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Part of the picture

Jan 29, 2015 -- 10:28pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The race for the upper echelon of the Big Ten standings is starting to look like a youth sports league where everyone gets a trophy, but at least Ohio State is now part of the picture.

Thanks to an 80-56 home win over No. 16 Maryland on Thursday night, the Buckeyes (17-5, 6-3) are among a horde of seven teams tied in the loss column behind front-running Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1).

OSU's worthiness for a first-round bye in the conference tournament will likely be determined over the next two weeks, during which it plays four of five games on the road, including dates at Michigan State Feb. 14 and at Michigan on Feb. 22.

By then, we'll know if head coach Thad Matta's small lineup continues to come up as big as it has during Ohio State's three-game winning streak, of which the throttling of the Maryland clearly ranks as the Buckeyes' best win of the season.

"We've gotten to where we won two in a row and now three in a row, so now we'll see if we're complacent," Matta said. "The Big Ten is kind enough to give us four of our next five away from home....That's a big challenge. We just have to keep getting better."

Things began turning for OSU a week ago when Matta finally seemed to tire of waiting on senior center Amir Williams to deliver on the potential that once made him a McDonald's All-American.

Williams played only three minutes at Northwestern and didn't play at all Sunday in a win over Indiana, games in which OSU played long stretches with 6-7 forwards Marc Loving and Sam Thompson as its tallest players.

The Buckeyes' current win streak also coincides with Matta shaking up his lineup to start 6-9 senior transfer Anthony Lee and 6-4 freshman Jae'Sean Tate.

Lee has been minimally involved and marginally impactful, but Tate has given OSU an energy shot every game.

He followed a 20-point performance against IU with 16 points and eight rebounds against Maryland, which fell to 18-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten.

Of course, the Buckeyes will ride as far as freshman guard D'Angelo Russell takes them.

It is no coincidence OSU's three-game winning streak has happened in tandem with Russell's northern ascent in most NBA mock drafts.

DraftExpress.com has him listed No. 2 overall behind Duke freshman Jalil Okafor, and that was before Russell had 18 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists against Maryland.

That's not a bad follow-up to a week in which Russsell was Big Ten player-of-the-week and freshman-of-the-week after going for 33 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 0 turnovers against Northwestern and 22 points points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists against Indiana.

Russell's expected showdown with Maryland freshman Melo Trimble never materialized, because OSU locked Trimble down to an 0-for-8 night from the field, typifying the Terps' 30% shooting struggles.

Loving came off the bench to hit all five of his three-point attempts and score 19 for OSU.

Even Williams and senior point guard Shannon Scott, who've come up smallest in previous losses to ranked opponents Louisville and North Carolina, contributed positively against Maryland.

Williams had 8 rebounds in 12 minutes and Scott offered 8 points and 4 assists.

The Buckeyes play Wednesday at Purdue (13-8, 5-3), which rocked Indiana on Wednesday after a weekend win over Iowa, giving the Boilermakers consecutive wins over ranked opponents.

OSU's small lineup will get a stiff test against 7-0 A.J. Hammons, who had 11 points and 8 blocks against Indiana.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Cardale's latest surprise: QB announces he's returning to school

Jan 15, 2015 -- 5:05pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

And you thought Cardale Jones was out of surprises.

Stunning a national audience via a nationally-televised press conference on ESPN, Jones announced simply and succinctly that he would return to Ohio State for his junior season after directing the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff championship.

"First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for coming out," Jones said from the gymnasium at Glenville, where he led the Tarblooders to the Division I state championship game in 2009. "My decision was very simple. After talking it over with my family, my friends and my coaching staff, I'm going to return next year for school."

Jones voiced his decision so matter-of-factly there was a, "What did he just say?" feel to it, as if he must mean he would continue his academic studies while also preparing for the upcoming NFL draft.

But the sophomore who turned the sport on its ear by assuming the OSU quarterback job by default and then playing spectacularly well in post-season wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon wasn't kidding.

"At this point in my career, I feel its best for me to go back to school," Jones said. "One of the most important things is for me to graduate. When I make decision to play in the NFL, I want to be done with school."

Do you grasp the irony, because it's thumping you in the nose?

Cardale Jones, the kid who three years ago intemperately and inelegantly Tweeted his objection to the academic side of life for a college athlete  -- "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, We ain't come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS -- has now become the made-to-order spokesman for the very attitude Ohio State wants you to believe its student-athletes personify.

"I thought it all through," Jones said. "Football has been a stepping stone for my edcuation....Being a first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education."

And with that evaporates the notion that Jones' popularity can't possiblity soar higher in the minds of Ohio State fans.

And so, Jones will return, locking up one chair in an OSU quarterback room that may include record-setting freshman J.T. Barrett, the fifth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, and two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller.

