Edge of Despair

By Ramzy Nasrallah on September 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm
Taking the Eddie George comparisons just a little too far(Pictured left to right) Rod Smith, unsecured football. Again.

It took six of the longest months ever recorded to finally reach this place.

You barged in as soon as you could, but Mike Adams hasn't arrived yet. Neither have Boom Herron or DeVier Posey. They need more time.

Unexpectedly, Jordan Hall hasn't gotten here either, and there's no Pittsburgh Brown or Travis Howard. And Terrelle Pryor still isn't coming back, ever.

All summer, the Buckeyes needed a game more than any other school in the country. You didn't really think that once September finally began we would witness one of those fairy tale stories of redemption featuring a wounded scarlet and gray animal ruthlessly tearing apart everything in its path, did you? Oh, you did?

We know the team did. The SILENCE THE DOUBTERS campaign, the circle-the-wagons clichés, the us-against-the-world mentality bomb that every locker room in America is equipped with - just break the glass, take it out and you're inside of 85 angry helmets. Or in Ohio State's case on Saturday: Only about 60.

Two Saturdays ago the Buckeyes very neatly unzipped Akron, pulled out its vital organs, devoured only the ones they wanted and tossed out the carcass in a very dignified, orderly and cathartic manner. Everyone knew Akron was lousy, but we were starving for satisfaction and a ritual killing by any other name is still dinner.

Last Saturday Toledo took Akron's place. Everyone knew Toledo was significantly better than Akron, and two very predictable things happened: 1) Ohio State's roster was once again exiguous by way of sanctions forcing the Buckeyes to operate at far less than full-strength, and 2) Toledo, unlike Akron, actually fought back.

The Rockets' valiant attempt to get both the MAC as well as the rest of Ohio on the board with an unprecedented kill in Columbus fell only about 15 yards short.

It was harrowing until the final seconds. The in-state streak and Ohio State's season were both in jeopardy, and despite the outcome the same stadium that had showered itself in jubilant promise just seven days earlier was now wrapping itself in creeping uncertainty.

And everyone - you, your television, your radio and your Internet - kept talking about Toledo. It was the Rockets that had sounded the alarm on the season, but that's okay Buckeye fans - just think about what Ohio State could have done had they played the game with a fully-loaded roster. Predictable narrative guy is predictable.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty that permeates through your fragile football psyche runs much deeper than what almost happened against Toledo: The trials of the offseason that refused to end are continuing to hang around and infect both this team as well as your well-being, even as the schedule advances into its third week.

BOOM: SHAZIER'DOSU's third-string returner, aided by a true freshman blocker.

That uneasiness did not suddenly begin when Toledo took a 15-7 lead in the first half and moved the ball effectively against the Buckeye defense. It didn't even start when the Rockets scored their first touchdown and then brazenly went for two to go up 8-7.

No, the catalyst was late Friday afternoon when news broke that Hall, Howard and Brown would not be available once again for week two, stemming from their involvement in what had incorrectly been reported to be the acceptance of just a gift bag at a charity event earlier in the year.

It accelerated when it was abruptly announced during pregame warmups that Nathan Williams would not be available. And then Luke Fickell didn't even look at Braxton Miller during the course of a game that saw Joe Bauserman repeatedly - and often times, correctly - throwing the ball away, unable to create opportunities with his legs.

Sure, Toledo kept the game very interesting until the final seconds, but there was something on Saturday making your skin crawl and it sure as hell wasn't the Toledo Rockets, an admirably well-coached team that was grossly out-athleted almost across the board, earning just a fraction of the holding penalties it deserved but absolutely needed to continue committing to stay competitive.

You might not consciously be thinking it, but it's lingering in the back of your head: Something is going on with Ohio State, and not in a manufactured George Dohrmann or SportsByBrooks kind of way.

If Williams really had an injury that was serious enough to keep him out of pads on Saturday, it definitely didn't surface during the week of practices following Akron.

Miller very easily could have come into the game, just to force Toledo into a different defensive set - whether Bauserman was overthrowing wide-open receivers by 20 yards or not. But not putting Miller into the game at all electromagnetically causes tinfoil to start folding itself into the shape of a hat.

Gene Smith, who has way too much experience with NCAA compliance tendencies to be stupefied by anything at this point in his career was suddenly surprised that Hall, Howard and Brown weren't cleared for the Toledo game. And there's a possibility that they won't be cleared for the Miami game either, though if the $200 story is true and all-encompassing, then there's no reason they should not be allowed to play.

And that leads us back into the trials of the offseason that continue to hang around and infect this team: We just can't be sure of what is true and all-encompassing anymore. Not after Tressel's cover-up. Not after Dohrmann's fables. Not after SportsByBrooks' desperate report of endorsed checks by Pryor and not after the amount of redactions, omissions and cryptic messages coming from Ohio State communications.

Obviously some of what has been reported has turned out to be true, while a lot of the noise has also been manufactured. Those three players not being cleared in relatively ordinary fashion along with Williams' sudden deactivation and Miller's unexpected absence from the game as a co-starting quarterback do not serve as hard evidence of some deeper conspiracy.

What they do is stoke the anxieties of a fan base that is already way too anxious. And that's what sent you to the brink of panic on Saturday: Suspended players, suddenly suspended players, suddenly inactive players and suddenly benched players all materializing during an unnecessarily competitive game with a MAC frontrunner.

You've seen this Toledo game several times before, and not all that long ago. Back then it was called the Navy game, or the Ohio game, or the Cincinnati game, or the previous Akron game. Saturday shouldn't have been any more jarring than those unnecessarily close shaves, but it was, and it wasn't all because of Toledo.

That uneasy, creeping feeling might subside a little bit should Hall, Howard and Brown be cleared for Miami. It should weaken significantly once the captives of Tatgate rejoin the sideline in October, and your fragile psyche will feel as though it has been paroled once the NCAA's judgment finally comes down late next month.

And it will all be fool's gold for your emotions, because Ohio State has always had, and will always continue to attract grown men who inexplicably find personal validation in giving things to Ohio State football players that they should not give them. You just never know when the next well-intentioned citizen is going to document it in an email to a head coach that would prefer not to know about it.

The edge of despair is never too far away, and that's why you shouldn't get all vexed up in obsessing about how the off-the-field drama might eventually contribute to - deathly gasp - a lost football game. Ohio State will win and lose with or without the help of the NCAA's Black Hand, no matter how much you worry about it.

People in Seattle aren't afraid of rain. The boogeyman in your closet and the invisible monster behind you on the stairs up from the basement have never gotten you either. Denard Robinson throws beautiful, underthrown floating passes into coverage without trepidation. FDR was right: Fear sucks.

Throughout this week and on Saturday when the media proselytizes over some non-descript and nonexistent past era when Ohio State and Miami-like scandals didn't happen, you can either allow yourself to get upset or you can relish in the charitable fantasy of Jacory Harris dropping back to pass against the Buckeyes. (I already know what I'm going to do).

It took six of the longest months ever recorded to finally reach this place. You might as well enjoy every second of it, because very soon you'll have nine more to start waiting and worrying all over again.

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