The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the silver linings in the Fiesta Bowl? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Aside from the controversy, what was the best of the game and the worst of the game from a team perspective? #AskAustinWard
— 🇺🇸 Chris Hunt 🇺🇸 (@wvabuckeye) December 30, 2019
The sting isn’t going away for Ohio State anytime soon. And honestly, the Buckeyes aren’t particularly fond of looking for silver linings, either.
But at some point as the program moves on to 2020 and reloads for another shot at the College Football Playoff, it will realize there were plenty of moments to feel good about in the Fiesta Bowl — starting with the fact that even with seemingly everything going against it, Ohio State still had a chance to win and spent the majority of that night in the desert as the more dominant side.
Again, that isn’t going to make the Buckeyes feel much better heading into winter workouts. But with the three-time defending Big Ten champions aiming to get back on the big stage again next season, they can take plenty of encouragement from the fact that so many young stars already looked comfortable in that spotlight. So, with that in mind, here are four bright spots to remember in a game that Ohio State would otherwise prefer to forget.
Passing ability of Justin Fields
The injured left knee clearly never got back to full strength, and that robbed Justin Fields of the dual-threat ability that makes him so difficult to defend. But even with one missed read that produced an interception and the miscommunication with Chris Olave that ended the game, Fields left no doubt that his arm continues to be underrated — and is certainly good enough to beat the best defenses in the country. In a high-stakes matchup against an aggressive, fast defense with one of the nation’s most respected coordinators and without being able to run as much as he would like, Fields still completed 30 passes for 320 yards with a touchdown and had the Buckeyes in position to knock off Clemson late. With another year to develop at Ohio State, the ceiling is still being raised for Fields.
Zach Harrison scratching surface for Ohio State
Even the most ambitious projection for the five-star defensive end surely didn’t include Zach Harrison in the starting lineup for a College Football Playoff game to close his freshman campaign. But there Harrison was against Clemson, taking the first snap and proving yet again that he’s ahead of schedule, earning the trust of Larry Johnson and poised to become the next pass-rushing star for the Buckeyes. His two-tackle output might look rather modest, but simply earning the start is significant all by itself for Harrison. The physical tools have never been in question, but give strength coach Mickey Marotti another offseason to keep molding Harrison and he could be a monster by September.
Garrett Wilson keeps filling Buckeyes highlight reel
The replay review probably robbed Ohio State of a touchdown, but this isn’t the time for another referee breakdown. All those extra looks at the early catch by Garrett Wilson down the right sideline after soaring about four feet in the air, though, did allow for a full appreciation of his off-the-charts athleticism, incredible hand-eye coordination and knack for making difficult catches. The five-star freshman did need a bit of time early in the season to get comfortable with the Buckeyes, and position coach Brian Hartline didn’t want to rush him into the rotation before Wilson was ready. But by the end of the year, it was undeniable that Wilson was a weapon that needed to be used, and he’s only going to get better.
Tyler Friday reinforces future of Rushmen
Generally the conversation about the future of the Ohio State defensive line focuses on the return of Jonathon Cooper, the elite potential of a healthy Tyreke Smith and the budding stardom of Zach Harrison. Tyler Friday doesn’t really care about the attention, of course, but he earned it yet again with a sack in the Fiesta Bowl that was a reminder that there is no shortage of firepower left at Ohio State even with Chase Young moving on to the NFL. Considering the depth on the edge and the losses the Buckeyes suffered on the interior, it’s fair to wonder if Friday might be a candidate to slide down to do some three-technique work — unleashing his pass-rush skills against overmatched guards like Dre’Mont Jones or Jashon Cornell have done over the last couple seasons. Either way, Friday will help keep the Rushmen rolling.
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