Marcus Musings: Final Fiesta Bowl thoughts and more

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers scrambles with the football during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers scrambles with the football during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Credit: Christian Petersen

Credit: Christian Petersen

Upon some time to reflect, here are some thoughts on Ohio State’s loss in the Fiesta Bowl, the way the Bengals finished the season and the way the Reds are approaching next season. 

  • I can only conclude Ohio State had a better football team than Clemson this season, but sometimes the better team doesn't win a football game.
  • It's hard to say the Buckeyes deserved to win the Fiesta Bowl because they had every chance to do it despite a series of unfortunate events and came up short, but it's also going to be hard to ever think about this season and not wonder what might have been.
  • That goes right down to the last play. Chris Olave breaking off his route isn't quite up there with Shawn Springs falling down in the 1996 Michigan game, but it's close.
  • Ohio State showed why it could have been considered the best Buckeye team ever in the first quarter, dominating the defending champions and building a double-digit lead.
  • As you're probably aware, the Buckeyes were up 16 and it could have been more if not for some red zone miscues, but at the end of the day, it wasn't. And that turned out to be as big as it felt like it could be as it was all unfolding.
  • I am not suggesting Ohio State was going to win 40-0 if J.K. Dobbins hadn't been injured and Shaun Wade was able to play the whole game. I doubt that very much. Clemson is good, and the Tigers made adjustments to right the ship regardless. However, Ohio State's defense obviously missed Wade in multiple ways, and having Dobbins would have been a major boost to keeping control of the game. Going in, I thought it possible the Buckeyes would be able to win the line of scrimmage and keep the ball away from the Tigers. Dobbins' long runs were a bonus, and I don't think Clemson as going to keep giving those up. But what the Buckeyes really needed in the second half was Dobbins' ability to turn a 3-yard gain into 5 and a 5-yard gain into 8. That alone probably means the difference between giving the ball back to Clemson with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter or going down and putting the game away.
  • Further proof of my overall thesis is Ohio State almost won anyway. And that was without really using Justin Fields' legs as part of the offense. He had shown he can operate a ball-control passing game, so seeing him continue to do it against Clemson wasn't too surprising. You're going to need all hands on deck to beat the defending national champions, though, and the Buckeyes came up just short. Just a run or two by Fields might have made a major difference, especially in the red zone.
  • I don't think I want to get very deep into the weeds on the Wade targeting call. After seeing it enough times I do think his head was down and therefore the call was correct. It still revives my dislike for the rule, though, because I don't think that was the type of hit that needed to be eliminated. Spearing was allowed to go on for years without being called, and that is far more dangerous than most of the hits that fall under the targeting umbrella. Trying to knock a guy's head off is also something football can live without, but again that is not what Wade was trying to do in this case. At the end of the day, though, better fundamentals save Wade and perhaps Ohio State in that situation.
  • Being able to conclude Ohio State was actually the best team on the field Saturday night obviously won't salve any wounds of Buckeye Nation. The regret from this one will last a long time — perhaps forever. Just ask people who lived through 1969, '73, '79, '95, '96, '98 and 2015 if you're not sure. I wrote already this game had a certain LSU championship game feel to it because of the mistakes Ohio State committed, but of course that game ended up being a more comfortable win for those Tigers. The better comparison might be 1998 as the upset to Michigan State was the only close game Ohio State played all year, numerous things had to go wrong to get the Spartans the lead, and the Buckeyes were in position to win the game anyway until a late interception.
  • And of course the disappointment is likely to be even more acute considering this team won't ever be together again. That is always true in college football, but in this case a lot is going to be different when they start winter workouts. Many college football teams win a year early before they are burdened by expectations and still young and hungry. This was not going to be one of those years. Yes, the quarterback is young, but this is not a team that is going to return a lot of key parts. The defense figures to be gutted, including the loss of key assistant coach Jeff Hafley, and Dobbins' replacement isn't likely to be as good as he was.
  • On the bright side, Fields should continue to improve, and the receivers could be even better. They'll be more talented, but that is no guarantee of success. The new backs get to work behind a great offensive line, and the defense can probably coast through most of the season without seeing anyone capable of challenging it, but will the 2020 Buckeyes be as equipped to be the best off the rest as the '19 group? Don't bet on it.
  • Ohio State also had relatively good injury luck this season, at least until the end when Dobbins and Fields were slowed by lower body ailments. Still, if that is the worst that happens, it's a remarkable year that isn't likely to be repeated. Moving on…
  • The Bengals finished 2-14 with a win over the Browns to go out with an unqualified smiley face. It was nice they gave fans something to genuinely enjoy after such a miserable year following the almost complete disappointment that has ruled since the playoff implosion against the Steelers four years ago.
  • Obviously the Bengals finished a lot better than they started, but there is a reason you can't create your own save situation in baseball. Not only did they lose the first 11, they usually looked incompetent in the first half of the season. This staff has to own it all. If you want to take a total glass-half-full view, I won't stand in your way. I don't want to become too cynical in my old age, but I am not close to abandoning all my doubts about the staff, either.
  • That said, the life at the end of the year does at least make the offseason more interesting. Rebuilding again feels like at least a possible task. You're safe to again conclude with a real offensive line and more talent on defense, this team is just a decent quarterback away from being competitive again. Add a real franchise quarterback (Joe Burrow?), something they haven't had since Carson Palmer was injured, and you'd really have something to be excited about. The line wasn't so bad in the second half of the season, and getting Jonah Williams back will be like adding two first-round picks at one time. He alone isn't enough, but at least that's a head start.

  • The Cincinnati Reds are having another active offseason, and they likely aren't done. The potential signing of Shogo Akiyama gives them another bat but maybe more. Like MLBTradeRumors.com, I wondered if it could make pulling the trigger on a deal for Francisco Lindor (with Nick Senzel the centerpiece) more possible. I wouldn't hesitate to package multiple major projects for Lindor, especially if they really want to win now and because the Reds have had such trouble translating prospects into actual major leaguers. Senzel had a solid debut last season, but he's not Lindor, who also plays a position the Reds most need an upgrade at this point in time.

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to marcus.hartman@coxin.com or find us on Twitter or Facebook.  

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