. (A cynic might say the Big Ten got burned the last time it went to bat for Ohio State players in a BCS bowl game. See: the Tattooed 5, 2011 Sugar Bowl).

So make of that what you will.

For now, the Buckeyes will have to find ways to make up for Spence's production over their next three games, all of which are against good teams.

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