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Archie Griffin never made headlines like Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott has done

Nov 25, 2015 -- 8:00am

By Bruce Hooley |



COLUMBUS -- Two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin never made headlines like Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott did Saturday, but Griffin may have his legendary coach to thank for that.

Having played for the firey Woody Hayes, Griffin didn't get the chance to react emotionally to an OSU loss like Elliott did in blaming play-calling for the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State.

"One of the things Woody did, he would never let us talk to the media after games," Griffin said Tuesday on ESPN 850 WKNR. "He never would. The reason he would never let us talk to the media was because of situations like that.

"He knew that emotions would be running strong after games and you might say something you might regret. So he would wait until Monday or Tuesday to let us talk to the media. That's the reason he did that.

"When emotions kick in, you get those type of things. You have to be careful. Even though we may not have liked it at the time, Woody was quite wise. There would have been times after games where guys might have said something they would have regretted saying."

Griffin won the Heisman in both 1974 and 1975, served as an assistant athletic director at OSU and recently retired after serving as president of the Ohio State Alumni Association.

He, like Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, disagreed only with Elliott voicing his displeasure publicly, rather than the OSU tailback's opinions that he should have received more than 12 carries in the 17-14 loss to MSU.

"After the battle, guys get emotional," Griffin said. "Zeke really is an emotional person. I can understand how he felt the way that he felt. Should he have said it at the time? Probably not. I know not, actually. But he did. It was unfortunate that he said those things.

"Usually, when those types of things happen, you kind of make a divide somewhere within the team, especially when you criticize the coaches the way that he did. Unfortunately for him, he was a little emotional and could not control it at the time."

Griffin said Elliott's outburst brought back thoughts of Hayes.

"Every day, something comes up that reminds me of Woody," Griffin said. "When I heard that interview with Ezekiel, I thought about coach Hayes and said, 'Yeah, he was a very wise man.'

"But Ezekiel is a great young man...a really great competitor and he was just emotional. I can understand why. He was right on several of those comments. We gave him the ball 12 times. I was expecting us to really let him control the game with his running. It kind of surprised a lot of people, not just Zeke."

Hayes was so distrusting of the media that he would often limit his players comments even on his own coach's show.

"He would pose the question and answer the question all at the same time," Griffin said. "We used to get a kick out of that. (We) used to have a lot of fun with that. (There were) a lot of, 'Yes, sirs.' "

OSU (10-1) dropped from third to eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings entering its noon Saturday kickoff at Michigan (9-2), which is No. 10.



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.”

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Ezekiel Elliott sounds off following Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State

Nov 21, 2015 -- 9:38pm

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/USA Today - Geoff Burke 

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ezekiel Elliott had much more success running over the Ohio State coaching staff Saturday than he did running over Michigan State's defense.

Elliott exploded in frustration after OSU's 17-14 loss to the Spartans after getting just two of his 12 carries in the second half of a game that saw his Heisman Trophy hopes and likely the Buckeyes' national championship hopes evaporate.

“What happened today was kind of a bad dream," Elliott said. "I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the play calling and the situation we were put in. I wish it had all played out differently."

Elliott revealed afterward that he spent Monday-Wednesday in the hospital, nursing an infection in his right shin. He played with a pad covering the injury, but pronounced himself fully healthy for the game.

As for the game plan, Elliott felt otherwise.

"I think I do deserve more than (12) carries," he said. "I think I really do. Honestly I can't speak for the play-calling. I don't know what was going on. I don't know what they were seeing. Obviously it didn't work out. It wasn't working.

"...I go into every game planning to dominate. That hurts so bad. I honestly don't know how to react right now. My grandpa was here from overseas. My grandpa lives in Finland. He came to this game and it hurt he has to see me go out like this. I just wish I was given an opportunity to do more."

OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett received three more carries than Elliott, who led the nation with a streak of 15 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances.

