By Ramzy Nasrallah on October 18, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Nov 23, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback John Reid (29) prevents Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (17) from making a touchdown reception in the first half at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
© Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

A modern football broadcast apparatus is expansive.

One regular season NFL game alone requires a staff of no fewer than 150. Fox deploys 12 to 20 cameras to ensure viewers can see e v e r y t h i n g, because experience is king. Some cameras are high, some are low, some on the side and one floats above the field on cables.

This is the usual in 2023. Any production beneath this apparatus feels like a high school game.

That army of staffers works largely in the shadows, but two special ones are in the booth, on camera and mic'd up for the whole football-lovin' world to hear. So they must know ball and should be able public-speak without vomiting all over themselves.

All other attributes - attractiveness, intelligence, humor - those are extras and cost more.

Announcers are prohibited from showing nerves because when it comes to football games, visceral anxiety is a privilege reserved for fans - stage fright is not on the menu. Sometimes the booth has a contrived 10-second conversation with a sideline reporter, which must be perfect and unscripted.

When that happens, there's no time for uh or you know. Flawless, concise, robotic delivery beneath two inches of caked TV makeup (two staffers are in charge of that).

NBC's arrangement with B1G created a temporary hostage situation for fans unaccustomed to watching Buckeye games on what's basically pay-per-view.

Having been in multiple press boxes, on countless sidelines and in too many media rooms I never gave much thought to appreciating the modern football broadcast apparatus, until last weekend. That's when I caught a glimpse of what typical Raycom game production quality 40 years ago probably looked like. I was a kid then, and football just appeared on TV like magic. Never thought of the people behind it.

Notre Dame alumnus Kyle Rudolph did color for the first Peacock broadcast Ohio State fans were subjected to, and he kicked it off by openly complaining about not being in South Bend for the USC game. It wasn't cheeky or funny - he was genuinely upset about the Buckeyes playing in West Lafayette and venting. Hey, relatable! One of us, Kyle.

At one point Denzel Burke went to the injury tent and later the locker room and it was never mentioned on the broadcast. You had to be using what's left of Twitter or reading this web site to realize he was no longer playing. The two guys being paid to describe what was happening just kind of missed the Buckeyes' best defender permanently exiting the stadium. Raycom usually caught that stuff.

In an unintentional homage to Paul Keels, players were routinely called a Buckeye or a Boilermaker because apparently Peacock doesn't employ spotters, and Kyle was probably lost in thought about how the Irish would contain Caleb Williams. I think they got bored and barely even watched the 2nd half. Hey, relatable! Once again, one of us.

"Martell Tate" had a good game. (Courtesy: Peacock)

NBC's arrangement with B1G created a temporary hostage situation for fans unaccustomed to accessing Buckeye games on what's basically pay-per-view. Peacock isn't a BTN-like offering, this was one game that didn't even have a pregame show. Peacock did not deliver PPV quality, nor did it resemble a standard 2023 football broadcast. There was no modern apparatus, despite NBC's investment in broadcast rights.

Peacock spent sub-Raycom dollars on the Purdue game. If you're under 40, Saturday's production looked completely foreign. The Olds were treated to an old timey 1980s broadcast. Three cameras, no detail, less replay...and somehow still in high definition? Absolutely jarring.

I swear I'm not making this up - at one point Carnell Tate was referred to as Martell Tate. Not even Lee Corso tosses word salads like that - it was a Chicago Cubs Losing by Six Runs in the 8th Inning and Harry Caray Finished all the Budweiser in the Booth moment. Another throwback to a bygone era.

Martell Tate is how a former Buckeye quarterback would be listed in the phone book if phone books still existed. That guy was not in West Lafayette on Saturday, probably. For the record, this is Martell, Tate.

The lack of broadcasting muscle for something as sacred as an Ohio State football production would be offensive if everyone reading this was innocent of what Kyle and The Other Guy (I don't feel like looking him up) pulled off on Saturday, aided and abetted by Peacock holding the game hostage on a budget: They went to work, did next to nothing for several hours and got still got paid.

Yeah, hard to be mad at that. Been there! One of us. Let's get Situational.


Ohio State Special Teams Coordinator Parker Fleming watches a replay during the Western Kentucky game. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Brian Ferentz makes $850,000 to run Iowa's offense. Iowa currently ranks 133rd in total offense in the FBS. You know how many FBS teams there are in total? Not 134.

His dad is Iowa's head coach - yeah we discussed this last year when the Hawkeyes came to town. Brian took the heckled route into the one percenter's club for lofty household income, as the whole college football-loving country is fixated on how dismal and unaccountable his results are. He isn't allowed to be rich quietly.

