Dull game turns punter Chrisman into a star

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra

EAST LANSING, Mich. — You’ve heard of the 45-punt Snow Bowl in 1950? This was the 17-punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt — nodding off — punt, punt, punt, punt, punt — almost asleep — punt, punt, punt, punt, punt Snore Bowl of 2018.

No wonder the punter deserved the game ball. Not a misprint. Ohio State punter Drue Chrisman was the star of this show, which apparently was sponsored by Ambien. Not until late in the third quarter did the boring give way to the bizarre, much to the delight of the Buckeyes.

The final tally was Ohio State 26, Michigan State 6. It wasn’t pretty — though maybe not as ugly as in recent weeks, given that the Spartans sit 18th in the current College Football Playoff rankings — but at this stage the Buckeyes need only win by a score that does not scream “squeaker” to give them a chance, no matter how slim, of making the four-team playoff.

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That it largely was Chrisman who helped keep that playoff chance alive is a testament to the sophomore’s persistence — his day began with a 4-yard punt in windy conditions that landed in the seventh row of the stands and ended with him moving to the front row by collecting five punts inside the 7-yard line — but also an indictment of an Ohio State offense that has regressed from great to good.

True, the Buckeyes rushed for 120 yards against the top-ranked run defense in the nation, but 347 total yards is a pittance compared to what this offense showed in September.

Put it this way: You know the offense needs more work when Fox, which broadcast the game, interviews the punter after the win.

Even Chrisman saw the oddity of it.

“It was my first time being on TV after the game,” the Cincinnati native said, smiling while answering how he plans to handle his new celebrity status. “I didn’t even know this (interview room) existed, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Two things about punters: 1. They are not kickers, who are considered the punching bags of their sport; 2. Though not kickers, they’re not exactly the Chuck Norris of the team, either.

Case in point, when coach Urban Meyer spoke of the punt team making the difference in the game by consistently pinning Michigan State near its goal line, he began, “Our punter and Terry McLaurin,” then gushed over McLaurin and other “gunners,” in OSU history; those special teams players who sprint outside the hash marks to down the punt.

Our punter.

To be fair, Meyer later praised Chrisman up and down. The point is that punters are not high in most coaches’ pecking order. Meyer even joked of Chrisman’s 4-yard shank, “I almost benched him, but we didn’t have anyone else.”

But without Chrisman, who finished with six of his nine punts being downed inside the 20-yard line, the Buckeyes might not have escaped with their playoff hopes still intact.

Yes, the game often was duller than the cloud cover over Spartan Stadium. Yes, the punt-fest was something only Jim Tressel would love. But also yes, it was Chrisman who broke Sparty’s spirit.

“We just kept playing a field-position game … and all the sudden you flip the field,” said Meyer, who also issued attaboys to the OSU defense for improving in tackling and pass coverage.

Chrisman takes pride in making life difficult for opposing offenses.

“That’s our goal, pin them deep and we’ll get the ball back and get some points out of it,” he said. “If we’re doing our job tilting the field, it makes it harder on them.”

As for his 4-yard-what-was-that?

“I don’t know where it ranks among Ohio State’s worst punts in history,” he said. (Note: it’s up there.) “But I was like, ‘Man, I have to ball out after that one.’ ”

Ball out he did. Bail out the Buckeyes he did, too.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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