COLUMBUS — The Next Man Up culture at Ohio State was tested more than ever this season.
With all the uncertainty that surrounded every practice and game, the Buckeyes had to turn to their calling card all year — and for the most part it worked.
When a player was out due to injury, COVID-19 or any other reason, the program had an answer and a player waiting to take over. And there was rarely a drop-off in talent that led the Buckeyes all the way to the national title game.
And although the finale to one of the most wild seasons ever wasn’t what the football program had in mind, Ryan Day and the Ohio State coaching staff have plenty to reflect on.
“I thought that the culture of our program, the leadership of our program, the way that our kids fought for a season and then came back, dealt with all the adversity along the way of games being canceled, guys being out — for some programs there was a lot of guys out early and they kind of got them back and were able to get in a rhythm,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said after the game. “It was very, very difficult for us to do that. The offensive line was out for an extended period of time, and in this game we had the defensive line, we had wide receivers during the Big Ten Championship game.
“So for us to continually work through all of that and get to this moment right here was an unbelievable success. The goal of the game was not to get here, the goal was to win the game. But all that being said, I couldn’t be prouder of our culture, what our kids are made of and where the program is headed.”
The Buckeyes are certainly disappointed in the results of the national championship, but there were plenty of individual performances that should have Day and the coaching staff excited for the offseason and into next year. Lettermen Row is breaking down who helped their stock rise in the loss to Alabama to end the season.
G Matthew Jones
When Harry Miller tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t make the trip to New Orleans for the Buckeyes semifinal win over Clemson, Matthew Jones stepped into the left guard role and filled it nicely, helping the program reach the national title game. So when the availability report for the championship game was released and Miller wasn’t on it, it would have been fair to assume Miller would have his spot on the offensive line back. Instead, it was Jones who played left guard in the championship game, proving that he showed something impressive to the coaching staff during his semifinal playing time. Jones will be back next season. As the Buckeyes potentially replace two of their interior offensive linemen, Jones could be a huge factor for the offensive success next season.
RB Marcus Crowley
Ohio State was expecting to use Trey Sermon in more than one way out of the backfield against Alabama. But after his first carry, Sermon was taken to the locker room due to an injury and didn’t return. And while Master Teague had two touchdowns for the Buckeyes in the title game, the explosiveness Sermon provided all season seemed to be missing. That’s why the Buckeyes gave some carries to Marcus Crowley in his first game action since tearing his ACL in November 2019 against Maryland. Crowley only had six carries for 14 yards, but Ohio State liked him enough to give him carries in the national championship game, and that speaks to what the Buckeyes think of him moving into the offseason.
TE Jeremy Ruckert
Coming off his huge performance in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, Jeremy Ruckert didn’t quite have the same production in the national championship game. He only had one catch for 36 yards, but it may have been the highlight of the night for the Buckeyes offense. Quarterback Justin Fields found Ruckert over the middle, and Ruckert made a one-handed snag that looked more like a video game than real life. If Ruckert chooses to come back to Ohio State instead of heading off to the NFL, he could be one of the best tight ends in the country next year. He’s beginning to show glimpses of that already, and the title game was no different.
DB Shaun Wade
Shaun Wade is supposed to lock down the best receiver Ohio State faces every game. That didn’t happen in the title game against Alabama. But Wade wasn’t the only cornerback guarding Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, who had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns — in the first half. That stat line would show that Wade isn’t ready for those massive assignments, but overall, Wade had one of his better games of the season. He had two pass-breakups. He had a tackle for loss in the open field against the best running back in college football. He ended the game with five total tackles. And while all the attention was on the defensive blunders and failing to stop Smith, Wade played better than any other member of the secondary. He could certainly use another year at Ohio State, though, if he chooses.
RB Master Teague
Teague began the year as the leader of the running backs room, taking the first-team carries during the early portion of the season and seeming to become the lead back in a room full of talent. But as the emergence of Trey Sermon happened out of nowhere in early December and Teague missed time due to an injury, Teague fell to second on the depth chart. He was called upon to carry the load for the Buckeyes offense in the title game, and he did have two touchdowns. But with Crowley back and Treveyon Henderson and Evan Pryor arriving in the spring for their first action, this could prove to be a massive offseason for Teague — and the running back room. Teague took a nice step forward with his two touchdown runs against Alabama.