THE SITUATIONAL: Malicious Compliance

By Ramzy Nasrallah on December 28, 2022 at 1:15 pm
Nov 12, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) celebrates a touchdown by wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) during the first half of the NCAA football game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch Syndication The Columbus Dispatch
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ten years ago Ohio State was perfect*.

The Buckeyes entered 2012 saddled with a bowl ban stemming from players selling personal items ranging from plaques to socks. Their coach told them to stop it and then basically told the NCAA nothing to see here.

But then a guy who paid cash for a lot of their stuff was nailed for selling weed by the FBI. Feds found a lot of that stuff when they raided his tattoo parlor, and then that guy's lawyer - despite having a juris doctorate and understanding how evidence is created and discovered - decided to email Ohio State's football coach at work, creating an electronic paper trail describing what might happen next.

And as it turned out, next was a year-long made-for-TV scandal that resulted in the end of his football coaching career. A little over a decade has passed since that happened, and this February Jim Tressel will step down from his post as Youngstown State's president.

No one realized at the time that the Penguins would emerge as Tatgate’s biggest winner. Youngstown State's 2022 fundraising haul is four times what it was when Tressel arrived in 2014.

And that year, Ohio State won the national title. Ohio State’s disgraced coach was inducted into Halls of Fame for both Ohio State Athletics and College Football in the months that followed. If the 2000s had been the Buckeye football renaissance, the 2010s ended up being the Buckeye football dynasty.

On new year’s eve, Ohio State will be given four hours to restart another football renaissance.

Separating those two eras was a single year of darkness followed by that one perfect* season. Tatgate, its coverage, prosecution and the immediate aftermath all suggested a dark conclusion of what had been the Ohio State era. It just turned out to be a brief reset.

The Buckeye football program was on life support in the summer of 2011. Just three years later, Tressel was at midfield for the coin toss ahead of the Buckeyes playing in and winning the first-ever playoff. The past decade might as well have been a century.

Ten years removed from perfection* players don't sell their socks for cash anymore. Now they get socks contracts. Feds had raided Edward Rife’s tattoo parlor looking for marijuana, which is now legal in 39 states.

The NCAA's enforcement reputation at present is about four tiers below that of Paul Blartt, Mall Cop. Every element of what ended the Ohio State renaissance is either dead or on life support exactly one decade later.

The Buckeyes have lost a total of 14 games since the perfect* season. The 14th one is barely a month old and arguably the worst. It ended hopes for a perfect season, no asterisk.

It could all end at midnight on New Year's Eve. But it could also extend into January and achieve a level of perfection the 2012 Buckeyes were prohibited from pursuing. That team would have sold its souls, let alone its socks, to get the opportunity the 2022 Buckeyes have.

That team would have loved to play Nebraska in Indy and then Notre Dame in Miami for a BCS title. Alas, they knew before the season began they would have nothing to win except games.

Ten years later, the 2022 Buckeyes get to play Georgia in Atlanta with everything at stake. It’s Ohio State’s fifth appearance in the College Football Playoff, an event that did not exist back when the Buckeyes' grisly demise was erroneously reported a century decade ago.

On New Year's Eve following one month of darkness, this team will be given roughly four hours to restart another Ohio State renaissance. Happy New Year! Let's get Situational.


Oct 22, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Tommy Eichenberg (35) celebrates his interception return for a touchdown with safety Ronnie Hickman (14) and defensive end Zach Harrison (9) during the second quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Eichenberg celebrates his TD with Ronnie Hickman and Zach Harrison during the 2nd quarter against Iowa. ©Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, the postseason anxiety revolves around the Buckeyes getting too much time off.

The modern root for this fear stems from the 51 days which separated The Game of the Century from The Glendale Massacre. That stretch proved to be a devastating incubation period for overconfidence, premature coronation and good old fashioned holiday season calories.

Part of the reason the Buckeyes have been close to unbeatable in B1G championship games is they’re still operating at their peak. If you gave any of those poor Wisconsins or Northwesterns a few weeks to prepare for the same Ohio State teams, it’s hard to argue the margin of victory would be bigger.

That’s because giving a bully too much time to think rarely goes well for the bully. Unfortunately that’s not a problem these days - anxiety is a problem reserved for conference champs.

