After COVID-19 ravaged the 2020 season, surely 2021 would see a return to normalcy on all fronts for the Buckeyes. How wrong we were.
This past year managed to be a flat-out weird one for Ohio State, with a litany of eyebrow-raising and head-scratching moments providing proof of that description. Between sideline blowups, mid-game Twitter rants, an early-season demotion and much, much more, the Buckeyes’ season produced a list of oddities so long that we felt it warranted a full article.
From Quinn Ewers’ pit stop in Columbus to Dawand Jones’ first quarter bathroom break and everything in between, we take a look back at the strangest and most bizarre happenings from Ohio State’s 2021 season.
K’Vaughan Pope leaves game after sideline blowup
Before Antonio Brown, there was K’Vaughan Pope.
The disgruntled veteran defender's frustrations boiled over on the field mid-game against Akron on Sept. 25 – an outburst that effectively ended his Ohio State career on the spot – in what might have been the single strangest moment during a season that did not lack in that department.
The senior linebacker, considered a contender for a starting job just the previous spring, had played only 31 total snaps through the first three games of the season, and could not even get on the field for a defensive snap in the early going against the lowly Zips. After attempting to remain on the field following a special teams sequence, Pope was called off by position coach Al Washington, which appeared to be the final straw for the Virginia native.
Pope attempted to leave the game then and there, but C.J. Barnett managed to corral him back to the sideline before he could reach the tunnel. But Pope only got more heated thereafter, getting into it with Washington before tossing some of his equipment into the home crowd and storming off the field.
K'Vaughan Pope just threw his gloves into the crowd after what looked like a heated exchange with Al Washington.— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) September 26, 2021
No longer out on the field, Pope quickly became visible on Twitter, where he infamously posted “fucc ohio state,” among other things, just minutes after the incident. Pope was dismissed from the team the next day and the veteran linebacker issued an apology at the time, but has since doubled down on his contempt for the program on social media.
Marcus Williamson’s Rose Bowl rant
Speaking of Twitter rants, there have been none as noteworthy in recent memory as that of fifth-year senior safety Marcus Williamson, who did not make the trip to the Rose Bowl but quickly made his presence felt during the game in a different way.
After announcing that he had retired from football, Williamson took aim at the Ohio State coaching staff before airing his grievances with the Buckeye program and college football as a whole in a lengthy mid-Rose Bowl thread.
I wanna rap bout my career as a young black college athlete at the highest level. As guidance for u go getters coming up. S/O westerville and those city kids chasing— Marcus Williamson (@WW_Marcus) January 2, 2022
Williamson said Urban Meyer threatened to “ruin my life” if he ever caught him smoking, said the team was shown a picture of Trayvon Martin to illustrate its “no hoods” policy in his very first team meeting and added that he was “repeatedly pushed past my injuries” during his Ohio State tenure. And that is far from the extent of what was covered.
His comments drew the ire of several former Buckeyes, the support of many others and eventually prompted a piece about it all in the Los Angeles Times. Williamson didn’t play a single snap in what would have been his last game as a Buckeye, but he used his platform to make more noise than he could have on the field while the game was going on.
The Quinn Ewers experience
Any true Buckeye fan remembers where they were on Nov. 20, 2021, when an indelible moment in Ohio State history took place: The snaps heard ‘round the world.
Quinn Ewers took his first (and last) two snaps as a Buckeye at the end of Ohio State’s blowout win over Michigan State, handing the ball off twice in what would end up being the closest the five-star prodigy ever came to operating Ryan Day’s offense.
The highly touted freshman – who reclassified into the 2022 class just weeks before the season opener – transferred out of the program less than four months after he arrived on campus.
For a player that never rose above third-sting status on the Ohio State depth chart, the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit drummed up no shortage of outside attention and headlines without ever appearing in front of the media in his short stint with the Buckeyes.
Between leaving high school early, his shockingly lucrative NIL deals, reported homesickness and the looming threat of a transfer that ultimately came to fruition, Ewers was both a lightning rod and an enigma, and his brief career ranks among the most bizarre storylines of Ohio State’s 2021 season without doubt.
Dawand Jones’ bathroom break
The one game Dawand Jones did not start at right tackle for Ohio State was due neither to injury nor performance. “Big Thanos” simply had a tussle with the toilet bowl that cost him the beginning of the Buckeyes’ Nov. 6 matchup with Nebraska.
Jones’ absence at the start of the contest raised plenty of questions, and even after he rejoined the lineup not long after, it was strange enough that Day was asked about the situation after the game. Day said Jones was dealing with an illness prior to opening kickoff, but Jones made things a bit less vague when he was interviewed the following week.
