Time travel: Ohio State gets second life; with luck gets mulligan vs. Michigan | Rob Oller

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch

Traveling back in time is not yet possible, or I wouldn’t be writing this. Trust me on that. 

But if it were, I would be enjoying a cocktail on some tropical island, admiring my multiple diamond-encrusted Super Bowl rings. Turns out I invested in Apple stock in the 1980s, bought the Cleveland Browns and hired Bill Belichick and drafted Tom Brady. 

Ohio State fans, meanwhile, would have a tough decision to make. Return to 1942 and Paul Brown’s Buckeyes? Or maybe the 1968 Super Sophs? How about the 2002 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami? You know, get a live look at why Terry Porter threw the flag. 

Ohio State coach Ryan Day yells during the loss to Michigan.

Or maybe Buckeye Nation takes a different approach by warning Nick Bosa not to make the tackle against TCU in 2018 that resulted in injury and an end to his season. Or by telling Ted Ginn Jr. before the opening kickoff of the 2007 BCS championship game to protect his ankle.

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Or this: Many OSU fans would go back two weeks, grab Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles by the collars and scream, “Stop overthinking and overhyping The Game. We’re better than Meatchicken. Loosen up, just let our guys be themselves and we’ll prove it!”

Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey celebrates after scoring a touchdown against LSU in the SEC championship.

What a difference that would have made Nov. 26. Instead of the Buckeyes playing tight in a 45-23 loss to the Wolverines, instead of trying to play chess when checkers was the better option, Ohio State likely would have come out of the Horseshoe with a win. 

Day sounds like he agrees. Twice over the past two days, once on Saturday and again on Sunday, after the Buckeyes made the College Football Playoff as the fourth team in, he emphasized how OSU would play loose. He also mentioned playing aggressive and going at people, which is good news for fans who hid their eyes after yet another swing pass against the Wolverines. THROW THE BALL DOWNFIELD!

If only time travel were a thing … 

And yet it kind of is. Ohio State can’t go back and change the past, but it can use the past to impact the future. Against Georgia, and maybe even against Michigan.

Georgia's Christopher Smith returns a blocked field goal for a touchdown against LSU in the SEC championship.

The No. 4 Buckeyes will play the No. 1 Bulldogs Dec. 31 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. In a way, this was the matchup many thought would happen all along; Georgia, the defending national champions, against Ohio State, which entering the season was hailed as having an almost unstoppable offense.

And here we are, with the Buckeyes matching their second-ranked scoring offense (44.5) against Georgia’s second-ranked scoring defense (12.77). That’s the boxing match most everyone will be talking about, but don’t sleep on the Ohio State scoring defense (13th) and the Bulldogs’ scoring offense (11th). 

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Clearly, something has to give. For OSU’s sake, it better be the coaching staff’s need to overanalyze games both strategically and emotionally.

I recently heard a description of Day that goes like this: If Jim Tressel is your church pastor and Urban Meyer is your to-be-feared father after a bad day at work, Day is your favorite uncle who enjoys talking football strategy. Maybe too much, it turns out.

And Knowles is similar. I picture the two technicians bouncing strategy ideas off one another while other coaches in the room play tabletop paper football waiting for the two X’s and O’s aficionados to finish. 

I’m just not sure they ever finish. Day loves the challenge of crafting plays that work exactly as drawn up. Seeing them work to perfection may be more satisfying than the accomplished goal of outmaneuvering the opposition. 

Knowles strikes me as the same person on the other side of the ball. Take the Michigan game. The Buckeyes could have run a basic defense and probably held the Wolverines to 31 points max. Instead, Knowles called a blitz that helped spring a UM touchdown, and later had linebackers crash the line on at least one of Donovan Edwards’ long touchdown runs. It’s like a different defensive scheme was drawn up just for Michigan, but instead of panicking when they saw it, the Wolverines licked their chops and took advantage of the Buckeyes putting their cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage.


Georgia running back Kendall Milton carries the ball against LSU in the SEC championship.

Now Day, Knowles and the Buckeyes get a mulligan. Ohio State will need to play lights-out against the Bulldogs to get another shot at Michigan, and the No. 2 Wolverines will need to get past No. 3 TCU.

Before the season I picked Ohio State to win the national championship, so I can’t change my prediction now (can I?). The Buckeyes have championship talent on offense, although Jaxon Smith-Njigba won't be part of it, having opted to leave the team to focus on the NFL draft. Defensively, OSU has a little more than three weeks to fix the secondary, if it even is fixable. 

Georgia is a force, and gets to play in its own backyard. But the Buckeyes have a chance, and that’s all Day can ask for.

“Life is all about opportunities,” he said Sunday. “And what an unbelievable opportunity this is, going down to Atlanta playing the national champs. It’s all about taking advantage of this opportunity. … Now we’re back in control of our destiny.”

Time to travel South.


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