So the 35 days separating the first home loss to Michigan in just about every current player’s lifetime from a de facto road game against the undefeated defending national champions just might be the perfect layoff. Five weeks to recover physically, but just as important - over a month to rehabilitate emotionally.

optimal headspace among players is a huge component of championship mettle.

For Ryan Day’s program, we now know a year to think about one opponent is too long (he had Clemson’s ass beaten both times, let’s stop pretending 2020 was some sort of comeuppance for 2019). Based on how 2022 progressed, we also know a bye week is no good, either. That was like one of those shitty naps where you wake up feeling worse.

So perhaps a month will be the optimal incubation period for rage and recovery; an opportunity to rediscover everything this team was supposed to be - and was looking like - before it was given an unfortunate moment midseason to stop and think too long about it.

A lot of overthinking comes in game planning, and if you’re into that sort of stuff you should just skip through the intermission. But optimal headspace among players is a huge component of championship mettle. Ohio State did not show it for much of the back half of the schedule, and it was nightmarishly clear which team had the psychological advantage in the rivalry game.

But it was also missing in the sluggish march up to and against Michigan State back in 2015, the final time we saw the plodding version of what that team was always supposed to be. The two games which followed against Michigan and Notre Dame were a tragically late reveal of what everyone had expected all along. Too late doesn’t exist in 2022.

The Spartans did the 2015 Buckeyes a favor, which was back when too late was the season’s epitaph. We will know shortly if what the Wolverines pulled off last month will be remembered as another devastating November loss, or the catalyst for another monument hanging above the north end zone in Ohio Stadium.


The Solo

I am an absolute sucker for busking, and my proximity to New York City means whenever I take the subway there's a decent chance I'll be late on account of a subterranean concert.

This could mean musical acts ranging from an unhoused resident rhyming rhythm nation with urination to authentic melodious sorcery (both deserve gratuities; manufacturing music is hard).

Speaking of the latter, I was once late to where I was going because Lucky Chops was at my Herald Square stop, though not the performance recorded here. These days you don't have to get lucky to see Lucky Chops because they tell you in advance where and when they're playing.

This mashup of Mr. Saxobeat/Funky Town/I Feel Good is basically a musical container for five minutes of improvisation from the sousaphone on down. Let's answer our two questions.

Are the buskers in this video actually playing their instruments?

Let's not waste anyone's time or insult anyone’s intelligence here. VERDICT: Yes.

Do these busking solos slap?

There will always be another train. And after that, another one. Subway music is a relaxant your liver doesn’t even have to metabolize; it just goes into your ears and directly to your brain. You can’t overdose, either.

If you spend your whole life obsessing over not being late, you may end up arriving early to your own funeral. So when it's appropriate and possible, maybe stop and do something for you. Watch the show. Hang out in the subway. Throw some money in the guitar case. There will always be another train.

And don't worry how you look while enjoying music. It’s good. you look happy. VERDICT: Slaps

hey kids looks what's back in stock in all sizes

The Bourbon

There is a bourbon for every situation. Sometimes the spirits and the events overlap, which means that where bourbon is concerned there can be more than one worthy choice.

A peach-themed bourbon cocktail makes all the sense in the world this week, but in a pre-2022 world back when Ohio State was naturally immune to Atlanta-based bowl games I saved nothing for this moment.

So please feel free to indulge in the Grilled Peach Bourbon Smash, the only peach bourbon cocktail I’ve ever made, sanctioned and featured in this space. Note that this was a 2014 Situational Bourbon, which if you believe in eerie parallels - hey it’s the good kind of spooky.

Panty melter. You're welcome.
Batch 31 from Barrell, Situational Distillery of the Year.

If I could predict the future you wouldn’t be reading this column because it wouldn’t exist. I’d be too busy enjoying dystopian life as Lebanese Biff Tannen. One thing I can do with marginal competence is describe the present.

We’ve reached the end of 2022 which means the annual custom of crowning a Situational Bourbon has come due. In previous years this distinction has gone to situational choices like Quality House (incredible value!) or Henry McKenna (buy it now before people catch on and it disappears!) but this year I’m crowning a whole-ass distillery.

Barrell is innovating the category with a combination of breadth and availability we’ve never seen before - and if you don’t believe that and require proof, just take a look at what you can order and ship right now. As I collected and sampled the offerings this year I found myself unable to choose which one to showcase here.

It was too hard. Everything they make rules. So I chose none of them.

