THE SITUATIONAL: Friends Like These

By Ramzy Nasrallah on November 15, 2023 at 1:15 pm
xavier johnson, cade stover, tommy eichenberg

Can you name Ryan Day's first Ohio State recruit?

First clue - he's still on the team. Here's what that guy had to say about his college choice:

They really made me feel like I was wanted. That was a big deciding factor. I love their coaching staff, they're really great guys.

Time's up, it was Tommy Eichenberg, current middle linebacker and team captain talking about his college decision way back in 2018. Day signed a five-year deal to succeed Urban Meyer after the 2018 season right after the Buckeyes repeated as B1G champions.

The St. Ignatius linebacker became Ohio State's first non-Meyer football recruit in seven years. He was absolutely brimming with pride and confidence following his big decision, emphasis added:

From their education, the athletics, the coaches, the tradition with Saint Ignatius guys going there, overall, Boston College was the right fit for me.

What could have been. An alternate universe where the caricature of an Ohio-bred Buckeye middle linebacker is playing for Jeff Hafley in Chestnut Hill. When Eichenberg flipped, Hafley had still never been to Columbus. He succeeded Alex Grinch a week after the Rose Bowl.

Eichenberg decommitted from BC the week of that reVenGe tOuR Michigan game, became an OSU commit immediately after Day inked his contract, took his official visit to Columbus a few days later and then signed with the Buckeyes before Christmas. A December to remember.

Saturday is his final home game, and it's got some intense John Simon vibes - we're not sure if Tommy will be healthy enough to play or if his arm injury requires more time to heal ahead of The Game coming up next.

He was Day's first recruit, but Eichenberg wasn't the first linebacker to commit to that class. That guy had chosen Ohio State back in April, The two of them would become roommates.

Stover's goals upon committing were to win a national championship and play in the NFL. If he does the latter, it will be as a tight end - he's been a farmer far longer than he's been Farmer Gronk. As for the former, he will have an intimate role in making that a reality.

As will Ohio State's third captain, Xavier Johnson. He is responsible for another first. Eichenberg was Day's first recruit. X was his first apology for how the Buckeyes won a game:

If I could do that again, I would have taken a knee.

Ohio State inadvertently ran up the score on Scott Frost's Nebraska Cornhuskers, via then-Buckeye backup Jack Miller handing off to then-walk-on Johnson. Those two carved up the visitors on a late drive which ended in the north endzone.

Two seasons later, X was no longer scoring garbage time touchdowns against dormant programs. He was supplying the turning point against Notre Dame and also torching Georgia's defense.

These days he's a team captain, a Block O recipient - and a grad student on scholarship. Ohio State's three captains have flourished, grown and thrived in a program that carries Developed Here as its slogan.

Three more testimonies for future Buckeyes to consider - a Boston College flip, a converted linebacker and a walk-on who all became captains and will play in the NFL. They've seen a lot during their time in Columbus, and their final moments are coinciding with a bit of a program crescendo.

The last time the Buckeyes had a title-worthy offense and defense at the same time, X was footing his own tuition and Stover and Eichenberg were still high schoolers. Ohio Stadium says goodbye to them, the seniors and a few other tax bracket busters this weekend. Hopefully they have five more games together before peacing out.

Friends, we made it. It's finally U of M week! No, not that one! Let's get Situational.


punt safe formation
On 4th & 1, Ohio State lined up in a Punt Safe formation designed to guard against 4th & long trickery. MSU easily converted.

I will regret publishing this, but I cannot keep it to myself: Here's how you beat Ohio State in 2023.

Wait. You know what, let's tuck the winning blueprint into a classic Situational text wall so Connor Stalions - hey Connor, what's up - has to work a little harder to find it (rulebook clarification: pulling intel from blog posts about bourbon is not an NCAA violation or even poor sportsmanship). So, Nick Siciliano, remember him?

He was affectionately referred to as Jim Tressel's barista both prior to and especially after Tatgate went down. Siciliano was legitimately the Buckeyes' video coordinator, serving as shadow QB coach while QB whisperer Joe Daniels was receiving cancer treatments.

Tressel made this humanitarian arrangement so that Daniels' position would still be available for him when he was well enough to return to coaching, which sadly he did not. Siciliano had no relevant experience coaching or coaching quarterbacks. That's not whom you place in charge of what Tressel called the most important job in Ohio.