But just imagine having the chutzpa to forfeit a few dollars in exchange for avoiding all that pesky scrutiny. Would you accept a modest $500,000 salary in exchange for no nepotism jokes or accountability? Of course you would. No shame in being a two percenter.

And that's the Parker Fleming gambit - he is Ohio State's special teams coordinator. If you're a casual fan, you might be seeing that name for the first time. Parker has the best job in Ohio, and there's no close second.

We're simply not accustomed to seeing the words Ohio State Special Teams Coordinator because it's considered luxury headcount. Most teams don't have that FTE in their coaching org charts. But when a program invests in one, it creates accountability and expectations. Theoretically, anyway.

Fleming occupies salary and precious coordinator headcount while delivering a persistent liability where none previously existed. like hiring a maid only to see your house get dirtier.

If it's okay to pin the defense on Jim Knowles and the offense on Ryan Day and Brian Hartline, it's perfectly acceptable to pin special teams performance on the guy who runs it.

That means when Emeka Egbuka fields a punt inside the Ohio State 10-yard line while running toward his own endzone, that's on Fleming. When a fake punt fails basic execution against Michigan, Fleming again. When the same fake punt put 12 men on the field against Georgia, 100% Fleming. (how was that even possible?)

But that's the gambit - there have been as many consequences as there have been improvements. Here's the sneaky thing about missing a kick or borking a punt return: you don't need to pay a full-time coach for either of those things. It's college football, a mystical land where #collegekickers flourish.

If you're going to spend headcount on this, special teams performance had better be fucking excellent. That's not how anyone could objectively describe the Buckeyes' special teams.

So when a 2-point conversion resulted in a delay of game penalty last season against Penn State, that was on Fleming. When a second 2-point conversion resulted in a delay of game penalty last season in the same game, that was also on Fleming. Short, terrible punts, missed field goals - including the one that missed by the width of the goal posts to end 2022 are on Fleming. Penalties on top of penalties on special teams - guess who should answer for that.

Prior to Fleming, Matt Barnes coached safeties and linebackers with special teams as an added task. Prior to him, Kerry Coombs looked after that unit. Urban Meyer's first staff had no one with special teams duties. He took that on himself.

The Buckeyes' last full-time special teams coach was a guy named Luke Fickell back in 2003. Jim Tressel saw Luke's coaching runway and immediately bought shares. Ohio State went nearly 20 years without a dedicated special teams coach, and since they've had one special teams have never seemed so comprehensively mediocre.

In the absence of a Fickell-like coaching ascension, Fleming will join ghosts like Alex Grinch, who makes Southern Cal's defense Must-See TV for all the wrong reasons - and Best Man Bill Davis™, who coached Buckeye linebackers into a chasm while making...this is so weird, Fleming's exact salary.

Davis' only qualification was giving a speech in Meyer's wedding - he had never coached college linebackers in his career outside of Columbus, and hoo boy was that obvious. Once again, Columbus is not a first-time coordinator organization in the vast majority of instances - Hartline learning under Day is one of those exceptions. There are hundreds of lower-esteem programs that can take on risk like that.

Fleming occupies a salary and precious coordinator headcount while delivering a persistent liability where none previously existed. It's kind of like you - an unbothered two-percenter in this scenario, hiring a maid only to see your house get dirtier. Not only are you paying for this maid, the headcount prevents you from employing a gardener.

And that gardener's name is James Laurinaitis, a guy who is prohibited by NCAA rules from leaving campus to recruit despite being a Buckeye legend and almost illegally charismatic - because he's not one of the official coaches like Fleming is.

There's only a handful of dedicated FBS special teams coordinators. Maybe Ryan Day should consider the return his program has gotten on this investment. But hope springs eternal - maybe we're at the precipice of Fleming's rise.

We must acknowledge other programs which have found success using Ohio State's model. Your two-time defending conference champion Michigan Wolverines are one of few programs who also employ dedicated special teams coordinator headcount.

His name? Jay Harbaugh. Came to Michigan from the Baltimore Ravens. Uncle vouched for him.


The Solo

CONTENT NOTE: This season Situational enthusiasts are controlling the Intermission jukebox, and as is the case in your local tavern - nobody knows who's choosing the songs. You have the right to get mad. If this goes off the rails, good.

I was first introduced to Aerosmith by Run DMC. Shortly thereafter I heard the original version of Walk This Way for the first time and thought wow, so that's what rap sounded like before rap was commercialized, fascinating. Both versions are bangers.