My favorite was probably the Seagrass, which is finished through a series of Martinique rum, apricot brandy and Madeira casks - but while most distilleries would go-all in on elevating something so novel to flagship status, Barrell released a half-dozen similar breakthroughs.

Last season I used batches 19 and 24 to illustrate release differences and characteristics from a single distillery. What you see here is batch 31, which is super easy to procure and definitely worth it - though Barrell has now reached blind-buy status on account of earning the right to be trusted.

I cannot place a flex like this in the entire time I’ve been a brown liquor world explorer. Congrats to Barrell, the proud owners of my unsolicited and uncompensated loyalty. The current phase of bourbon has evolved from sophistication to large format availability to where Barrell has taken it now like no other distiller: Fascinating, yet still accessible.


Nov 19, 2022; College Park, Maryland, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day takes the field before the game against the Maryland Terrapinsat SECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Day prior to the 2022 Maryland game at SECU Stadium in November. © Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On the first day of the year which is now ending, the Ohio State offense took the field in Pasadena and Earle Bruced its opening drive with a classic 3-and-out run-run-pass-punt.

Tepid Ryan Day produced the second drive, another 3-and-out via dink-dunk-drop-punt. We’re now quite familiar with this display. It generally takes place when Ohio State’s head coach is trying to prove a point just for the stubborn sake of proving points.

What has been the most consistent, high-octane offense in America going on five years just wants a little latitude while it uses a live game to run some drills on a huge stage. This time-wasting, self-defeating philosophy comes with an execution canard if it fails. All of this would have worked, alas the players failed.

A tight end who has consistently proven to be an unreliable blocker fails to seal the critical block. Tempo produces a false start penalty from the right tackle who false-starts every time the team runs tempo. The next bubble screen will be the one that works.

Running the ball in a way the defense is waiting to stop. Opponents watch film too; film at 11.

No offense to Utah, but Ohio State cannot afford to take its sweet time to deploy the most unstoppable version of itself against GEORGIA.

The Buckeyes found themselves down 14-0 to start their third Rose Bowl possession, and less than one day into 2022 Ohio State football was feeling bleak. First, a loss to Michigan for the first time in a decade. Now, a detached bewilderment period. They were in the danger zone.

But that’s when Evil Ryan Day joined the team at the Rose Bowl, and the rest is history. The Buckeyes bombed the Utes into oblivion with effective play-action and precision downfield passing on a level so absurd they broke multiple bowl game - not just Rose Bowl - records.

Marvin Harrison Jr. caught three touchdown passes in a supporting role. Read that sentence twice, it shouldn’t make sense. Ohio State’s offense was so absurd on college football’s most hallowed New Year’s Day stage a three-touchdown performance is now barely a footnote.

Twelve months later, Ohio State cannot beat Georgia without Marvin Harrison starring in leading role. Three Peach Bowl touchdowns should be his baseline, because just like JSN colonizing the state of Utah for himself for four hours, Harrison defiling Georgia in its home state will make everyone else’s job - including C.J. Strouds - much easier.

The first Michigan loss forced us to overthink how 2022 could become more successful, and that recipe in a transition year with a radical change in defensive philosophy came down to one simple, elegant mission: Score as many points as possible.

Win a video game and expect the defense’s floor to be okay. This is possible only if Day stays out of his playcalling bag and hammers the accelerator for four quarters. It will be aided if Stroud accepts simple and easy options that produce results, like a checkdown throw to a running back - doesn’t even matter which one! - when everyone else is occupied downfield.

Not every throw needs to be a 35-yard rope into a slightly-cracked window - he can save a lot of those for the combine. Don’t ride the gas and brakes at the same time. Be the bully again. Don’t give Georgia unsolicited favors.

It’s not a cop out to exploit your advantages, but Ohio State’s offense has maddeningly treated its own cheat codes like actual cheating. The Buckeyes came out stumbling against the Utes and then flipped the switch. They almost reluctantly chose to do the easy thing, which just happens to be what most teams - including Georgia - are largely unable to stop.

Ohio State leaned on the best downfield passing attack in the country. Evil Ryan’s specialty.

No offense to Utah, but Ohio State cannot afford to take its sweet time to deploy the most unstoppable version of itself against the Bulldogs. Evil Day has to be evil for all four quarters, and the only point he needs to prove to himself or anyone else is that he run up the score on any program, anywhere.

Thanks for getting Situational today. Go Bucks, beat Georgia. Happy New Year!

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