Miller has yet to announce his plans for next season.

Barrett, recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the regular-season finale against Michigan, has said he will return to OSU next season.

Jones said he spoke with head coach Urban Meyer about the decision to return to school, but did not ask for a guarantee that he would start next season.

"No, not at all," Jones said. "I want to go back to school and compete for the spot. I don' want anything given to me.

"...He didn't make me any promises. He told me what I have do and what I have to improve on and that was about it."

Jones' decision comes 48 days after he stepped into the breach for the Buckeyes when Barrett suffered a season-ending broken ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan.

Seven days after that, Jones threw for three touchdowns and won Big Ten championship game MVP in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin.

And the big man was just getting warmed up.

Many expected the clock to strike midnight on Jones' Cinderella story when OSU faced No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Instead, he brought the Buckeyes back from a 21-6 second-quarter deficit to a 42-35 victory.

And less than two weeks later, Jones directed OSU to a 42-20 dismantling of No. 2 Oregon in the College Football Playoff title game.

That success led many to believe Jones would head for the NFL, where teams were certain to be captivated by his prototypical franchise-QB size, the eye-opening strength of his right arm, the uncanny touch and trajectory he exhibits on deep balls and -- perhaps most of all -- his shoulder-shrugging indifference to pressure that would have paraylzed most players in similar circumstances.

Jones, though, has his meteoric rise in perspective relative to what he believes a college degree will do for him later in life.

"My education is going to take me 10 times farther than my athletic ability," Jones said.

Wow, and you thought the big man couldn't possibly top what he's done on the field.

Turns out, that was only the warm-up act for Jones' most-shocking act of all, the decision to strand at the altar 32 NFL teams intrigued by his potential and instead return to Ohio State with absolutely nothing guaranteed.

Jones seemed sheepish at being forced to make his announcement in grand style, before TV cameras and reporters.

He genuinely seemed not to understand the fuss.

"I don't know why you guys made such a big deal," he said. "It was very simple for me. The NFL, after three games, was out of the question."

And with that, the legend of Cardale Jones continues.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

You saw this coming, right?

Jan 13, 2015 -- 7:46am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USA Today

In the giddy aftermath of assuring himself an indelible place in college football history, Cardale Jones pondered the possiblity of convening for fall camp in August with teammates Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett beside him in the Ohio State quarterback meeting room.

"Oh, man," Jones said. “That would be crazy."

It sure would be, but no crazier than the reality of Jones, an all-but-forgotten man upon Barrett's emergence in the aftermath of Miller's season-ending injury, being the first No. 3 quarterback this side of a rejected Hollywood script to direct his team's path to a national championship.

Having climbed aboard Jones' right arm and tailback Ezekiel Elliott's back on a magical ride through the first College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes break briefly from the numbing efficiency of head coach Urban Meyer's daily obsession with excellence to enjoy their improbable path to the title.

They'll be feted tonight at some point during a home basketball game against Michigan -- your move, Jim Harbaugh -- and then vanish from view until Jones, Barrett and Miller reveal their next moves.

All three have options, which could lead the trio right back to the Buckeyes or to other alluring destinations elsewhere.

But before looking forward, glance into the rear-view mirror for a look where the Buckeyes improbably were and how they inconceivably wound up here.

This, remember, was a team throttled, 35-21, at home by eventual 7-6 finisher Virginia Tech in Week Two. The Hokies exposed an OSU offensive line sporting four new starters fro last season to the tune of seven quarterback sacks.

Thirteen games -- and victories -- later, OSU's season ends having scored twice as many points against No. 1 Alabama (42-35) and No. 2 Oregon (42-20) than it managed that long-ago night against the toothless turkey gobblers from Blacksburg.

So, you saw that coming, right?

As the offensive problems ironed out over time, defensive problems arose. Remember November, when the Buckeyes allowed 37, 24, 27 and 28 points to Michigan State, Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan?

Surely that defense wouldn't hold up against Wisconsin's bone-crunching ground assault, Alabama's double-barreled pass-run threat or Oregon's turbo-charged hyperspeed attack.

Except that it did, shutting out the Badgers, holding off the Tide and limiting Oregon to 96 yards on its next 24 plays after the Ducks sped to 103 yards on their first 12 snaps.

You saw that coming, too, right?

After the Virginia Tech loss, Ohio State languished in the 20s in the national polls, and slummed above 10th in October when the first College Football Playoff rankings surfaced in October.

Going into the final weeks, blocked by at least five teams, it seemed OSU's only path would be for one of those teams to lose. None did, but the Buckeyes wedged their way into the playoff anyway, after Barrett went down for the season and there loomed no alternative but to hand the keys over to Jones, who hadn't played one meaningful snap in his career.

