Ohio State Motivated to Prove It Can Play Physical, Tough Football in Rose Bowl Against Utah

By Dan Hope on December 21, 2021 at 8:35 am
Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith vs. Michigan State

The Ohio State football team has heard the criticism since its 42-27 loss to Michigan at the end of November.

One narrative has been repeated more than any other in the three-plus weeks since that game: They’re soft. They aren’t physical. Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis poured gasoline on that fire when he said Ohio State is “not a tough team” in a radio appearance just days after the Wolverines’ win.

The Buckeyes heard those comments, and at least some of them agree Michigan was the more physical team. Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers said Gattis “was right,” because he “personally thought we played pretty soft.” Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer offered a similar sentiment, saying “maybe we weren’t playing as tough as we should.”

“It was kind of a wakeup call,” Sawyer said last week. “Maybe we weren’t playing as hard as we could every day in practice and taking the little things seriously. And it kind of sucks. For a whole year, they get to talk trash to us.”

Undeniably, Ohio State was dominated at the line of scrimmage in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines ran for 297 yards and six touchdowns against the Buckeyes while holding Ohio State to just 64 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on 30 carries. One bad game can be all it takes to create a negative narrative – especially when you’re Ohio State and you lose to Michigan – and on that day, the Buckeyes got manhandled by their rivals.

That said, just about every Ohio State player who has met with the media since that game has made it clear that physicality is something the Buckeyes pride themselves on and they don’t believe their team lacks toughness despite what happened in the state up north.

“I don’t think we’re soft, but going out there and handling business in California could definitely help,” Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison said. “I think we’re as physical as every team in the country, and I feel like we’re gonna showcase that in the Rose Bowl.” 

The Buckeyes’ physicality and ability to control the line of scrimmage will be put to the test once again in Pasadena. Offensively, Utah ranks second in the country in rushing yards per attempt (5.64) and 13th in rushing yards per game (216.5). Defensively, the Utes have also been strong, holding four of their last five opponents under 100 rushing yards and to fewer than three yards per carry while also ranking in the top five nationally with 42 sacks this season.

Ohio State knows it has to be better at the line of scrimmage if it wants to beat Utah, because the Utes aren’t necessarily going to present any less of a test than the Wolverines did. But that’s all the more reason for the Buckeyes to be motivated to put their best foot forward in the Rose Bowl.

“They’re a good, tough football team, and we respect them, and we’re gonna go in there and we expect to play a good football team,” Sawyer said. “People are challenging us right now, saying we’re not tough, saying we can’t stop the run or run the ball on tough teams. So it definitely fires us up to get out there and play them.”

A win over Utah won’t change what happened in Ohio State’s two losses this season against Michigan and Oregon, nor would it bring back the championship hopes that were dashed by those defeats. But the Buckeyes still feel like they have something to prove in the Rose Bowl, and that all starts with playing physically and controlling the line of scrimmage.

“We definitely gotta go out there and prove we can stop the run,” Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

While much of the criticism levied against Ohio State this season has been aimed at the defense, especially after the Wolverines ran for a whopping 7.24 yards per carry against the Buckeyes, Ohio State’s offense will also enter the Rose Bowl with a chip on its shoulder – particularly up front after Desmond Howard took a shot at the offensive line during the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

“Our motto is to be more physical than we was the last game,” said Ohio State left guard Thayer Munford, who also said Howard “can kick rocks” during his interview session last week. “We got exposed in some areas (against Michigan), but also at the same time, we know what we need to do. We need to run the ball and we need to dominate the line of scrimmage, and that’s gonna be our motto.”

“I think we’re as physical as every team in the country, and I feel like we’re gonna showcase that in the Rose Bowl.”– Zach Harrison

Munford says the Buckeyes have placed a greater emphasis on physicality in their practices leading up to the Rose Bowl.

“It’s been very physical. Very, very physical,” Munford said. “Our first phase is basically like a fundamental period and just make sure that we don’t lose track of who we are. And we’re just making sure that we just come off the ball as hard as we can. Just being physical that we was, back at the beginning of the season, and just gotta have that mindset.”

For the most part, Ohio State’s players say they’ve put the loss to Michigan behind them, at least for now. They know that they can’t continue to dwell on what happened in that game since they still have one more game to play this year.

They’ve heard the criticism, though. Some of them are willing to acknowledge that criticism than others; Smith said multiple times that he’s “just focused on Utah,” while Munford chose to keep his comments to himself when asked about Gattis’ comments. A widespread sentiment throughout the Buckeyes’ roster, though, is that they feel they can make a statement by playing at their best against Utah.

“I feel like this is a good opportunity to show that we’ve made adjustments based on the last game,” Chambers said. “I think it’s a good game to prove ourselves, prove that we’re a tough team, that we’re a physical team and that we can handle that kind of stuff.”

View 117 Comments