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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Buckeye Leaves - Gator Bowl Edition
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

OSU Florida1Ohio State and Florida meet on Monday in the Gator Bowl, (1 p.m., ESPN2) in what will be just the second game ever between the two programs. You may remember the first meeting, just five years ago, on a much larger stage. Memories of that night still sting for Buckeye fans, but their pain is eased these days knowing that the coach who trounced them 41-14 in the 2007 BCS title game will be plying his trade in Columbus from this day forward.  

The Buckeyes and the Gators come in to EverBank Field in Jacksonville with identical 6-6 regular season marks, each trying to salvage a record on the positive side of the ledger. When your bowl game is being broadcast on The Deuce, and it's named after a tax-preparation website, it's a clue that your season didn't go the way you wanted it to. For Ohio State, a victory Monday would mean avoiding their first losing season since 1988, when they were 4-6-1 in John Cooper’s first year in Columbus.

The humbling 2011 season for the Ohio State football program is coming to a merciful end in Jacksonville. The entire up-and-down campaign of 12 games was overshadowed from the start by the scandals surrounding NCAA violations by Ohio State players, and Jim Tressel’s failure to report his knowledge of those violations. Tressel’s dismissal after a decade of excellence on the field remains the top story in OSU sports for 2011, even after the high-profile hire of Urban Meyer in November.

The first season of the post-Tressel era at OSU concludes with a match-up of first-year coaches in Luke Fickell and the Gators’ Will Muschamp. But the man who links these two programs, Urban Meyer, isn’t going to be in Jacksonville at all. That’s largely because he would be the center of attention if he were. Nobody at Ohio State wants that...and Luke Fickell doesn’t deserve it.

Fickell8Taking One For the Team

Fickell, who agreed almost literally overnight to succeed the deposed Jim Tressel and become the Buckeyes’ head coach last spring, will be coaching his last game at the helm the same way he began it in the opener. As a secondary topic to the famous Ohio State head coach who’s not there.

That’s unfortunate, because Fickell has done a thankless job with class, and compiled his less than satisfying record without excuse-making or finger-pointing. For that he deserves the admiration of OSU fans, and it assures that his bonafides as a loyal Buckeye are confirmed for good.  There were times on the sidelines during the season when he looked like he was in over his head...when his inexperience as a head coach stood out like a sore thumb. That was a regrettable, but entirely predictable outcome.

Fickell’s critics are probably right that at least one or two of Ohio State’s losses in 2011 could have been wins had the man in the sweater-vest been there in his place. To which the proper response might what? You might as well try to get all that toothpaste back in the tube, and imagine the 2011 season with Tressel having reported the player violations as he should have.

The season still would have been played without key offensive performers for half the games, and with a defense that was still too young to match the usual Jim Heacock standard. Luke Fickell’s mistakes didn’t cost Ohio State another Big Ten title and a BCS bowl berth. Tressel and Pryor and Posey and Adams and Herron did.

In Monday’s Gator Bowl, Fickell will be working with two lame duck coordinators. Jim Bollman on offense, and Jim Heacock on defense will both be coaching their last at Ohio State. No doubt their players would like to send all three of them out as winners, but trying to predict anything with this 2011 team has been a fool’s errand.

Small wonder, given the bizarre circumstances of a season that really began a full year ago when the player suspensions were announced at Christmas time. A certain mental and emotional exhaustion on the part of OSU players and coaches would be understandable. The notion that this team will play well because they have this or that to prove to someone has been floated and debunked this season.  It’s a football game. The outcome is much more likely to be decided by how well they tackle, how they execute offensively on first down, and who makes the big special teams plays.  

woody1Gator Bowl Memories

This will be the second Gator Bowl appearance for Ohio State, and you don’t have to look hard to find parallels between this year’s game and their first go-around. The year was 1978. Ohio State was starting a talented but mistake-prone freshman quarterback. Late in a close game with the Clemson Tigers, the Buckeyes were driving for what might have been the winning score when young Art Schlichter was intercepted by Tigers’ middle guard Charlie Bauman.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Monday’s Gator Bowl will mark Luke Fickell’s final game as Ohio State head coach just as that day in 1978 became the final game of the career of Ohio State legend Woody Hayes. As Bauman carried the interception over the sideline into the OSU bench area, ending OSU’s last shot at victory, an enraged Hayes grabbed him by the jersey and then took a swing at the Clemson lineman, catching him in the throat with a forearm before being restrained by Ohio State players. A mini-brawl ensued, and the Buckeyes were penalized, but Hayes’ assault on an opposing player on national television was enough to end his coaching career the next day.’s this for an angle?...Every season that ends with the Buckeyes playing in the Gator Bowl sees their head coach getting fired in disgrace. (Okay...trying too hard.)

State of the Bucks

The Buckeyes are dealing with a few injuries, but on balance they are about as healthy as they have been in some time. Tight end Jake Stoneburner has had an arthroscopic knee procedure, and Fickell said this week that he will be limited, if he plays at all. Junior Reid Fragel and freshman Jeff Heurerman will step in for OSU at tight end. On defense though, the Bucks are pretty close to full strength.

Linebacker Andrew Sweat will be able to go after missing the last two games of the regular season with a concussion, and freshman sensation Ryan Shazier will play with a brace on his sprained knee, but he’s ready to go and will start alongside Sweat at linebacker.  Safety Christian Bryant is healthy again, and in the defensive backfield, only safety Orhian Johnson is questionable for Monday.  

Florida head coach Will Muschamp said this week that offensive tackle Matt Patchan was injured in bowl practices, and is out for the game. He’ll be joined on the sidelines by defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who was injured in the Florida State game. Two other Gator defenders, lineman Kedric Johnson and linebacker Lerentee McCray, are also banged up and will be game-time decisions for Muschamp.

Idle Speculation

Bowl teams, especially young ones, often bear little resemblance to their regular season versions. An extra month of practice can help the kids grow up, and if the glowing comments about Braxton Miller in bowl game practices coming from his teammates are any indication, this one could be fun to watch.

One hopes the more aggressive downfield passing attack that the coaches unveiled in the Michigan game is in evidence again in the Gator Bowl. We’ve heard that they have some new things installed in the offense, but expecting coordinator Jim Bollman to end his Ohio State career with a wide-open offensive explosion is perhaps asking a bit much.

Both the Gators and the Buckeyes have struggled on offense all season, especially in the passing game, so it stands to reason that the team that does a better job limiting the 3rd and longs will come out on top. Beyond that, what’s to predict? The game means precious little, so sit back and enjoy it, and hope for a more artistic performance than what we have seen in too many of the early bowl games.


I’d like to salute the seniors who will be playing their last games as Buckeyes...especially the ones who played by the rules and didn’t get their program in trouble. Guys like Andrew Sweat, Tyler Moeller, J.B. Shugarts, and Mike Brewster. Also taking their OSU curtain calls on Monday will be Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams, they of Tat Five infamy. They paid the price for screwing up, and all three will be drawing NFL paychecks in a few months. In fact I think all of the above except Moeller will be.  Best of luck to all of them.



OSU Athletics Communications - Game Notes (pdf)

OSU Roster

Florida Roster


What others are saying:

Steve Helwagen’s Game Data

Cory McCartney - Sports Illustrated

Along the Olentangy - Gator Bowl Preview


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