Elliott gained only 33 yards against MSU, with Barrett getting 44 on 15 carries.

“I was lobbying coach Meyer the whole game," Elliott said of his desire for more carries. "I heard no explanation.”

Likewise, Meyer had little explanation. Asked if he was content with the play-calling, he said, "No, I was not content....I call a lot of the plays. So the finger will be pointed right here. And I have to do better."

Elliott's harsh criticism is beyond anything an Ohio State player has voiced toward the coaching staff since Troy Smith expressed frustration with not starting at quarterback early in the 2004 season.
 Smith's comments then came no where close to Elliott's in explosiveness, however, raising the prospect of an interesting weekend for the Buckeyes.

Short of an apology from Elliott, it is dificult to envision how Meyer can start him, or perhaps even play him, next week against Michigan.

“One drive when we had momentum after the strip sack," Elliott said. "We ran a lot of power-gap scheme and were gashing them. Honestly, we didn’t see those plays at all for the rest of the game. Those plays weren’t called anymore.
 "I asked for those plays to be called and they weren’t and…it hurts. It hurts a lot, just because of how we lost. I felt like we just weren’t put in the right situations to win the game.

"I don’t think Michigan State was better than us. They weren’t, but we didn’t execute."

Elliott said he addressed his teammates afterward to refocuse them on the trip to Ann Arbor.

"I told them we’re bigger than this loss," Elliott said. "If this is the worst thing that’s happen to us, we’ve had some great lives. I told them we’re a family; we go play for each other. We don’t have that much time left together. We have to cherish the moments we have together and we’ve got to go out and compete the rest of the season, no matter what bowl game we play in. It doesn’t matter. We have to go out and finish strong.”


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.”

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The signs were there, loud and clear, ignoring them cost Ohio State

Nov 21, 2015 -- 9:10pm

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/USA Today - Geoff Burke 

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was right there in front of us all season, screaming to be noticed, but continually ignored.

The memories of what Ohio State was last season in winning the College Football Playoff conned us into believing the Buckeyes would eventually get back to that this year.

Whenever they wanted.

Whenever they became interested enough.

Week-after-week, the evidence said otherwise, but the images of what Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa did in January always trumped what we saw with our eyes.

Until Saturday.

Until Michigan State's Michael Geiger sent a 41-yard field goal through the uprights in the north end zone of Ohio Stadium to hand the Spartans a 17-14 victory over unbeaten and third-ranked OSU.

Right then, the clock, figuratively and literally, struck zero on the Buckeyes.

It was as if all the warning signs that flailed and jumped and shrieked in a futile attempt to get the attention of those expecting OSU to flip the switch and dominate suddenly silenced a record crowd of 108,975 by saying, Can you hear me now?

Loud and clear.

Michigan State (10-1), despite playing its second and third quarterbacks with senior Connor Cook sidelined, more than doubled OSU both rushing and passing and dominated the Buckeyes up front on both lines.

That's how the Spartans, 14-point underdogs, shook off turnovers at their 32-yard line and their 6-yard line that handed Ohio State easy touchdowns to end OSU's 23-game winning streak.

The loss is head coach Urban Meyer's first in a Big Ten Conference game in his fourth season in Columbus. Meyer's only other loss to a league opponent came in similarly stunning fashion to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten championship game, when Cook threw for 358 yards and three scores in a 34-24 win.

OSU expected Cook to play Saturday in the intermittently miserable conditions, but Cook only soft-tossed in pre-game warmups with a right shoulder he hurt last week in the first half of a win over Maryland.

Backup Tyler O'Connor and third-teamer Damion Terry -- a tandem that until last week had thrown two passes all season -- played well enough to direct Michigan State to its fifth win over an OSU team ranked in the Top 4 in program history and its first consecutive wins in Ohio Stadium in six decades.

The Spartans bullied their way to 224 rushing yards to OSU's 86, and even with two inexperienced backups, passed for 91 yards to the Buckeyes' 46.