Dawand Jones says he had a bad sausage biscuit before the Nebraska game and had to handle some business during the beginning of the game, which is why he didnt start against the Huskers. pic.twitter.com/78U8U5XZdn— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) November 11, 2021
Having eaten a bad sausage biscuit earlier that morning, the 6-foot-8, 360-pound lineman said he had to “handle some business” in the locker room, and needed ginger ale to help ease his stomach thereafter.
Needless to say, it was a bad day to be a Nebraska bathroom.
Kerry Coombs gets demoted but stays on staff
Kerry Coombs’ pedigree as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator had already come into question following a few worrisome performances from the Silver Bullets in the 2020 season, but all it took was two weeks in 2021 for the secondary guru to be effectively demoted from that post in his second year at the helm of the Buckeye defense.
Ohio State lost its first-ever regular-season game under Day in Week 2 against Oregon, and the 35 points Ohio State gave up marked the third straight game (including the previous season’s national championship game) in which the Buckeyes had allowed at least 31 points. Coombs was the scapegoat as his play-calling duties and usual spot on the field were revoked by Day before the following game against Tulsa.
Coombs coached the rest of the season from the press box, and the writing on the wall was crystal clear that the longtime coach would not be the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator again in 2022. Jim Knowles was given that title the week after the conclusion of the regular season, creating another awkward situation for the Ohio State defensive coaching staff ahead of the Rose Bowl, and Coombs is now off to Cincinnati.
Coombs’ second stint in Columbus was not quite the glorious reunion that many hoped it would be, and it all played out a bit messily in 2021.
C.J. Stroud loses voice before The Game
A hostile environment in the sport’s biggest rivalry game is difficult enough to overcome even if the visiting quarterback has a booming voice at the line of scrimmage. C.J. Stroud barely had one at all at Michigan on Nov. 27, as the Buckeye passer dealt with a flu-like illness the whole week leading up to The Game.
Stroud took responsibility for the issues the Ohio State offensive line had after the game, citing his lack of a voice when describing communication problems along the Buckeye front five, and he was not the only player that discussed the predicament. Dawand Jones later said he stopped trying to listen to the snap count at all during the game, opting instead to simply watch the ball as he couldn’t hear anything coming from his quarterback.
Stroud said a number of Ohio State players were impacted by the flu outbreak, with several Buckeyes “dropping out of practice” during the week of preparation prior to the matchup. But Stroud’s illness in particular, especially given how he said it impacted the offense, was the most high-profile case by far.
Everybody switching to linebacker
One would be an anomaly. Two might be unexplainable, but three is nothing short of strange.
Steele Chambers started the trend of former offensive players switching to linebacker in the preseason, when he gave up on hunting for carries in Tony Alford’s running back room to join forces with Al Washington and company full time. The transition went surprisingly well for Chambers, who played the position in high school, as he emerged as a starter for the final four games of the year.
Chambers had so much success that the Buckeyes tried out another position switch by the end of the year, moving Cade Stover from tight end to a first-string Sam linebacker role against Utah as Ohio State prioritized stopping the run. The move is not guaranteed to be a permanent one as of yet, but Stover sure seemed comfortable in that spot.
Cade Stover says he thinks the move to LB might be a permanent one. pic.twitter.com/wdnqS9RBwv— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) January 2, 2022
But even before the Rose Bowl, Ohio State landed Arizona State running back DeaMonte Trayanum out of the transfer portal, only he won’t be taking handoffs for the Buckeyes moving forward. Trayanum will be one more player switching from offense to linebacker in a Buckeye uniform, which has certainly become a pattern to take note of as of late.
C.J. Stroud’s shoulder struggles
With Ohio State opting to keep injury information hush-hush in the Day era, the circumstances surrounding a shoulder injury Stroud suffered early in the season became quite a bit more mysterious than they could have been.
First there was the preseason practice that saw Stroud held back from throwing the ball at all, which Day said was common protocol on occasion to keep quarterbacks fresh. That day seemed to be given new context when Stroud began awkwardly favoring his throwing shoulder before both the second and third games of the season against Oregon and Tulsa – the second of which yielded Stroud’s worst performance of the year as he threw for just 185 yards on 15-for-25 passing.
Day says that after talking with Stroud about his shoulder, he thought it would be best to shut him down. Day says Stroud said he had a feeling he couldnt shake, and that rest might be the best thing for him.— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) September 23, 2021
Stroud said after the game that he was “definitely not 100 percent,” and he ended up sitting out the following week’s contest against Akron on Sept. 25. With criticism about Stroud’s play mounting, many viewed it as a chance for Kyle McCord to assert himself as the Buckeyes’ permanent starter.
The Buckeye backup couldn’t quite make that case, though, and Stroud returned the next week with a masterful performance against Rutgers that silenced most doubters. We wouldn’t find out until November that Stroud had actually separated the AC joint in his right shoulder in the season opener, information that might have cleared some things up if it had been public sooner.