Fiesta Bowl Notebook: Ohio State's Extra Motivation, A Glimpse Into the Future and More

By Tim Shoemaker on January 2, 2016 at 6:00 am
Taylor Decker hugs Ezekiel Elliott after Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl win.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Following Ohio State's 44-28 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday, Buckeyes star linebacker Darron Lee admitted he had a hard time watching the College Football Playoff games played the previous night.

He especially had a tough time watching the Michigan State-Alabama game, where the Crimson Tide rolled to a 38-0 win.

“I got back up to my room last night and it was like 31 or 24-0 and at that point I cringed and I got pretty upset," Lee said. "I’m talking to Josh about it and it sucks, man, because — it is what it is.”

Lee, of course, had trouble watching the Spartans play because of what happened Nov. 21 when they beat Ohio State, 17-14, at Ohio Stadium. Had the Buckeyes not blown that opportunity, they would have played Iowa for the Big Ten championship and, with a win over Iowa, would have made the College Football Playoff.

The outcome of the Michigan State-Alabama game obviously did not impact how Ohio State performed against the Fighting Irish, but Lee said it certainly did not go unnoticed. 

“We were motivated regardless of what happened [Thursday] night," Lee said, "but that might have added a little extra fuel to the fire.”

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said the Buckeyes didn't necessarily go into the game against Notre Dame trying to make a statement, but that the final result spoke for itself.

"Reflecting on it now, I think we did make a statement being that we weren’t in the Playoff, but that’s OK," Barrett said. "We’re not mad at it; we’re Fiesta Bowl champs. We got a 50th win for our seniors in four years, sent them out on a good note and those guys deserve it, for sure.”

Glimpse of the Future Defensive Line

Ohio State was already forced to play without its two starting defensive tackles with Adolphus Washington suspended and Tommy Schutt injured, and the Buckeyes' defensive line suffered another huge blow when Joey Bosa was ejected from the game in the first quarter following a targeting penalty.

Because of the absence of those guys, Tyquan Lewis was Ohio State's lone defensive starter up front who saw any significant playing time against Notre Dame. What did that do? Well, it provided Ohio State fans with a chance to check out the future of the Buckeyes' defensive line.

Sam Hubbard saw an increased number of snaps at defensive end as did Michael Hill, Donovan Munger and Tracy Sprinkle inside. Hubbard had four tackles and a sack; Lewis had a sack; Hill made a pair of stops; and Sprinkle recovered a fumble forced by Darron Lee.

The Buckeyes struggled to pressure Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer for most of the first half, but really turned up the heat toward the end of the game.

"The reality is sometimes you don't have all the hype and all the attention, sometimes it's even a little bit more fun," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said of next year's defensive line. "It's going to be a heck of a battle. We've got some young guys that are going to come in, we've got some young guys that maybe redshirted or are hurt last year that are going to get some opportunities too."

J.T. Barrett's Message to the Fans

For the first time in his Ohio State career, Barrett heads into an offseason knowing there is no doubt he will be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in the next season.

Ohio State will lose plenty of players — there is a strong senior class set to depart and several underclassmen will declare for the NFL Draft — but Barrett will return and he happens to play the most important position in football.

Following the win over the Fighting Irish, Barrett was asked about just that and why Ohio State fans should not be concerned about all of the new faces that will be on the field next fall.

“To Buckeye Nation, know that a lot of great guys are leaving, but we have guys behind them that are going to be developed, that are going to step up and make plays," he said. "Great guys are going to lead, but you're going to have to recruit in order to have guys behind them to make plays and I think that’s what we have here and that’s part of Ohio State so I think things are going to be all right.”

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