Five Interesting Revelations From ESPN's Oral History of the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game

By Kevin Harrish on October 24, 2019 at 4:12 pm
The Champs

This season marks five years since Ohio State's national title run, and five years since the Buckeyes' 59-0 pasting of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game which propelled them to the College Football Playoff.

ESPN's Heather Dinich put together an oral history on the game after speaking with a collection of players, coaches and administrators from that legendary performance, including Urban Meyer, Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Gene Smith, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa and other players, as well as some folks from the Wisconsin side and College Football Playoff committee members.

The whole piece is wonderful and a worthy read, but there were without doubt some candid comments and interesting revelations that stuck out, so we compiled a list of our favorites.

5. Urban Meyer wanted to play a Bear Defense

Ohio State had some issues stopping the run down the stretch that 2014 season, particularly against talented running backs.

The Buckeyes allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the last four regular season games, with Tevin Coleman of Indiana gashing them for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries just two weeks ahead of the matchup with Wisconsin.

Urban Meyer didn't seem too optimistic about his team's chances of stopping a Heisman Trophy candidate and the nation's leading rusher in Melvin Gordon, and told defensive coordinator Luke Fickell the only chance they had to stop him was installing a bear defense.

Fickell vetoed the plan.

Fickell: It's funny because Coach, probably three weeks prior was ahead of the time and saying, "Hey, we're going to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, and the only way we can stop them and their running attack is to play Bear defense." We still have three regular-season games left, and we're like, "Well, Coach, we don't play Bear defense. If you think that's the only way to stop them, we're in trouble. So he kinda made it that we'd better start working on some Bear defense. ... We had one or two things in, Bear-wise, for those games, never really used them, used them a little bit in the Michigan game, but had prepared to see what it is we could do when we faced Wisconsin and that running attack and Melvin Gordon. We got done the last game, and we're going to the Big Ten championship, he came in, and I said, "Coach, I don't feel comfortable playing Bear. We can stop him without it. We implemented it the last few weeks, and I don't think it's what we need to do." He said, "OK, whatever you guys think, but you better be able to stop him."

Meyer was decidedly incorrect. The Buckeyes did not resort to running the bear defense and held Gordon to less than three yards a carry, shutting out the Badgers.

4. Gene Smith trolled Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer was just like every other Buckeye fan on that Sunday morning, anxiously awaiting the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's announcement of the four-team field.

Meyer had no inside information about the selection, and neither did Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith – but that didn't stop Smith from trolling his head coach when he arrived at Meyer's house for a small selection show watch party.

Meyer: I thought Gene would have some kind of insight, and he came walking through the door, and I looked at him, and no one said anything.

Gene Smith: He had some people there and he was sitting in his chair right in front of the TV, looked at me, and said, "What do you know?" I said, "Oh, we're in." He's like, "Whaaat?" I said, "I don't know." I was just teasing him, trying to get him to relax.

Smith didn't know for sure, but his confidence wasn't completely feigned. He admitted that after the game was over and Ohio State had its 59-0 shutout win, he "didn't know how we would not be in it."

Turns out, his troll attempt was just a bit of prophecy.

3. Wisconsin got extremely desperate

Ohio State and Ezekiel Elliott were gutting Wisconsin soon so badly on the ground that according to then Badgers defensive coordinator Dan Aranada, Wisconsin head coach started calling for schemes they hadn't run all year – in just the second quarter.

Aranda: I think about the second quarter, we're going three-and-out, we're struggling to stop anything, zone runs that typically we close on and stop are now 6-, 7-, 8-yard gains. Our head coach talks about, "Dave, why don't we run this? Why don't we run that?" So we start running like fire zones and pressures that frankly we'd never run all year, but they were kind of pressures that he ran in his career. He [introduced] them in fall camp, and it was probably since then that we ran them. So we're on the sidelines going, "Hey, Coach wants to run these, we're putting these in." It was a complete wreck, a complete wreck of a game.

Obviously, it didn't work. In fact, it only got worse. Elliott finished with 220 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on 20 carries for the best rushing performance of his career up to that point (though he'd top that the next two games).

2. Ohio State knew it needed style points

The Buckeyes were well aware that just beating Wisconsin probably wouldn't be enough to propel them to the College Football Playoff, they needed to look absolutely dominant and win big.

But that wasn't just a general understanding amongst the team, Vonn Bell revealed that they openly discussed what they needed to do and even had a meeting about it.

Vonn Bell (Ohio State, safety, 2013-15): We had to win with style. We had a team meeting about that. We knew what we had to do.


Meyer: We're out in front, and you get that dilemma. Sportsmanship becomes a factor, but you also have to make a statement. The way I've always looked at my job in my career is I work for my players. If they deserve a chance to go play in this playoff, we need to make it a resounding win. I'm not saying we kept everybody in too long, but that was one of the first times in my career I was ever aware of the score.

The reserves did eventually get into the game, and they did their part too – protecting the shutout and adding to the offensive onslaught.

"I was sawing some people up," Curtis Samuel told ESPN of his two rushing touchdowns. "I was young, but I was good."

1. Joey Bosa calls it as he sees it

Five years later, the Buckeyes and Badgers meet again in a game with Big Ten title implications. Joey Bosa was there for the last beatdown, and he isn't shy about predicting another comfortable win.

Joey Bosa (Ohio State, defensive end, 2013-15): They just lost to Illinois. What the hell? That's not a game. That's my answer. I'm not worried.

Folks, Big Bear has spoken.

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