But you saw what was coming next, right?

As impressive as Alabama and Oregon looked at times, as doggedly as defending champion Florida State hung onto its unbeaten status until the Playoff semifinals, no team seemed extraordinarily great as the season unfolded.

But Ohio State unquestionably emerged as that, dispatching Heisman Trophy finalists Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama and then Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in the post-season.

"To say we had this vision back in September or even August, no, not a chance," Meyer said. "I thought this was a team that could battle and battle and find a way to win a bunch of games and then a year later go make a run at it."

He was right about 2015; he just didn't think January, 2015 would mark Ohio State's arrival.

Now things get really interesting, with the speculation about the choices Jones, Barrett and Miller will make filling the next three months until spring practice commences.

What might loom more important is whether Meyer returns the balanced force he's been in three seasons at Ohio State or if he teeters off the deep end like he did at Florida now that the pressure to defend a title and the expectation to win more ratchets upward.

As for the quarterbacks, Jones wouldn't commit to anything after the finest night of his athletic life.

"I don’t want to say definitely,” said the third-year sophomore from Glenville, who can return to school, transfer down to Division I-AA and play immediately or enter the NFL draft.

As for the latter option, Jones said, “It’s something I’ll probably consider. But the most important thing, and my focus is on, is my degree."

Miller has his Ohio State degree and can transfer anywere and play immediately.

He curiously said this week he is not enrolled for winter semester classes at Ohio State, which began Monday.

That's one of an assortment of questions about the quarterbacks that inspire a collective, "Hmmm."

But the same could be said of many things about the Buckeyes the entire season.

Unless you saw all this coming.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Ezekiel Elliott's four touchdowns pave the way for an Ohio State National Championship over Oregon

Jan 13, 2015 -- 1:18am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

In the five years since Oregon and Ohio State played in the Rose Bowl, the coaches changed, the players changed and the stakes soared from significant to winner-take-all-the-spoils.

One thing, though, stayed exactly the same.

OSU again went through the Ducks like Sherman through Atlanta.

Brandishing tailback Ezekiel Elliott's speed and quarterback Cardale Jones power, the Buckeyes bruised Oregon's suspect run defense for 296 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground in grinding out a 42-20 victory Monday night in the first College Football Playoff Championship game.

The decisive victory capped an incredible run of Heisman Trophy destruction for a sometimes-maligned OSU defense, which first laid waste to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten championship game, then Alabama's Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl and, finally, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota before a full-throated, pro-OSU crowd in AT&T Stadium.

Not to be outdone, the Ohio State offense scripted a hard-to-fathom finish that rivaled its defense's tale of redemption, riding Jones, its No. 3 quarterback, to the sixth national championship in school history.

The title is head coach Urban Meyer's first with the Buckeyes, but his third overall, coming in what he thought would be the season before his team challenged for a championship.

"We're going to enjoy this one," Meyer said. "But (the team) is going to get a mission assignment here pretty soon: Let's get back here next year."

OSU will be more than adequately equipped, with eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense, pending early entries to the NFL draft.

But with Elliott just a sophomore, four starters on the offensive line returning and quarterback J.T. Barrett unable to enter the NFL even if Jones and Braxton Miller either do that or transfer, Meyer's cupboard won't be bare.

"The way our offensive line showed up toward the end of the season is just incredible," said Elliott, who gained 246 yards, averaged 6.8 yards on his 36 carries and scored on rushes of 33, 9, 2 and 1 yards. "They're the heartbeat of our team. None of this would have been possible without our offensive line."

Nor does it happen without Jones, a sophomore from Glenville, the forgotten man on the depth chart so discouraged

by his seeming distance from meaningful snaps he dismissed a late-November coaching threat to remove his complimentary Michigan tickets by telling teammate Tyvis Powell, according to Powell, "I don't care, because I'm not playing anyway, so I don't care what (they) do.''

Then Barrett broke his ankle on an innocuous fourth-quarter run against Michigan and OSU had no recourse but to play Jones, who's since shown that while he was labeled the Buckeyes' No. 3 quarterback, he's significantly better than that label suggests and might not be inferior to either Miller or Barrett.

"They set the standard Cardale had to live up to," Elliott said. "They did a great job and Cardale made some great plays that led us to victory."

Jones completed 16-of-23 passes for 242 yards and one touchdown, with his only interception a bobble that Jalin Marshall handed to an Oregon defender.

Jones also punished the Ducks with 21 carries that yielded a touchdown and 67 rushing yards, although he lost 29 of those on a sack-fumble in the third quarter.

Mariota lived up to his Heisman label, but his receivers let him down with some key early drops that shifted the momentum to the Buckeyes.