Don't blink.

The numbers are correct.

Mighty Ohio State, with a quarterback rotation every team in the nation envies, with an abundance of playmakers ranging from Elliott to Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Curtis Samuel, managed all of 132 yards total offense.

"We sat around all day and listened to how we were underdogs," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think that motivates people. This is the first game all season long we could take the role of underdog, hunting that other football team. We came in with something to prove. When you do that, you have a chip on your shoulder and you play a little better."

Dantonio, the defensive coordinator on Jim Tressel's 2002 national championship staff at OSU, relied on a defense weakened by injury and a running game that had underperformed all season.

The Spartans back seven on defense held up, chiefly because its line applied constant pressure, and because OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett was awful.

Barrett, making his third start since taking over for Jones, completed just 9-of-16 attempts for 46 yards.

Michigan State's dominance up front held Elliott to just 33 yards on his 12 rushes, aborting his streak of 15 consecutive 100-plus rushing performances.

Elliott entered averaging 161.7 yards per-game, but Ohio State barely managed half that, getting 86 on the ground, with Barrett gaining 44 on 15 attempts.

That's right, Barrett carried three more times than Elliott, OSU's College Football Playoff hero and Heisman Trophy candidate.

And if you think that frustrates you, give a listen to the payload Elliott dropped on Meyer and the coaching staff afterward:

$ ”The coaching staff did not put us in position to win the game. The play-calling was not what it should have been. That's a team we should not have lost to. I believe I should have touched the ball more."

$   "All season, our bread and butter has been power-gap. The only series we ran power-gap was on the series after the strip sack and we scored....If we would have   gone back to our bread and butter. If we would have run power -- I think I got 2 carries in the second half -- the only time we ran it, we scored. We didn't see it after that drive."

$  "I spoke up a little during the game (to get more carries)....Sometimes, a coaching staff gets lost in a game."

Elliott's comments were surely born of frustration, and will likely bring an apology from him soon, but the tenor suggests this hasn't been a sunshine-and-balloons locker room devoid of individual agendas.

Jones Tweeted afterward that he will not be returning to school next season for his senior year, and Elliott flatly stated this was the last home game of his career.

So, at the point in the year where the Buckeyes hoped to be peaking for a victory at Michigan (8-3) against their rejuvenated rival, it feels like OSU is unraveling at an accelerated pace now that its national championship dreams are on life support.

There is no telling how far the Buckeyes will drop in the College Football Playoff rankings. They entered No. 3, but even Playoff spokesman Jeff Long admitted last week that ranking has been rooted more in what voters believed OSU capable of than what it had produced.

Now, with the loss exposing Ohio State as less than expected, and its lack of a quality win more impressive than Penn State (7-4), Virginia Tech (5-6) or Northern Illinois (8-3), it's hard to justify the Buckeyes as a Top 10 team any longer.

Michigan State controls the Big Ten East. If it defeats Penn State in East Lansing, the Spartans advance to Indianapolis to play Iowa (11-0).

The winner of that game will surely represent the Big Ten in the playoff.

The Buckeyes have to hope Clemson, Alabama and many others stumble to open a back door for them to get into the Playoff.

Short of that, the silver lining for OSU is that the Rose Bowl may choose whatever replacement Big Ten team it desires as a substitute for the champion that advances to the Playoff.

But even the consolation prize of a trip to Pasadea is a poor substitute for what Ohio State envisioned as its destiny this season.

But it's not like we lacked advance warning of the trouble ahead.


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

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Michigan State isn't the same force it was a year ago

Nov 21, 2015 -- 7:30am

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/AP-Gene J. Puskar

COLUMBUS -- A unexpected performance against Ohio State vaulted Connor Cook into the spotlight.

Should he have another up his sleeve Saturday in Ohio Stadium, it could take him places few anticipate now.

