Wasted Season

So much for the 24 game winning streak. The past two losses was all the ammo needed for the Buckeyes haters.

"You guys played nothing but cupcakes"

"OSU stands for Overrated State University"

"The Big Ten sucks"

"Urban Meyer is going to have another health crisis and retire, you watch"

"FSU would of destroyed you in the National Championship game"

Yeah, yeah we get it. Maybe the haters were right. I'm a big Buckeyes fan and I knew when to put down the Kool-Aid and take off the rose colored glasses. Ohio State was a unsound team, there I said it. I thought they were going all the way to the beginning of the streak. I was at the Cal game back in September of 2012 and Ohio State won despite giving up over 500 yards of total offense. The 2nd half was a disaster and a long bomb from Miller sealed the win late in the 4th. It was as ugly as a win as you can get. The won several tight games against Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan. Some how, some way, they found ways to win. A lot that was from new head coach Urban Meyer. He coached a team that didn't have a chance to play for a championship because of NCAA infractions. Every game he was able to keep them focused. They finished the season undefeated and it was miraculous considering the year before Tressel had resigned, disgraced star quarterback Terrelle Pryor bolted for the NFL, and sanctions and player suspensions crippled the Buckeyes to a 6-7 season. With much of the team intact, Buckeye nation was thinking of a shot at a national championship the following year. 

Looking at the schedule, I thought they had a chance to undefeated again. The only real threats were Wisconsin and Michigan, who always played the Buckeyes tough. Just like every other elite teams in division I, they had several cupcakes on the menu. The first three cupcakes were dispatched fairly easily. Then chinks in the armor started to appear when they played Cal. The Golden Bears are the Bad News Bears of the PAC-12. Even without starting QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes would be able to fend off them off. They certainly did that in the 1st half as the explosive offense scored three touchdowns. Then Cal started to chip away at the lead and the secondary got caught with their pants down. There wasn't any sign of pass rushing from the front four or blitzing. I watched and couldn't believe how many 3rd down conversions they were giving up. The only thing that kept the Buckeyes from losing was Cal's defense - it even worse than Ohio State's. The Buckeyes running backs blew through holes and scored without resistance. The final score was 52-34 and the Buckeyes put up over 600 yards of total offense. However, they gave up over 500 yards just like the year before. Buckeye nation wasn't too worried, they figured the coaching staff would fix the problem before they played their conference or we hoped.

It seemed game after game, the secondary got man handled and beaten. Wisconsin passed for nearly 300 yards. Northwestern almost pulled off an upset as they torched them for 343 yards through the air. I cursed and watched in disgust. The eggheads of Evanston usually get stomped.

"We do have a pass defense, right?"

"What the hell is Roby doing?"

"Is Fickle even awake? What's with the soft coverage? Assholes"

I wanted to fire a brick through the TV set. At one point I turned the game off. I couldn't stand it anymore, the suspense was killing me. I took a deep breath and turned on the TV. The Buckeyes scored and were down by seven. Running back Carlos Hyde was a wrecking ball in the second half. He smashed the Wildcats defense and wore them down. They took the lead in the late 4th quarter and a Northwestern fumble in the end zone at the end of regulation secured the win. They gave up 30 points and lived to fight for another week. 

The boiling point for me was the Iowa game. Iowa is a middle of the road team in the Big Ten. They were always good for 7 to 8 wins a year. Once in a while, they would catch a better team with their pants down. Today it was the Buckeyes turn. The Hawkeyes dominated them in the first half. They marched down field and the defense couldn't stop them. 

"Here we go again, same shit different week"

I could hear the scattering of boos from the stands. The fans were getting restless and pissed. At the end of the 2nd quarter they were trailing 17-10. I hoped Meyer would rip them new assholes. Whatever was said in the locker room, seem to work, because they came out in the second half as a different team. They ran the ball with a sense of purpose and the defense made a key interception late in the 4th quarter. They squeaked out a win. It seemed they turned the corner when they hammered Penn State 63-14 and Purdue 56-0, in both games the defense played well. A lot of happy faces throughout Ohio or we thought. Then the gremlin reappeared during the Illinois and Indiana games. 

"C'mon, it's Illinios! A high school team could beat these clowns!"

They gave up over 30 points to one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. I was at the point that the coaching staff had no answer for the pass defense. I guess their philosophy was score fast and score often. Last year, Indiana almost gave the Buckeyes a heart attack as they almost pulled off the upset in the late 4th quarter. Indiana played the spread and they had one of the most explosive offenses. They also have one of the worst defenses in the nation. But the Hoosiers took advantage of the shaky Ohio State secondary. They moved the ball with relative ease. Being down by 28 points, the Hoosiers had no choice but to go for it on 4th down. Ohio State gave them plenty of chances and they couldn't convert. The final score made look like Ohio State stomped them, but had they converted on those 4th downs, who knew. Most of fans didn't give a shit, because scUM was next and the perfect season was on the line. 