He finished 24-of-37 for 333 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 10 times for 38 yards.

"Our preparation in practice got us really prepared well for them," said Powell, a sophomore safety from Bedford who won defensive MVP honors. "That tempo thing really wasn't a big deal for us."

Much like OSU's 26-17 victory on New Year's Day in Pasadena in 2010, when the Buckeyes possessed the football for 42 minutes, it treated Oregon's defense like a pit bull's chew toy all night.

Once adjusted to the Ducks' blistering offensive pace that built a 7-0 lead, Ohio State rang up three first-half scores and was in peril as late as the third quarter only because of one interception and three lost fumbles.

Those mistakes allowed Oregon to score 10 quick points and draw within 21-20, but then the Buckeyes reached into the Ducks' breast and pulled out their heart with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that consumed the final 6:39 of the third period.

Elliott carried six times for 44 yards on that possession, including consecutive rushes from the Oregon 20 that put OSU in the end zone.

Jones kept the drive moving with a bullish three-yard run on third-and-3 from the 28, dragging Oregon defenders like tin cans behind the decorated car of a Just Married couple.

The resultant 28-20 lead put the Ducks on their heels and was the last thing they needed.

Well, the next-to-last thing.

Even worse, Oregon's offense threw incomplete on second and third down to force a punt after just three plays, summoning a sagging, punch-drunk defense back onto the field.

This time, OSU unleashed a nine-play, 76-yard march, with Jones zipping 23- and 19-yard completions to Michael Thomas and Marshall before Elliott's 1-yard run built a 35-20 edge just inside the nine-minute mark.

"Even though I made some stupid turnovers, I knew I didn't have to do too much," Jones said. "I just had faith in my teammates and faith in our defense."

Oregon had the ball for only six plays and 1:52 in the third quarter. Even though it fashioned a comeback in that short span, the 13:08 the Ducks defense toiled under OSU's withering assault took a cumulative toll that proved fatal.

Oregon probably sensed trouble long before that, since it had the ball slightly longer in the first half than the Buckeyes and also claimed two turnovers.

The Ducks, though, didn't score off either OSU mistake in the second quarter. That followed a first period in which Oregon punted three times, the first time it had been forced to do that since the 2009 season.

"Our defense created some turnovers," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We needed to compliment one another a little better than we did."

While OSU avoided a first-half trouble with two turnovers Oregon couldn't convert into points, but that good fortune vanished quickly once the third quarter began.

Moving smartly in Oregon territory, Jones fired a pass into the flat to Marshall, who bobbled the ball directly into the arms of linebacker Danny Mattingly.

That set the Ducks up at their own 30, and Mariota cashed in the break immediately with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Byron Marshall.

That reduced Ohio State's lead to 21-17, and the Ducks crept closer soon after that.

On the first snap after Elliott converted a fourth-and-one try from midfield, Jones faded to his right and dropped the football as Tyson Coleman closed in.

Arik Armstead pounced on the fumble at the OSU 23 and the Buckeyes were fortunate the limit the damage to a field goal that left them in front by just one point.

The Ducks, though, wouldn't get closer, with Elliott unleashed and Oregon powerless to stop him.

"He's a tremendous player," Helfrich said. "When you have him being as fast and physical as he is and you trump him with a 255- or 260-pound quarterback, those are some pretty good handlers."

Once OSU adjusted to the Ducks' blistering offensive pace, the momentum shifted dramatically to the Buckeyes.

Jones' fumble on an exchange with Elliott at the Oregon 39 kept OSU from extending its 14-7 lead, and so did Corey Smith's fumble at the Ducks' 9 on the Buckeyes' next possession.

Ohio State's defense came to the rescue both times, first denying Oregon on a fourth-and-goal at the 3 and then forcing a three-and-out after Troy Hill stripped Smith after he caught a 32-yard pass from Jones.

That stop left the Ducks 0-for-6 on third down and gave OSU possession at midfield, leading 14-7.

Elliott provided that edge with a 33-yard, first-quarter touchdown run and a 17-yard getaway that set up Nick Vannett's 1-yard touchdown catch.

Those scores erased the 7-0 lead Oregon claimed in an eyeblink after the opening kickoff.

Gashing huge chunks through the OSU defense, the Ducks moved 75 yards in seven plays and didn't face a single third down before Mariota found Keanon Lowe wide open in the end zone.

But just like he did when the Buckeyes fell into a 21-6 hole in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Jones held steady in the face of a shaky start.

His receivers found no room against the Oregon zone on his first four drop-backs, but Jones scrambled for yardage three times to stay out of long-yardage predicaments.

He then threw into tight windows and connected on consecutive 26-yard completions with Corey Smith and Jalin Marshall to position OSU for Elliott's touchdown run that triggered the comeback.