Cook, the Michigan State senior quarterback from Walsh Jesuit, may not be the Spartans' (9-1) only hope for an upset of third-ranked and unbeaten OSU (10-0), but he is most assuredly MSU's best bet for success against the Buckeyes.

As a little-known sophomore in 2013, Cook threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 upset of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game, denying OSU a trip to the BCS title game.

Almost two calendar years later, that remains the only loss Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has suffered to a conference opponent.

What Cook did that night in Indianapolis would vanish next to the magnitude of knocking off OSU in Columbus on Senior Day, likely eliminating the defending national champions from the race to reclaim their title.

MSU would also revive its own hopes for winning both the Big Ten and College Football Playoff championship if it defeats Ohio State, because the Spartans would have head-to-head victories over both the Buckeyes and Michigan and hence have the inside lane to the Big Ten East championship.

Michigan State, of course, would have to win its final game next week at Penn State and defeat Iowa in the Big Ten title game to get into the College Football Playoff, but winning in Columbus is by far the tougher task.

OSU has slumbered through 10 games, winning all of them, but rarely looking as impressive as expected when it rolled through the playoff last year with a roster that mostly returned intact.

Michigan State isn't the same force it was a year ago, as its uncomfortably close calls against Purdue and Rutgers suggest.

But Cook gives MSU a puncher's chance against an Ohio State secondary that has, at times, looked vulnerable.

That's assuming Cook can punch at all with a right shoulder that forced him to the sideline last week against Maryland.

Cook completed only 6-of-20 throws in that victory and did not play in the second half.

Michigan State has closely guarded his condition all week.

There won't be anyplace to hide in the Horseshoe, however.

Not with more than 100,000 Ohio State partisans in full Roman Coliseum mode given the stakes of the outcome and that it's not only Senior Day, but also pseudo-Senior Day for junior-draft eligibles like Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Vonn Bell, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Cardale Jones, Eli Apple and Pat Elflein.

Cook, who's 32-4 as a starter, would elevate himself to legendary status in Michigan State if he conjures a way to spoil the party in the state where he was born and raised.



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

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Ignoring the Spartans' problems is not easy

Nov 20, 2015 -- 7:00am

By Bruce Hooley |



COLUMBUS -- An Ohio State fan frustrated by the Buckeyes' failure to play like defending national champions should feel some kinship with their Michigan State counterparts when the Spartans enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday.

As halting as OSU's advance to 10-0 has been, at least the zero has survived on the right side of its record.

Michigan State is fortunate to have only one defeat on its 9-1 resume, given its failure to run the football as it prefers and play defense as it aspires amid an assortment of injuries that seemed to be diminishing until the worst possible scenario arose last week.

That's when senior quarterback Connor Cook (Walsh Jesuit) went down hard on his right shoulder on the second snap of the second series he played.

Cook briefly tried to play through the pain, but sat out the second half of a victory over Maryland.

Cook dismissed the injury afterward and has been resolute in his promise to play against OSU and be unaffected by the injury, which he and MSU coach Mark Dantonio refuse to discuss.

Ignoring the Spartans' other problems is not as easy.

They've lost three offensive line starters intermittently during the season. Maybe that's why the running game -- a typical Michigan State staple -- has underperformed and gone through three backs until settling on sophomore Gerald Holmes.

That's why if MSU is to pull the upset against Ohio State, it will almost certainly have to hinge on Cook having a big day throwing the ball.

Banking on such success seems an iffy proposition, not just because of Cook's shoulder, but because the offensive line allowed Maryland to put continual pressure on the pocket last week.

No one has or will confuse the toothless Terps defense for the heat Cook and MSU are likely to see from Joey Bosa and the Buckeyes.

If Cook can't go, or can't survive OSU's pass rush, it would fall to junior Tyler O'Connor to replace him.

O'Connor hadn't thrown a pass all season until head coach Mark Dantonio surprisingly inserted him on the game's second series last week, shortly before Cook's injury.

