Where the Past Begins

By Ramzy Nasrallah on December 13, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Nov 25, 2023; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord (6) is hit by Michigan Wolverines defensive end Jaylen Harrell (32) as he throws an interception during the second half of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium. Ohio State lost 30-24.
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Nothing gets Buckeye fans more excited than a good remake.

Rebooting beloved classics during football season is one of our most prized customs. Consider this enticing pitch: Tommy Eichenberg, starring as the next Chris Spielman.

That casting tracks with reality – both guys are starting middle linebackers from Northeast Ohio. Tommy's an inch taller while Chris was about 15lbs heavier – hey, close enough for the audience to believe it. Relentless effort. Similar complexions.

This script was greenlit, and 268 tackles later Eichenberg is now in an exclusive club of Ohio State linebackers who are definitely not Chris Spielman. If he chooses to play in the Cotton Bowl – that was Spielman's last bowl game – and he gets five tackles, Tommy will finish with...exactly half of what Spielman totaled in college.

No one is the next Spielman. We still can't stop ourselves from pitching these reboots.

Eichenberg never asked to be measured next to Ohio State linebacker greats who played in completely different eras and systems. He didn't grow up watching Spielman play, either - Tommy was born years after 36 had already retired from the NFL. Oof, typing that sentence was painful.

It's perfectly fine for Buckeye middle linebackers to become their own originals – personally, I enjoyed the first and only Craig Powell. The first Andy Katzenmoyer felt like science fiction, like how was this guy even real? The first AJ Hawk, the first James Laurinaitis, the first Ryan Shazier - all excellent programming. The First Eichenberg was mostly fine.

we are in the first era in Ohio State program history where quarterback is consistently the main character.

Our remake fetish has mostly afflicted incoming linebackers, linemen and running backs, because throughout most of Ohio State football history these guys were the stars on the marquee. Wide receivers very recently entered the chat. But these days, no other position compares to quarterbacks.

This is recent behavior; we haven't really pitched Ohio State QB remakes. Physically, Kyle McCord and beloved 1998 team MVP Joe Germaine are within an inch and 10lbs of each other. Until you read that sentence, you never thought of them as similar football players.

Ohio State quarterbacks in this era are not expected to be remakes of prior guys. Over the past decade that room has evolved into a Prestige TV series, like how True Detective reboots each season with new actors.

We know how the plot is going to progress, but each main character puts their own spin on the protagonist role. Take Dwayne Haskins – in his single full season as Ohio State's starter, our deeply flawed and chronically unsatisfied tribe seized on what he wasn't. He doesn't run enough. He doesn't run well. Why doesn't he run more?

And while we were all whining about his stubborn insistence on staying in the pocket and going through all his progressions, Haskins threw for 50 touchdowns in one season. Bobby Hoying threw for 54 in three. Terrelle Pryor threw for 57 in 26 more games. It was supernatural. No reboot.

We had a sense this would be coming, because just prior to Season One – this happened:

2016 233 379 61.5 2,555 6.7 24 7 135.3 205 845 4.1 9
2017 240 371 64.7 3,053 8.2 35 9 160.1 165 798 4.8 12

That's the difference between J.T. Barrett being coached by Tim Beck and J.T. Barrett being coached by Ryan Day. More passing yards, more passing touchdowns, higher QB rating, fewer rushing attempts, more value on the ground and ultimately much better quarterbacking. Far more than just iterative improvement and growth.

It capped a four-season run that ended with viewer fatigue. Haskins was a welcomed reboot.

We found new things to be unhappy about – Barrett couldn't throw like Haskins, but Haskins couldn't move like Barrett. He barely moved at all. We wanted our main character to have both.

This serial's second full season gave us Justin Fields, aka both. But he hung onto the ball too long and took more sacks than he probably should have. While we were complaining about what Fields wasn't, he collected national awards and was a Heisman finalist.

McCord was never able to shake his unfortunate Lousy 1st Half habit throughout his only season as a starter. We stopped counting his intentional grounding penalties before Halloween.

He would have gone to New York twice if not for his pandemic-abbreviated final season. C.J. Stroud followed, and we had never seen precision or grace like this before – except he didn't run either. Showed some unfortunate body language when things didn't go his way. Why can't he be more like Barrett? He had that dawg in him. Haskins and Fields never pouted.

While we were complaining about what C.J. wasn't, he filled a few shelves with awards and is now one of the top NFL quarterbacks as a rookie, from a program famous for not producing any of those. His season finale in Atlanta was the episode – offensively – we would like to see in syndication. That's the QB show. That's what it's supposed to look like.

And that brings us to the latest season, which featured McCord in that starring role. He didn't move well at all, and his green offensive line only exacerbated his lack of mobility chops. He was more Todd Boeckman than Germaine. No debate.

McCord was never able to shake his unfortunate Lousy 1st Half habit throughout his only season as a starter. We stopped counting his intentional grounding penalties before Halloween.

He was undefeated as a starter at Thanksgiving dinner and in the transfer portal before the first bowl game kicked off. McCord has left the building, and the quarterback show Day started when he joined Urban Meyer's staff finds itself at a crossroads.

McCORD 2023 229 348 65.8 3,170 9.1 24 6 161.6 32 (65) (2.0) 0
GERMAINE 1998 209 346 60.4 3,108 9.0 24 7 154.7 56 (65) (1.1) 0

Turns out McCord's 2023 was nearly a statistical match to Germaine's 1998 MVP season.

It underlines why Ohio State quarterbacks in this era are not expected to be remakes of prior guys. Line play will always be line play, running backs will always need to chew up tough yards and linebackers have to wrap up and bring dudes down. Quarterbacks are different, and for the first time in program history – with any consistency – they're the main character.

Germaine threw to David Boston (a Marv-ish matchup problem), Dee Miller (big Emeka energy), Michael Wiley (TreVeyon with enhanced durability) and a weaponized TE in John Lumpkin. He and McCord both lost just once on brutal game-ending interceptions.

This jarring anomaly skirts the central issue for the leading role in the 2023 season, which is Day likely made the wrong choice between McCord and J.J. McCarthy, who has far more in mobility and moxie than McCord could ever make up in arm strength. The cruel twist is the program benefiting the most from that decision.

It was a big miss by the casting director, exacerbated by Quinn Ewers reclassifying and inadequate offensive line recruiting, portal recovery, retention and development dating back five years. He's trying to do too many jobs. We've got a whole offseason to talk about all of this.

As for the season finale, it is arguably the least anticipated one of the era. It's largely a consequence of poor character development but also a repercussion of losing the most critical Saturday. It was a tired and unpleasant script that's been recycled too many times.

Which means 2024 needs to be a good remake. Don't worry, the casting director is aware.

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