"This team wasn't supposed to do this," Meyer said. "But we overcame a great deal of adversity and became a great, great team....I certainly did not see this happening after spring practice or early in the season, but I didn't forsee the improvement these guys would make."

 

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Final thoughts: OSU is the textbook example of a team peaking at the right time

Jan 12, 2015 -- 4:42pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

Final thoughts from Dallas as the interminable wait for Ohio State-Oregon and the first College Football Playoff national championship game winds down...

HOW OREGON CAN WIN

  • The Ducks have the best player on the field in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who can become the fourth Heisman Trophy winner in six seasons to win the national championship. Mariota rarely makes mistakes when he passes, as evidenced by his 40-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. What Ohio State doesn't know is how much Mariota will run. He's had only one 100-yard rushing game this season, but he's scored at least one rushing touchdown in six straight games after doing so only three times in Oregon's first eight games.
  • Oregon's defensive line is tall and could cause sight-line issues for OSU quarterback Cardale Jones. The Ducks line up 6-8 Arik Armstead, 6-4 Alex Balducci and 6-7 DeForest Kelly across the front. Armstead destroyed Florida State's offensive tackle on the play that broke open the Rose Bowl, pushing him into the backfield and giving Jameis Winston no pocket to step forward into. Winston fumbled and outside linebaker Tony Washington returned returned it 58 yards for a touchdown.
  • Oregon finished second in the nation in turnover margin at plus-20 for the season. The Ducks forced 27 fumbles and recovered 18, while losing only seven of their 17 fumbles. Oregon plays mostly zone in the secondary. It lost All-American cornerback Ifo Ekrpre-Olomu to injury, but senior safety Erick Daran is making the most of his first season as a starter. He leads the Ducks in tackles (90) and interceptions (7).

HOW OHIO STATE CAN WIN

  • OSU is the textbook example of a team peaking at the right time, with everything trending arrow-up. The defense, shaky against Indiana and Michigan, has been tremendous in wins over Wisconsin and Alabama. It's neutralized Heisman Trophy finalists Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper. Now, it takes aim at the winner, Marcus Mariota.
  • Oregon can't score if it doesn't have the football. OSU has the tools to play keep-away, if it chooses to ride tailback Ezekiel Elliott. He's rushed for 220 and 230 yards in the post-season. In the illustrious running back history at Ohio State, no player had ever rushed for 200 or more yards in consecutive games. Oregon ranked ninth in the Pac 12 in rushing defense. How can it possibly be ready for the challenge of Ohio State, given that the Ducks led virtually every opponent by big margins at halftime, forcing those opponents to pass? Yet Oregon still ranked ninth in its league against the run. That's a red flag.
  • It's Cardale Jones' time. At 6-5, 250 pounds, Jones would take a sizeable glass slipper, but he's clearly the biggest Cinderella college football has ever seen. Forced into the lineup by injury, he's completed 30-of-52 passes for 500 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception in two starts. When something as big as Jones gets rolling, it's pretty hard to slow it down.

WHAT IF IT'S CLOSE LATE?

Neither coach wants this game to come down to a last-second field goal attempt, with good reason.

Oregon has split its field goal duties between freshman Aidan Schneider and sophomore Matt Wogan.

Neither of them has made a field goal longer than 42 yards, and they've combined to miss four extra points.

OSU rides with freshman Sean Nuernberger, who's converted 13-of-20 tries, but missed his only two fourth-quarter attempts. Nuerenberger has, however, converted from 49 yards.

Schneider and Wogan competed weekly for Oregon's kicking job.

Schneider started in the season opener, then Wogan took over for six games. Schneider recaptured the job for three weeks, but then lost it to Wogan for the final two weeks of the regular season.

Against Arizona in the Pac 12 Championship and Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Schneider handled the placements for Oregon.

Such rampant switching suggests Oregon struggled to convert field goal opportunities, but that's not true. Schneider made 9-of-10 tries and Wogan 7-of-9.

Schneider did have a 27-yard attempt blocked in the Pac 12 champioship game.

PREDICTION

I'll own the crazy score I floated immediately after OSU's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but it will take a defensive or special teams touchdown for the Buckeyes to register that 63-35 victory. I just don't see Oregon's run defense being stout enough to stop Elliott, nor can I fathom Ohio State helping Oregon with the turnovers it used to run away from Michigan State and Florida State.

Two possible factors portend good things for Oregon.

First, Cardale Jones hasn't played a bad game yet, and may be too confident in his arm to respect Oregon's ball-hawking zone coverage.