Siciliano's lacking qualifications is not a convenient 20/20 hindsight take, but it was a ruse from the outset. Tressel coached the most important position in Ohio during Daniels' medical leave. He looked after Terrelle Pryor himself and would do the same for Braxton Miller. Siciliano was the "QB coach" according to the media guide only.

But then suddenly, Tressel was no longer with the university. Siciliano through no fault of his own found himself exposed, in charge of a QB room serving his new supervisor Luke Fickell, a former nose tackle and defense/special teams (sigh) expert.

Anyway, Siciliano is out of the coaching profession. How it ended wasn't his fault.

25-yard punt return
The typical Ohio State special teams play under Fleming: An accumulation of mistakes which squander points, momentum or field position.

I think about Siciliano whenever Ohio State's special teams are on the field, wishing there was some comforting explanation for why this is happening. There is none, and I have Parker Fleming fatigue - both from having written about his performance already and from still being subjected to it every Saturday.

His origin story diverts from Siciliano's. Fleming isn't a cover for Day to coach his favorite unit.

Fleming was a grad assistant on Urban Meyer's first two Ohio State teams. After the porous 2013 Buckeye defense cost the Buckeyes the B1G championship and a shot at the BCS title, Meyer "promoted" defensive coordinator Everitt Withers off to James Madison. Fleming went with him to advance his experience.

Two years later, Fleming followed Withers again to Texas State, where he was fired in 2018 following three seasons and just seven wins. He has not had another head coaching position since, bouncing from program to program taking classic journeyman assistant roles.

As for Fleming, once Withers ran out of jobs for him, he returned to Ohio State in 2018, Meyer's final season. He left a grad student and returned as a quality control assistant.

And he's been looking after the Buckeyes' special teams ever since, culpable in miscommunication after miscommunication after miscommunication. What began as Quality Control is now a full-blown coordinatorship, which comes with off-campus recruiting obligations.

Here's Ohio State currently attempting what Tressel called the most important play in football:

Make sure you watch until the camera finds Day's reaction shot from the sideline. Note the player running onto the field late to join what's already an illegal formation. This unit has been incoherent since Fleming was put in charge of it.

Ohio State's special teams are an exercise in exhausting amateur hour nonsense too stupid to be real and yet happening e v e r y s i n g l e w e e k. The offense is cresting toward its final form, the defense continues to be one of if not the nation's nastiest - and special teams consistently fail to do the stuff they teach on Day One of Special Teams School.

And a little, annoying, repetitive reminder - most programs don't even have a dedicated special teams coordinator. The Buckeyes are paying an FTE for a function which has performed better than this for the better part of 125 years without dedicated headcount. We're witnessing history. HR is just kind of watching it happen.

Hopefully Mr. Stalions got as bored reading this as I got writing it and tapped out a few paragraphs above. Okay, shhhhh here's how you beat Ohio State this season:

  • Line up in punting formation on 1st down
  • Run any non-punt play for positive yardage
  • Just keep doing this until points are achieved
  • Line up for a 2-point conversion
  • (this will draw a timeout from the Buckeyes, as they have not lined up properly or on time for a 2-point conversion literally once since Fleming took over the unit)
  • Continue to operate the offense in punting formation
  • Ohio State's defense will end the game with an NCAA record zero snaps played
  • Score one more point than Ohio State's offense and print your shirts

The longer a team can keep Ohio State's special teams on the field, the better shot it has against the Buckeyes. No one has scored more than 17 on the OSU defense this season, so the path of least resistance is the way. Keep the third unit active. Let's make this our little secret.


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.

You can thank the good Reverend Gary Davis for Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Lovin' Spoonful or Blood Sweat & Tears. We might still have Bob Dylan, but he'd be more Robert Zimmerman than who he became.

American folk and blues music sounds different, because Blind Gary was a fingerpicker who left the South for New York City, which leaked his influence into the mainstream. That's also why you can add David Bromberg to the list. Bromberg's style is almost entirely lifted from Rev Davis.

He took the legendary Colin Prend Sa Hotte which is a pastiche of a classic Algerian belly dancing riff (you sang it in the playground as a child, it's that there's a place in France where the naked ladies dance tune) and grunge-bluesed it into Sharon.

