Ohio State football season was like no other

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer coaches while Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coach Ryan Day calls a play against Northwestern Wildcats during the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Ind on December 1, 2018.

Ohio State’s 2018 football season will be distinctly remembered for many years. Wide Receivers Coach Zack Smith was relieved of his position by Head Coach Urban Meyer on Monday, July 23, one day before Meyer spoke at the annual Big Ten Football Coaches Media Days in Chicago. There were various conflicting reports that Smith and his wife were in a physically abusive marriage. There were also reports that Smith was involved with other unbecoming activities.

Coach Urban Meyer was suspended without pay on August 1, and could have no contact with his players or coaches. On August 22 the suspension was extended to include the season’s first three games. The public was led to believe the suspension resulted because Meyer did not take action against Smith at an earlier date. There were many conflicting reports of what Meyer knew or did not know about Smith or if the reports about Smith were accurate. Smith was never arrested. Most Ohio State fans strongly questioned the need for a suspension and felt the university had over-reacted.

Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback Coach Ryan Day was appointed acting head coach until Meyer returned at the beginning of week four, yet Meyer’s excellent leadership was clearly evident during his absence from the team. One of the major tests of a leader is how well the organization can operate in the leader’s absence. If the group’s culture requires the leader to make almost every decision, the organization will almost always stumble when the leader is absent. The 2018 Ohio State football program was just the opposite. It never missed a beat during Meyer’s absence because of the quality methods and infrastructure he and his talented staff had created and had in place. This is a significant testimony to Meyer’s systems and accomplishments.

One of the season’s highlights came in week five when the #4 ranked Buckeyes defeated #9 Penn State 27-26 at Beaver Stadium. Down 26-14 with exactly 8 minutes remaining, quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw scoring passes of 47 yards to Binjimen Victor and 24 yards to K.J. Hill for the win. The game lasted three hours and 49 minutes. It was the Buckeyes’ second consecutive single point victory over the Nittany Lions.

At home the following week, Ohio State scored in each quarter to defeat Indiana, 49-26. During the game Meyer suffered severe pain on the left side of his head and dropped to his knees along the sideline. In late October he revealed the seriousness of an arachnoid cyst in his brain that was first diagnosed in 1998. He explained it was an ongoing issue that had intensified in the last two years.

The low point of the year was a 49-20 loss at Purdue during week eight, when the Boilermakers scored 28 points with ease in the fourth quarter. Ironically, Haskins set school single game passing records with 49 completions for 470 yards in the losing effort.

With a record of 9-1 after 10 games, Ohio State’s offense was extremely strong while the defense continued to struggle. This became even more evident during a 52-51 overtime win at Maryland during the season’s 11th game. In 129 seasons of football, 51 points is the most Ohio State has ever surrendered while still managing to win the game.

At home the following weekend, #10 Ohio State was a three point underdog to #4 Michigan. In one of the most memorable games that will ever be staged in this storied rivalry, the Buckeyes totally embarrassed the Wolverines 62-39 in a contest that was clearly more one-sided than suggested by the 23 point margin of victory. It is the most points ever scored against Michigan in a regulation game, exceeding Cornell’s 58-12 victory in 1891 during a contest played in Chicago. One of the game’s key plays was Chris Olane’s block of a Michigan punt that was returned 33 yards for a TD by Sevyn Banks at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter, increasing OSU’s lead to 34-19.

The Buckeyes next outscored Northwestern 45-24 in Indianapolis for their second consecutive Big Ten title. On Tuesday, December 4, Meyer announced he would be retiring as head coach following his team’s Rose Bowl clash with Washington on January 1, 2019. He indicated his health concerns were a major reason for his decision. Day was announced as Meyer’s replacement the following day, becoming Ohio State’s 25th all-time head coach.

On Saturday, December 22, Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith announced that Urban Meyer will become an Assistant Director of Athletics after the Rose Bowl. He also will join Lieutenant Colonel Charles Buchanan and co-teach a new course on Leadership and Character in Ohio State's Fisher College of Business. Meyer’s final game as head coach will be his first in the Rose Bowl. It also will be the first Rose Bowl clash between the Buckeyes and Huskies. OSU is 8-3 all-time against Washington in regular season games.

Meyer will retire as one of the game’s all-time most successful coaches. His 17 year career as head coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State is 186-32 (85.3%). His career winning rate is the third highest all-time in major college history, exceeded only by two coaches at Notre Dame - Knute Rockne (1918-1930, 88.1%) and Frank Leahy (1941-1943 & 1946-1953, 86.4%). Meyer and Washington’s Chris Peterson (81.3%) are the only active major college coaches with career winning rates in excess of 80%.

Meyer’s exceptional seven-year Ohio State record of 82-9 (90.1%) includes a mark of 55-4 (93.2%) in Big Ten Conference contests. He will be well remembered for directing Ohio State to three conference championships, the 2014 national title, many other records and accomplishments, but primarily for his 7-0 record against Michigan.