Ohio State has owned scUM for the last 12 years as they won 11 games against them. Michigan this year has been awful. They almost lost to the pathetic Akron Zips and UConn. How pathetic were the Zips? They won 3 games in 3 years. The Appalachian State loss was still fresh in Michigan fans memory. Akron had them on the ropes with seconds left and couldn't score. I taped the game on the DVR and went fishing because I knew I would never be able to watch it. I would have a meltdown if they lost. I would periodically check the score as I fished. The game was tight in the 1st quarter and then the Buckeyes took the lead. On the way home, I listened on the radio and my frustration started to mount. The pass defense wasn't able to contain Michigan's QB Devin Gardner, who this past season has taken more hits than a tackling dummy. A couple weeks ago, Michigan State made his life a living hell as they pummeled him all game long. Little brother kicked the living shit out of big brother that day. The game when back and forth, just like any rivalry should. I arrived home and turned on the TV and the Wolverines fought back and tied the game with 30 seconds left. I sat at the edge of the couch, choking the remote and broke into a sweat. Michigan was going for the win. No tying the game or going to overtime. Michigan coach Brady Hoke rolled the dice and went for the 2 point conversion. 

"Fat bastard has balls to go for it, he'll regret it"

Buckeye fans across the nation held their breath. The entire season was on the line as was the chance of going to a national championship. I watched Gardner threaded a pass right into the chest Ohio State's Tyvis Powell - my heart stopped. Powell was tackled and the entire stadium fell silent. I watched thousands of Michigan fans with their mouths wide open. Michigan did the on-side kick and Ohio State recovered. The Buckeyes ran out the clock and the final score was 42-41. It wasn't pretty and the stat sheet told the story 

1st downs - 31
3rd down efficiency - 8 of 14
Passing yards - 451 
Rushing - 152
Total yards - 603

Pathetic, not what you want going into the Big Ten championship. They ended the regular season undefeated. They almost lost to a bad Michigan team. If Ohio State was a cat, they used up the last of their nine lives. 

Then they got hit by a truck called the Michigan State Spartans. They had the number one ranked defense in the nation and Ohio State had one of the top offenses. It was dubbed the unstoppable force against the immovable object. Something had to give. Ohio State's offense was based on Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. All Sparty had to do was put the defenders in the box and dare them to run. The Buckeyes stumbled and when it looked it all was lost, they  overcame a 17 point deficit. 

"Meyer is getting out coached"

" Why the hell aren't they running Hyde? This shit is getting old"

In the second half they were leading, but that porous pass defense couldn't stop them. Ohio State's defense made Michigan State's QB Conner Cook look like Peyton Manning. Cook wasn't even projected to be the starting QB at the start of the season. As a high school player, he was a 2 star recruit and his home state Buckeyes wouldn't dare waste a scholarship on such a lowly ranked player. Once Sparty shut them down offensively, their chance for a national championship started to fade. In the fourth quarter, I watched Hyde standing on the sideline. His expression mirrored mine - frustration. I felt disgusted because they had all season to fix the pass defense. They had true freshmen, Vonn Bell a 5 star safety, who saw limited action all season. He was the prized recruit that the Buckeyes wanted. At least, they could of shaken up the defense and sent a message - If you can't get the job done, somebody else is going to do it. Too little too late. They couldn't convert on 4th down and Sparty put the dagger in their heart. Miller got stuffed as he couldn't get two measly yards. Hyde was on the sideline. The 24 game winning streak was over. I was actually glad they lost, because they weren't a championship team. Ohio State had to lick their wounds and wait for the rankings. Most likely they would get a decent bowl game and that something Buckeye fans didn't want to hear. 

As expected they dropped in the rankings and settled for the Orange Bowl against Clemson. It was two offensive powered teams that had high hopes in the beginning of the season and both had disappointing finishes. Ohio State was missing a couple of key players in Spence and Roby. It was a sloppy game and it could of went either way. 

"Seriously? They had a month to prepare"

"Tressel would never put up with this bullshit"

Both teams made mental errors and they slugged it out. It went back and forth, like two fighters trading blows. But in the end, the knockout punch was Miller throwing an interception late in the 4th quarter right after the Buckeyes picked off Clemson's quarterback. That sealed their fate and they fell short and lost by 5 points. The box score showed why the Buckeyes lost - 576 yards of total offense and 376 of it was through the air. Unlike the last game, Urban Meyer wasn't seen sitting on a golf cart stunned and eating cold pizza.