Second, there's no way to know what emotional and physical energy defeating Alabama required of Ohio State. The Buckeyes may not know until they get into this game how little they have left after taking down the kings of the SEC.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The Time Has Come

Jan 12, 2015 -- 7:45am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Graphic/ESPN

There's a temptation to believe this first College Football Playoff national championship game is all about the O, since it matches Oregon against Ohio State and features respective turbo-powered offenses that may expose the glaring lack of a third digit on the AT&T Stadium's massive scoreboard.

But if the match to light the fuse never combusts and the point-per-minute pyrotechnics never commence, we'll still have a riveting collision tonight between college football's Old Money and New Money.

Ohio State is among the sport's royal family, with a program so steeped in tradition it's won five national championships and can stretch the truth by claiming two additional crowns that few realize are as bogus as a seven-dollar bill.

Oregon, by contrast, is the would-be peasant king trying to traverse the moat and storm the castle. The Ducks are so brash and new-school thinking they respond to insults about being the University of Nike by responding with a knowing nod of the head and an appreciative smile.

Ohio State finished No. 1 in 1942, 1954, 1957, 1968 and 2002 under Hall of Fame coaches Paul Brown, Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel.

Oregon began playing football in 1894 and had two seasons with as many as nine wins in its first 97 years until going 9-4 and 9-3 in 1994 and 1995.

The Ducks didn't have their first 10-win season until this century, but they've since won 10 or more games in seven consecutive seasons under three different coaches.

Clearly, Oregon has arrived, and it's done so by embracing a contrarian strategy that played off the shifting cultural values of the time.

While every other elite program either sprang from historic success or worked to overcome its debilitating challenges, the Ducks didn't become cool by first becoming good.

They became good by first becoming cool.

“The ascension probably started a little bit with the helmets and the uniforms and all that kind of stuff, but hopefully we’ve moved beyond that,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said after a 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl. "We talk constantly about the guys in the uniforms. The uniforms don’t give you points.”

No, but they got Oregon noticed, and getting noticed helped them get players.

Nike chairman Phil Knight started the transformation after Oregon suffered a 38-6 loss in the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Fed up over his alma mater's embarrassment, Knight asked then-coach Mike Bellotti what he needed to take the program to an elite level.

Bellotti asked for an indoor facility, so Knight wrote a $10 million check. A week later, he called a meeting of key Nike management and solicited ideas on how the Swoosh could legally help Oregon get better players.

One executive, probably well-off now, proposed space-age uniforms, which first began to evolve and get edgier every year, and now do so every week.

As the Ducks continued to win, Knight continued to write checks: $60 million to renovate Autzen Stadium, $60 million for an academic center, $100 million for a basketball arena and $70 million for a football training center that trumped the ace of every other school in the country when it came to opulence and excess.

The glass, interwoven, three-building complex has rugs from Nepal, chairs made from the same Italian leather as the seats in a Ferrari, biometric thumb-print access panels and a barbershop with cutting instruments from Milan.

Next to Oregon's over-the-top luxury, the juice bar, racquetball court and dozens of high-def flat screens in the OSU's Woody Hayes Athletic Center probably seem pedestrian.

But what matters tonight isn't which school's Shrine to Overspending captures the most recruits' attention. What matters is whether OSU can add to its already-established legacy or whether Oregon can quit flirting with greatness and finally consummate the marriage.

The Ducks are favored by five, but that's down from a touchdown in the immediate aftermath of their destruction of Florida State and Ohio State's upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Oregon has the game's most-decorated player in Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, and it will have the ball in his hands every offensive play.

That seems a huge advantage over Ohio State, which will ride by necessity with Cardale Jones, the last man standing in Meyer's quarterback room after injuries felled Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

Jones has been been somewhere between shockingly competent and competently shocking in leading OSU to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and then the elimination of Alabama.

The 6-5 third-year sophomore from Glenville High School hasn't been fazed by the moment yet, but he certainly knows what he's doing is not typical of most No. 3 quarterbacks.

"I mean, this is unreal, man," Jones said Saturday. "This is like a movie or a book. The best way I can describe it is, it's just unreal."So are the offensive numbers both teams have been compiling.

Oregon averages an astounding 1.74 points per-minute of possession. En route to a 13-1 record, the Ducks have had 66 plays gain 25 yards or more, which averages out to almost five such plays per-game.

Ohio State, though, has some pretty impressive numbers on its side.

OSU has won 12 straight games since losing to Virginia Tech in Week Two. It led the Big Ten in scoring  (45 points per-game) and total offense (509.7 yards) and tailback Ezekiel Elliott is the first rusher in OSU history to record consecutive 200-yard games (220 vs. Wisconsin, 230 vs. Alabama).

The outcome will likely hinge on whether Oregon can live to its No. 2 national ranking in turnover margin (plus-20) or whether OSU can hold onto the ball and exploit a Ducks defense that ranked ninth in the Pacific 12 against the run.