Dantonio told no one of the impending move, apparently to simulate the surprise circumstances that would force O'Connor's insertion should Cook get injured.

Minutes later, that very scenario arose and O'Connor relieved Cook when he went off with his right shoulder damaged and drooping.

Cook played the remainder of the first half, but went just 6-of-20 for 77 yards.

O’Connor completed 6-of-11 attempts for 44 yards and one TD.

If Michigan State's passing game produces comparable numbers on Saturday, the Spartans will get embarrassed and OSU will have its first win over a ranked opponent this season.



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

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Ohio State, officially, begins to prepare for Michigan State

Nov 14, 2015 -- 5:20pm

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/AP - Bradley Leeb

COLUMBUS -- So now, at long last, it's Michigan State week.

Whatever that means.

The much-anticipated, winner-take-all game everyone thought would match unbeaten Ohio State against unbeaten Michigan State in a Top 5 showdown for all the marbles in the Big Ten East actually won't fulfill much of that advance billing when it transpires Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes have held up their end of the bargain, reaching 10-0 overall Saturday with yet another short-of-expectations performance in a 28-3 victory at Illinois.

But MSU (8-1) isn't undefeated, having lost at Nebraska last week, and hence won't be even in the Top 10 when kickoff arrives.

Michigan's resurgence precludes handing a berth in the Big Ten title game to the MSU-OSU winner, because the Wolverines remain a factor in the race.

Michigan State may enter Ohio Stadium without a fully healthy Connor Cook, after the MSU quarterback from Hinckley and Walsh Jesuit, fell hard on his right shoulder Saturday in a win over Maryland.

Cook didn't play in the second half of MSU's 24-7 win over Rutgers, although he said he could have and promised to play against OSU.

His words sounded more optimistic than his shoulder appeared when Cook tried to play through the injury in the second quarter.

Ohio State is somewhat gimpy, too, not on the injury report, but in relation to performing like its fans desire.

Scoring four touchdowns against the lowly Illini, one of which traced to a fumbled punt at the 10-yard line that didn't require much offensive excellence, again left the performance far shy of the billing on the marquee.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett was OK in his return from a one-game suspension for impaired driving. He rushed for 74 yards and passed for another 150, getting more pressure in the pocket than Urban Meyer would like to see.

But neither Barrett, nor the Ohio State offense, was the efficient, unstoppable force it looked like three weeks ago when Barrett made his first start of the season in a 49-7 win at Rutgers.

Barrett lost a fumble inside his 35 and threw an interception inside the Illinois 20.

Tailback Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 181 yards and two scores to become the third-leading rusher in OSU history behind Archie Griffin and Eddie George.

But the explosiveness expected of OSU rarely arose, as evidenced by Barrett's 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas being its longest play from scrimmage all afternoon.

The Buckeyes aren't, so far, who fans thought they would be.

Michigan State isn't, either, but it will pose the toughest test for OSU to date.

Whatever that means.


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

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




Everything the Buckeyes want is still dead of ahead of them and still 100 percent in their control

Nov 14, 2015 -- 8:17am

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/Getty-Andrew Webber

COLUMBUS -- It seems incongruous to be out of synch, yet still on schedule, but that's where Ohio State finds itself as it approaches a noon Saturday kickoff at Illinois.

The Buckeyes (9-0) haven't been as impressive as expected over any three-week stretch this season as they were over the three-game stretch that led them to the first College Football Playoff championship last season.

OSU has withstood suspensions of star players like Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall and J.T. Barrett, a quarterback switch from Cardale Jones to Barrett, Barrett back to Jones and now back to Barrett again, and none of the team's array of Heisman Trophy candidates are leading that conversation with only four games left before ballots are cast.

The unanimous No. 1 ranking Ohio State owned in The Associated Press poll -- a first for any team ever -- has since been taken away and handed to Clemson, which also leads the College Football Playoff Committee rankings.

