While 2008 didn't quite measure-up to an incredible 2007, there were plenty of great moments this year. Today, we present the first part of our top 11 Buckeye moments of 2008. Be sure to check back next week for the conclusion.
11. Thad Puts the Nail in the Coffin
After earning his first start against Minnesota in game five, Thad Gibson quickly proved why he deserved the snaps we'd long been clamoring for. A sack here, a hurry there and he was making his presence felt in wins over Wisconsin and Purdue. Then, in the 3rd quarter of a battle between 6-1 teams in East Lansing, he left his mark.
The Buckeyes had raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead, but backup Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins had taken Michigan State down the field for a TD to open the second half and he was threatening again.
On 3rd and 11 from the Ohio State 23, Malcolm Jenkins came on a corner blitz hitting Cousins and knocking the ball loose. Gibson, having met Jenkins at the scene was there to scoop the ball up off of Cousins' booty and took it 69 yards for the back-breaker.
The score now stood at 35-7 with 14 minutes left in the game and any life that was left in Spartan Stadium was gone. The Buckeyes would score 10 more points on their way to putting #20 Michigan State away 45-7. Jenkins, for his part, was labeled "one of the good-best players in the country" by the esteemed Bob Griese.
10. Coop Enters the Hall
I realize that some of you hold OJ Simpson in higher regard than you do John Cooper, but the Tressel era has had a healing effect on me and I'm finally able to appreciate JHC for what he was. That would be one hell of a recruiter and talent evaluator that was folksy and free-wheeling with the press.
So it was kind of special to see Cooper elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. On his selection, he had this to say:
"In the mid-1990s, we were pretty good. The best feeling you can have is when you are on the field before the game and you are watching the other team warm up, and you are out there visiting with the other head coach, and you look at their players and you know, 'We are going to kick your butt today'.....You win with people."
Sure, he was also the same guy that bit his nails off during Michigan games, but that's a distant memory. For all of the agony and pain he endured in Columbus, you can't not be happy for him. Now, if we could just convince him to hang out in his office at the WHAC more often and, you know, help evaluate linemen, we'd be all set.
9. Pryor's Flying Start
After seeing limited time and showing flashes of brilliance in Ohio State's first three games, Terrelle Pryor was finally handed the keys for game four against Troy.
The Buckeyes were coming off a disaster in LA and at a time when team and fan confidence was rock-bottom, Troy was lying in wait. After saying Boeckman and Pryor would split time against the Trojans, Pryor got the start and answered the call.
He struck first minutes into the opening quarter, connecting with Rory Nicol for a 13 yard touchdown and followed it up with a 39 yard touchdown to Hartline in the 2nd quarter before finishing with a 38 yard score to Robiskie and another touchdown toss to Hartline, this time for 16 yards to close out the scoring in the Buckeyes' 28-10 win.
The four touchdown strikes broke Art Schlichter's school freshman mark and Pryor would go on to play every meaningful snap in the 2008 season. And Buckeye fans were once again giddy.
8. Garden Redemption
After advancing to the NCAA finals the previous season, the young Buckeye hoopsters started 2007 just trying to get back into the dance. The team was thumped by Texas A&M in Madison Square Garden in the preseason NIT and then suffered a couple of other tough losses to North Carolina and Butler before Big Ten play began.
They started conference play 8-5 and still had sights set on the tourney until a disaster run saw them drop four-straight in late February likely dimming any hopes. Matta's boys then scored upset victories over Purdue and Michigan State before exiting to the Spartans in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Heading into selection Sunday, they were sitting on the bubble and ultimately were denied an invite to the field of 64.
Instead, the slighted team was NIT bound and to prove to the committee that they had made a mistake in passing them over, the Buckeyes proceeded to destroy everyone in their path, culminating in a 92-85 victory over UMass in the championship game. Koufos had come alive and finished with 22 points to close his Ohio State career and the team had earned a bit of redemption after an up-and-down season.
Jamar Butler summed up the run nicely:
"This is what happens when you put an NCAA tournament team in the NIT."
Of the two losses the Buckeye football team suffered last season, one was kind of expected, while the other hurt like hell. After racing out to a 10-0 start and a #1 ranking in the initial BCS standings, Ohio State welcomed the Illini to town for homecoming.
The Buckeyes scored right away, but Illinois answered on the heels of an 80 yard run out of Daniel Dufrene on their 2nd offensive play of the afternoon. From there, it was a dogfight.
Trailing 28-14 in the 3rd quarter, Ohio State closed to one score on a Beanie 17 yard run with a little under a minute remaining in the quarter. The Bucks would rarely see the ball again as Juice and the Illini held the ball for virtually the entire last quarter, finishing with a drive that milked the last eight minutes off of the clock.
The frustration amongst fans was palpable as we watched the vaunted Buckeye defense get eaten up on the ground. Adding insult to injury, Juice set a (then) career-high with four touchdown tosses on the afternoon. Ron Zook, Buckeye-conquerer?
So you'll excuse us for being a little nervous ahead of the rematch in Champaign this November. Instead, the Buckeyes took control, racing out to a 23-13 halftime lead that included another Malcolm Jenkins blocked punt, this time leading to a safety -- which the Buckeyes followed up with a touchdown. The Illini got a garbage score late to make the result look somewhat respectable, but the damage had been done as Pryor and Beanie both topped 100 on the afternoon -- part of a 300 yard rushing day out of the team.
Better yet, Zook and Juice got a bit of their own medicine as Ohio State attempted just two passes in the 2nd half along the way to eating serious clock.
6. FAIL to the Victors
Granted, this isn't exactly one moment, but after celebrating the Appalachian State shocker last season, we just had to tip our hats to the pile of FAIL that was Rodriguez Season One in Ann Arbor.
Anything bad that could have happened practically did as the program witnessed lawsuits, injuries, defections to their top rival, recruiting losses and decommits, the school's first-ever defeat at the hands of a MAC school, a five-game losing streak and an unheard of nine losses.
Last, but not least, was the 42-7 drubbing the Wolverines and their newly-minted coach suffered in Columbus. The win, by the way, was Tressel's 5th-straight over the Wolverines, and 7th in eight attempts. Wolverine fans are split about whether the hiring of Rodriguez was a mistake and the recruiting woes carry on.
So, while this season didn't exactly work out the way Buckeye fans had envisioned, thank you, Michigan, for doing your best to take our minds off Ohio State's own setbacks.