Mariota is bidding to become the fourth Heisman Trophy winner in six years to lead his team to a national championship.

OSU has taken down Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Alabama's Amari Cooper -- the other Heisman Trophy finalists -- on its advance to the cusp of Urban Meyer's third national title and first in Columbus.

The time has come, or will upon kickoff at 8:30 p.m.

Old Money vs. New Money.

Chips to the middle of the table.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The Price Of Maturity

Jan 10, 2015 -- 4:21pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

As Cardale Jones has played strasopheres above where any reasonable Ohio State fan expected, first against Wisconsin and then Alabama, a narrative emerged that Jones shed his immaturity and inattention to detail a year or so ago and has since been a model citizen walking in lock-stop with head coach Urban Meyer's orders.

It's a great story, the transformation of Jones from knucklehead social media poster to ultra bought-in competitor, patiently waiting for his seat to open in the never-ending game of Ohio State quarterback whack-a-mole musical chairs.

But it is, as it turns out, just that.

A story...and not a completely true one.

To be sure, Jones, shaped up significantly after his embarrassing Tweet from two years ago inelegantly voiced an opposition to school work at the expense of his football career.

But the former Glenville Tarblooder needed a bit more than a stern talking-to from the people closest to him to fall in line with every single aspect of Ohio State's plan for his behavior.

Because the longer Jones sat the bench, and the more J.T. Barrett seamlessly stood in for Braxton Miller and emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate of his own, the further a payoff for Jones' new approach seemed and the more frustrated he became.

"I'll give you a story about him," said safety Tyvis Powell of Bedford, who like Jones is in his third year at OSU. "The (week of the Michigan)  game, he got into it with the coaches here, academically-wise.

"I think he didn't go to tutoring or something like that, so they were going to take his tickets. And Cardale was like, 'I don't care because I'm not playing anyway, so I don't care what you do.' ''

"[He said], 'I think they forgot, Tyvis, that I don't play.' And I'm like, 'Ok.' And, of course he was wrong. He ended up playing the next game."

Now you know why Meyer bent over at the knees when Barrett went down, likely thinking, "I'm entrusting my and my team's national championship hopes to a kid I'm not sure gets it yet."

What Jones has done since is the stuff of unemployed Hollywood screen writers, throwing for three touchdowns and winning MVP honors in the 59-0 rout of Wisconsin and bringing Ohio State back from a 21-6 second-quarter deficit with a series of downfield darts and a 27-yard scramble to set up another touchdown.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has certainly taken note.

"He's a fantastic football player," Helfrich said. "He's big, unbelievably fast for his size, a very physical runner and he can put the ball on the money.

"I joked the other day, they're about 70-30 on 50-50 balls. It's one-on-one in the corner and their guy goes up and gets it. There are multiple plays against Alabama, which is arguably the most-talented team in college football, and (OSU's) No. 1 is beating the other No. 1 most of the time.

"To have that kind of confidence, along with a physical, power run game element that they have, is very difficult to defend."

It raises a question: While Jones is OSU's No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, was he actually better than the Buckeyes third-best quarterback all season?

For all the images Spread offenses like Meyer's conjure, there are ways to spread defenses beyond Zone-Read rushes and Bubble Screens.

Teams can -- as Ohio State does with Jones -- spread defenses vertically.

His arrival in the lineup has accentuated the depth and talent of an OSU wide receiver corp which hid unrecognized most of the season.

Certainly, it didn't jump out on film to Alabama's Nick Saban until Jones gashed the Crimson Tide for 243 passing yards and spread his 18 completions to seven different receivers.

"The one thing that the new quarterback does is, he has a tremendous arm, and they have some very talented receivers," Saban said. "...those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback.

"Now, they were a little different and the quarterback was a great runner when (Barrett) was playing, and he was a good passer.  But it wasn't so obvious when you watched the film all season long that they had these great skill players that could really make plays down the field."

Meyer, of course, had seen Jones laser spirals all over the Ohio State practice field. But something convinced the coach to go away from Jones and give Barrett the job when it became available after Miller's injury early in fall camp.

Powell hints that it was more off-field than on-field issues that led to that decision.

"If you actually saw him and watched him play, you would say, 'Cardale, you have all of the ability to play. Why don't you just be more focused.' " Powell said. "I don't understand what it was. I don't know.

"Me and him talked about it a couple of times. I guess he felt like Braxton was the man. I guess he felt like he knew that he wasn't going to beat Braxton for the spot.

"Then, once Braxton went down in summer camp, (Jones) and J.T. were battling and J.T. just had some better days then and...(Jones) just felt like the coaches had forgotten about him. J.T. went out and had the season that he had and (Jones) was like, 'What about me?' ”

Being forced into the lineup by injury has forced Jones to apply himself, and the results have been spectacular.