Ohio State's 24 game winning streak has lost a lot of its luster. What did the winning streak accomplish? Nothing, because they have nothing to show for it. Braxton Miller has been voted the Big Ten offensive player of the year twice. But he has no Big Ten championship or bowl win. He's coming back for his senior season to prove that he can be a winner. That might be a tall order as the Buckeyes are losing 4 members of their stellar offensive line. Stud running back and team MVP Carlos Hyde will be gone. On defense, they lost their best player in Ryan Shazier who was a beast for the past two seasons. Also gone are shitty safeties Corey (Pitt the Pylon) Brown and CJ Barnett. Both were practically useless all season long. All American cornerback Bradley Roby is also leaving for the NFL and his draft stock dropped like a rock as he struggled all season long. Defensive end coach Mike Vrabel left for a job in the NFL. He did a great job with the front four and they stuffed the run in a lot of games, plus he was voted the best recruiter in the nation. That leaves defensive coordinator and team numb nuts Luke Fickell. Why he hasn't been fired yet is beyond me.

I hope for the love of god that Fickell is fired and fired soon. For the past two years, I've watched this dolt stand on the sideline chewing his cud playing soft zone coverage and not blitzing enough. He's without a doubt the Achille's heel of the Buckeyes. They have the talent, but if you can't coach the basics, then it's a waste. Urban Meyer has to fix the defense and that means going after the best coaches that are available or Ohio State will suffer another lost season. 

Ohio State is going into the 2014 season on a two game losing streak. The Big Ten has shuffled the divisions again and Ohio State is in the same division as Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State. If they lose out in their division, a lot of people are going to start questioning Urban Meyer. There was a lot of hype when he got hired and many thought the Buckeyes would be bound for a National Title in the near future. He's considered one of the best recruiters in the nation and Ohio State has the second best recruiting class for the upcoming season. This will be his third season and many are expecting him to lead them to a National Championship soon- we'll see.

The Urge

The weather honks weren't joking around. I thought they were messing with me. Last month, they called for a colder than usual December here on the Alley. I scoffed and called bullshit. In past years, they never got it right. The last couple of years, we were spoiled with warm winters. There was never the thought of having to wait weeks for a thaw. But, the cold snap did arrive and streams started to lock up in ice. They were extremely low and their feeble flows would easily fall victim to old man winter's deadly grip. A sense of gloom fell upon my fellow steelheaders.

I managed to get out the week before. I struggled on one stream and found redemption on another. I took full advantage of the day. I was on the water at first light and I was driving home in the dark. Because who knew how long the streams would be locked up. The window was closing quickly. Monday morning as I take the trash out, I look down at the Rock and see side ice and slush. The inevitable was going to happen.

The weekend finally arrives and the Rock is locked up tight. Driving along the metro park and there are narrow channels of open water. The entire drive through, there are little pockets of water. It's not even enough to get off a meaningful drift. My gut tells me that the Grand might be fishable, but that's a big but. I arrive home, kick back and watch a movie. I get up to go to the freezer for dinner. Looking inside for the burgers, there's the eggs. I stare at them and I'm tempted to pull a pack out and thaw it. The freezer is loaded with eggs as I splurged this season. Suddenly, there's an urge to pull a pack out. I resist and instead grab the burgers. Through out the night I have this nagging feeling. The urge is driving me crazy.

Saturday is devoted to Christmas shopping as the Grand is still too high to fish. Through out the day I check the flow data. It's coming down nicely. The mall is a zoo and I go from store to store. I weave around a mass of humanity. I dodge small children and inattentive shoppers. Eventually everything is checked off the list and I can relax. I seek refuge in the liquor store and I go through the massive selection of Christmas beers and ales - it's a beer snob's paradise. On the way home, I thought to myself "why didn't I drive out to Lake County and go shopping?" I could of stopped by the Grand right? I never really though of it. I guess it's because I loath shopping and I wanted to stay close to home, in case I had a meltdown in Macy's or something. The urge is really getting to me.

Sunday morning and the windows rattle from the wind. I peek outside and there are some flakes starting to fall. The sky is gray and dull. The temperature outside is 22F. Not my favorite fishing weather. Lying in bed, the urge starts. Get up, roll the dice and go. What's there to lose? Scenarios play out in my head. Drop a lot of money for gas, drive 60 miles, only to see the Grand choked in slush and side ice. But, it might be opened below the dam. Open water all the way downstream. There isn't a soul on the water and the fish are in a playful mood. I hate fighting the urge. Happens every year, especially in the winter. In past years, I driven out only to see a sliver of open water and nothing else. Other times, I thought the stream would be iced over only to find it wide open. The urge starts to go away as I look at the weather forecast for next week. There is a warming trend right before Christmas and that will free the rivers of ice.

That's enough for me to go back to sleep, the urge is finally gone.