OSU isn't even second in that poll, trailing Alabama, which it defeated last year in the Playoff, and which has already lost once. Nevertheless, 'Bama leads the unbeaten Buckeyes, who are No. 3 at present and likely won't move up if Clemson or the Crimson Tide don't lose from here on out.

All of those circumstances contradict the expectations that accompanied Ohio State into the season, yet none of them mean Urban Meyer's team is compromised in its bid to win the first consecutive national championships in school history.

Everything the Buckeyes want is still dead of ahead of them and still 100 percent in their control as they prepare to kick off against the Illini (5-4).

Barrett is back from his one-game suspension for impaired driving, hoping to pick up where he left off, having directed OSU as sharply as it's looked all season in a 49-7 win at Rutgers three weeks ago.

Tailback Ezekiel Elliott figures to benefit from Barrett's additional running threat in the backfield, which could vault Elliott to the forefront of a Heisman Trophy conversation that is wide open.

Elliott has the foundation for a solid campaign with 14 straight 100-yard games, but he's been as spectacular as he was throughout the 2014 post-season only once this year, when he gained 274 yards and scored three touchdowns at Indiana.

The split-national broadcast on ESPN-ABC affords Elliott a big stage on which to make a Heisman impression against an Illinois defense that is 34th nationally against the run.

Ohio State is 32nd in that category, and will have to contend with two Illini rushers who went over 100 yards last week in an easy win at Purdue.

Weird things often happen to OSU at Illinois, but usually because the weather intrudes and turns Memorial Stadium into a wind tunnel that permits passing only when the gale is at the rear.

No such challenge seems likely today, with the forecast calling for temperatures in the 60s and calm conditions.

Maybe that means the figurative winds of championship dreams have finally begun to gather beneath the Buckeyes' wings.

Such timing would be ideal for a team that has yet to face a Top 25 opponent, but after dispatching Illinois will do so in every game that remains, starting next week with Michigan State (8-1), then Michigan (7-2) and, if victorious in those games, Iowa (9-0) in the Big Ten championship game.



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

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz




So now J.T. Barrett has a choice

Nov 11, 2015 -- 8:00am

By Bruce Hooley |


Photo/Fox 28 Columbus

COLUMBUS -- On the weekend before I began hosting for ESPN Cleveland just over four years ago, I was honored and deeply saddened to speak at a memorial service for a man I knew as a friend and mentor for more than 40 years.

Almost 400 people packed into the church in my hometown to pay tribute to Pastor Howard, who baptised me, married me to my wife, married my two brothers to their wives and shepherded my family through several difficult periods during the decades we had the privilege to know him.

Pastor Howard died in his mid-70s, still sharp, vibrant, active and leading a congregation with his unique blend of wisdom, humilty, humor, grace and strength.

He had no inclination to retire from a vocation he had made his joyous life's work, until his life ended suddenly one fall afternoon when an impaired driver, a high school quarterback who got high after practice, veered left of center and crashed head-on into the car in which Pastor Howard was driving, with his wife by his side.

When someone you love dies at the hand of a drunk or impaired driver, you never look at that circumstance the same way again.

You don't excuse it as kids being kids, as someone have just one beer too many, or as someone catching a bad break trying to unwind or relax after a tough day.

When someone you love dies because of a drunk or impaired driver, you are forever changed by the senseless loss of a life snuffed out prematurely. You ache for those closest to them who are devastated by searing grief and overwhelming loss amid an act that is as needless, senseless and indefensible as it is selfish and 100 percent preventable.

That's why I wanted to wretch Tuesday when I read the words of attorney Phillip Templeton, who represented Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in his impaired driving case in Columbus Municipal Court.

Barrett served a one-game suspension from OSU head coach Urban Meyer last week. Meyer has said he may also suspend Barrett's athletic scholarship for summer semester, although Meyer allows that Barrett's behavior may mitigate or eliminate that penalty in a way the coach has declined to specify.