"Is he more focused now? “Now, yeah," Powell said. "Oh yeah, definitely. He spends more time up here now than he actually spends at home. He actually watches more tape, studies more things, he can tell you more about the offense now.

"But...all the way up to the (Michigan) game, Cardale was, 'For what? What am I going to do that for?' And then, boom, he ended up playing.”

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Meyer, Helfrich take different personalities -- and pay grades -- into the College Football Playoff Championship

Jan 10, 2015 -- 12:00pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photos/Getty

You can assess all the individual and collective position group matchups for the College Football Playoff championship game and ignore one comparison that throws a switch heavily toward the Buckeyes.

On reputation and resume, Ohio State's Urban Meyer is twice the coach that Oregon's Mark Helfrich appears.

While that won't officially be determined until OSU and Oregon kick off Monday night at 8:30 p.m. from AT&T Stadium, one thing's already for sure:

Meyer is more than twice the coach that Helfrich is when it comes to compensation.

OSU is on the hook for Meyer's $4.5 million annual salary and the additional $400,000 he's racked up this post-season in performance bonuses.

That ranks Meyer as the sixth highest-paid coach in college football.

By contrast, Helfrich ranks 12th.

Twelfth in the Pacific 12, that is.

Yes, Helfrich, the guy who's within one win of coaching Oregon to its first national championship in school history, is the lowest-paid coach in his conference at $2 million per-year, making less than Sonny Dykes and Mike MacIntyre.

And you didn't even know Sonny Dykes or Mike MacIntyre coached in the Pac 12, did you?

But then, unless you're really dialed in on college football before the Browns' season ends, you probably didn't know Helfrich succeeded Chip Kelly at Oregon.

Helfrich is just that unassuming, although he protests his low-key label and insists he is an "overrated nice guy."

Certainly, there's nothing nice about the way the Ducks waylay their opposition.

Oregon rolled unbeaten, defending national champion Florida State by 39 points in the Rose Bowl, their ninth straight win by more than three touchdowns since losing to Arizona in mid-season.

Helfrich is 24-3 in two seasons and his team's are 7-1 against ranked opponents, winning those games by an average of 22 points.

That carries a bit more weight in the Pac 12 than it does the Big Ten, since seven different teams from Oregon's conference cracked the Top 20 at some point this season.

Helfrich played quarterback at a NAIA Southern Oregon and intended to become an orthopedic surgeon, believing it was his only way to stay close to the sport.

Instead, he hooked on at Oregon as a graduate assistant when, Helfrich jokes, the assistant coaches voted 8-1 against him, but then-head coach Mike Bellotti had the last vote, "and it was worth 10 votes."

Helfrich would make himself the household name Meyer already is with a win over Ohio State.

Even though the Ducks are favored, the line is coming down by the minute, and it diminished a bit more Friday with news that wide receiver Darren Carrington won't play for Oregon because of a failed drug test.

Carrington had three touchdown catches in Oregon's last two games, and loomed large in the game plan given leading receiver Devon Allen's knee injury in the Rose Bowl that will keep him out Monday, too.

That removes two weapons from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and must be an emotional drain on the Ducks.

Helfrich will have to shepherd them through it and match wits with Meyer, who already has two national championship rings and could elevate himself onto the same plateau as Woody Hayes (1954, 1957, 1968) by winning a third.

Meyer made much of changing his all-consuming focus on winning when he took the Ohio State job in 2012.

He appeared true to that this week, answering questions with humor and appearing awfully loose, considering the stakes at hand.

Yet there are still signs of the old coaching paranoia in Meyer.

A sign in the OSU team meeting room reads, "What you say here, see here, stays here when you leave here."

And, Meyer can still be remarkably myopic on issues he makes his personal crusade, like he did when lecturing reporters to force the NCAA to pay the transportation costs of parents to the College Football Playoff games.

"You guys are allowed to write that, you know," Meyer jabbed.

The irony apparently never struck Meyer that, given his status in the sport, he could have a much greater likelihood of forcing change by saying he would donate his $400,000 post-season bonus to a fund to help pay those parents' travel costs.

Instead, Meyer put it on internet bloggers and their ilk, who annually make maybe one-tenth of his post-season bonus windfall.

Later, Meyer exulted when the NCAA announced a $1,250 payment per-parent to cover travel expenses to the national championship game.

Trouble is, travel pacakages from Columbus to Dallas with three nights hotel and game tickets are running twice that, or more.

So, there are still some rough edges that remain on Urban 2.0.

But he assuredly hasn't lost his touch on preparing teams to reach their peak when the games matter most, as Wisconsin and Alabama have already learned, and Oregon may be next to understand.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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