Sharon passes solo obligations around the band throughout the song, a standard order among folksy blues jam bands. This is known as a roll call. Let's answer our two questions.

are the soloists in this roll call actually playing their instruments?

We've got ourselves another live performance and low degree of investigative difficulty; God bless you, readers. In addition to Bromberg, we've got Mark Cosgrove on guitar and Nate Grower playing violin - sorry, this is blues - Nate's on the fiddle. VERDICT: Yes

does this roll call slap?

Sharon is one of those blues songs that could extend to four hours with made-up lyrics and slap all the way down. That's just too much sauce for anyone named Sharon. Ten minutes is perfectly fine. Bromberg and the rest of us are indebted to Rev Davis for his contributions to blues music.

If that seems dramatic, consider what happened to Jefferson Airplane after his passing - that band devolved into something so unspeakably bad that not even campy 1980s playlists will claim it. The first modern art to ever be canceled for simply sucking.

Blues is quintessentially American. Without Davis, we'd be knee-deep in the hoopla. 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.
Sweet, low-octane 2BAR goes down easy.

Saturday is Senior Day in Ohio Stadium, though not the final regular season game - we'll talk about that one next week. Day Era teams tend to avoid losing to bad teams, and Minnesota needs one more win to punch its ticket to the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl.

That's not made-up. This is their objective in mid-November, which categorically makes Minnesota a bad team, placing it in the sacred Unlosable Game column. Anyway, there's a bourbon for this.

The visitors will be Rowing the Boat™ to Columbus, and in the absence of two oars we're going with 2Bar, a value whiskey from Washington State via Texas you can procure for under $40.

Correct, it's not from Minnesota - just like the majority of the Gophers' roster. This is a liquid Butterfinger situation coming in at 80 proof, going down without a grimace while allowing the home team to pull its achy starters after halftime to rest up for next week.

No ice cube or water splash necessary. Pair 2BAR with a low-anxiety 2nd half performance.


Oct 28, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Jordan Nubin (30) scores a touchdown on a touchdown run as Michigan State Spartans defensive back Dillon Tatum (21) gives chase during the fourth quarter at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota RB Jordan Nubin scores as MSU DB Dillon Tatum gives chase back in October. Minnesota won 27-12. © Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes just dispatched the East's worst* team (Sparty has an excuse, Indiana does not).

This week it gets the West's worst, a chaotic PJ Fleck outfit owning a zebra-aided win over the inevitable West champion Iowa Hawkeyes along with three losses to teams who aren't above .500 at present.

So the Gophers cannot quite beat everyone, but they definitely can lose to anyone. This Saturday isn't about what Minnesota presents for Ohio State. This is a low-anxiety tune-up against an overmatched, one-dimensional opponent.

That's not where we were last season in mid-November. We can say with confidence that the overthought post-bye week 2022 strategy, last season's tense death march to the Michigan game did not leak into 2023.

The Buckeyes have evolved instead of devolving, puckering and playing a blunted version of themselves. A year later and we've been treated to an Ohio State team rounding into form, embracing what it aspires to be, discarding the low-efficiency concepts that aren't good enough while editing new ones with tantalizing potential.

This team is changing for the better. We aren't as good as they are; we're still conditioned to panic about imperfections, like the Buckeyes' wobbly center, special teams on their third season of being a liability and the roster's frustrating addiction to soft tissue injuries.

And that's the opponent this Saturday, with apologies to any boat rowers reading this. We're talking about a Minnesota defense that just allowed Purdue to have two 100-yard rushers last week. If Ohio State wants to score 50 on Saturday, it will. The Buckeyes' opponent will be additional health concerns.

This means aggravating old injuries, creating new ones, catching the flu from the visitors and passing it around to the whole roster as was the case during the 2021 Senior Day laugher. The Buckeyes don't need to be at 100% health to win in Ann Arbor, but it would be nice.

The bye came earlier this season, and there were valid fears the Buckeyes would conspicuously pucker over the Saturdays leading to next Saturday, again. That never materialized. Instead, they've been building a monster all season long. This will be one final Saturday in the lab.

Thanks for getting Situational today. Go Bucks. Beat Minnesota.

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