At issue here is not Meyer's suspension and the propriety or impropriety of it.

Nor is the issue Barrett's behavior that resulted in his arrest. He did not dispute that he drove impaired, or that his blood alcohol at the time police stopped him registered .099, in excess of both the adult limit (.08) and underage limit (.02) in Ohio.

Templeton's excuse-making for Barrett, however, and the attitude it reflects toward the severity of the OSU quarterback's actions, were reprehensible.

Templeton contended that Barrett drove impaired to safely drive home a friend who arrived at Barrett's home that night more intoxicated than Barrett. Such a decision, Templeton said, demonstrated the leadership skills that resulted in Barrett being selected one of OSU's team captains.

Noting that the arrest came on Halloween, Templeton praised Barrett, because he "wasn't out doing the things that so many other college kids around the country were doing."

As if egging cars, toilet-papering trees or whatever other "reveling" Templeton lauded Barrett for skipping could have endangered more people than his client driving drunk, or Barrett's danger to himself that night.

Templeton contended to the judge of the case that Barrett's blood-alcohol content only slightly exceeded the Ohio legal limit for adult intoxication.

In fact, Barrett's .099 is just short of 25% above the Ohio adult limit of .08.

Barrett, though, is not an adult. He is 20 years old. So his blood-alcohol level of .099 is nearly five times the Ohio legal limit for a minor.

Finally, Templeton noted that Barrett suffered the indignity of having his photograph splashed across news coverage of his court appearance.

"He's paying the ultimate price," Templeton said.

That characterizaton is ridiculous, tone-deaf and abhorrent any day, but specifically today, of all days, given that it is Veteran's Day.

Mr. Templeton should ponder what, "the ultimate sacrifice," might mean to active-duty, honorably-discharged, reserve or National Guard personnel serving our country domestically or abroad.

If he remains unclear on his bastardization of, "the ultimate sacrifice," Mr. Templeton would do well to attend a Veteran's Day parade and weigh the tears of Gold Star mothers, fathers, spouses or children who have lost a son, daughter, father or mother in action defending Mr. Templeton's freedom to spout such stupidity and get paid for it.

Barrett sat out one game for his behavior. He was allowed to attend that game, viewing it from the coach's booth in Ohio Stadium, wearing a headset to stay abreast of the action. Meyer has said Barrett is likely to resume his role as Ohio State's starting quarterback Saturday at Illinois.

Whatever the cumulative toll of Barrett's penalty, it is galaxies shy of, "the ultimate price," in everyone's world but attorney Phillip Templeton's.

When Pastor Howard died from the careless actions of an impaired driver just over four years ago, the judge in that case sentenced the high school quarterback at fault to a portion of his community service at the church left without a leader in the pulpit. He was received there with love and forgiveness, which I know helped those grieving parishoners heal, as I hope it did the young man to realize that he could find hope and understanding where Pastor Howard had so eloquently preached it.

So now J.T. Barrett has a choice.

He can vanish back into the protective cocoon Ohio State will craft around him, one where he'll answer, "football questions only, please," and operate like beating Michigan State, Michigan and whoever comes after that has some significant impact on the world.

Or, Barrett can show some of the character and leadership Meyer has lauded him for and give voice to how fortunate he was not to harm himself or others with a careless decision that could have forever changed, or ended, his life or other innocent lives.

Barrett can stress to others his age and those he has influence over -- as if the breadth of that impact as OSU's quarterback could even be measured -- about the dangers of impaired driving.

It won't eliminate the problem.

It might make only a tiny impression.

But wouldn't Barrett coming forward with genuine transparency and eloquence be worth it if he altered the actions of just one person?

Had someone done so four years ago, had someone like Barrett gotten through to that high school quarterback before he got behind the wheel that day, before he crashed into and killed Pastor Howard, I can't calculate how many lives it would have changed.



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

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