A few years later Aerosmith became a Wayne's World staple, and that's how I would forever think of them; boomer rock band in the Gen X pop culture pantheon of estimable old people. But then - in a deliberate and shocking act of terrorism - fellow 11W principal Chris Lauderback told me to google Steven Tyler's feet and I did it, like a naive moron touching a hot stove.

What I saw is now the only way my hostile brain allows me to think of Aerosmith. What it Takes is a country-tinged power ballad from the band's post-DMC renaissance. It features an electric guitar solo. Let's answer our two questions.

Is the soloist in this video actually playing the electric guitar?

That's squared-jawed and chronically shirtless Joe Perry okay now listen, if you just finishing googling "Steven Tyler's feet" that's your own fault. I thought I was pretty clear this was a bad idea. If for whatever reason my guidance was ambiguous, let's remedy that now - do not google "Steven Tyler's feet." VERDICT: Yes, it's Joe Perry

Does this electric guitar solo slap?

A mournful, impassioned and guitar slide-aided soliloquy that okay look, you absolutely should not google "Steven Tyler's feet" under any circumstance. Morbid curiosity isn't a good reason. Reader, I'm begging you not to do it.

If for whatever reason you are subjected to Steven Tyler's feet, direct all complaints and customer service issues to Chris Lauderback. It's his fault. Everything is his fault. 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.

Panty melter. You're welcome.
Hand Barrel. White on the outside.

As an Ohio State football enthusiast, my Penn State White Out memories are largely good, fun and worth cherishing. Even last year's Big Noon White Banger (don't google that if you're at work, it's probably X-rated) produced happy thoughts and feelings.

The only white bottle of bourbon to my knowledge is Hand Barrel, which is glass complemented with a coating which gives it an expensive, marble feel. It retails for under $100 so for anyone who has never paid for fancy countertops, this isn't marble.

On the inside, we're treated to a 64/24/12 corn/rye/malted barley blend that is unique to anything I've ever reviewed here. They've essentially mortgaged a little corn for barley in what could be considered a primitive, off-the-shelf two element mash bill.

The high rye impact is predictable and pleasant burn, but you really pick up on that barley on the front end more than the finish. Rye dominates the back end.

The Hand Barrel experience is like dipping Cracker Jacks in apple butter while chewing an entire pack of Big Red gum. This is probably best consumed while listening to Seven Nation Army while begging your uninterested neighbor to treat you like an arch-rival.


Michigan defeated Penn State 21-17 in 2021. They Wolverines return to Happy Valley next month. © Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State's last scoreless quarter was in garbage time against Maryland. It was last year.

The Nittany Lions had a 30-0 lead and just chilled a little, keeping them out of the endzone or in between uprights. They have gone an unbelievable 36 straight quarters with a crooked number on the scoreboard, including every quarter this season.

You have to go back to the 2022 Ohio State game to find a non-garbage time quarter when Penn State was blanked. The Buckeyes actually kept PSU scoreless in two quarters that afternoon. Michigan did that as well. This is not an offense that struggles for points, at least against most defenses.

And speaking of defenses, Penn State has one of those, too - it's no.2 nationally in scoring defense (Michigan), no.3 rushing defense (James Madison, Utah), no.1 passing defense and the no.1 total defense in the country. Impressive no matter whom they've played.

Buuuuuuuuuuut we should still mention the opponents. It would be negligence to ignore them.

WEST VIRGINIA 34 105 70 79
ILLINOIS 102 55 117 84
IOWA 100 131 115 133 (last)
NORTHWESTERN 120 98 109 122
MASSACHUSETTS 97 77 102 89
OHIO STATE 94 15 20 32

Illinois has the best passing offense the Penn State defense has seen this season. The Buckeyes' anemic rushing attack is the second-best unit on the slate. Saturday's visitors will get their first shot this season at an offense ranked in the top 79 nationally.

And that's going to be a little jarring, even if the Nits have a top-5 SP+ defense (use whatever primitive or football nerd metric you like, they're as sterling as their competition has been rancid). Ohio State has guys Penn State has only seen in practice thus far, and the Nittany Lions generally practice at home. This will be different.

The matchup serves as an inverted lite-preview of what the Buckeyes will face in the regular season's final Saturday in Ann Arbor, as Michigan's resumé should look only slightly worse than Penn State's does. It won't matter how squishy soft the Wolverines' body count is, either.

Because these are the two teams guarding the East Division. One shows up Saturday for a de facto October playoff game. The other is a playoff game too. Here's to Day preparing his team for both the way he has approached actual playoff games.

Thanks for getting Situational today. Go Bucks. Beat Penn State.

View 79 Comments