THE SITUATIONAL: A World Without Stars

By Ramzy Nasrallah on April 10, 2024 at 1:15 pm
Sep 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) celebrates the touchdown with offensive lineman Carson Hinzman (75) during the first quarter against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
original - ©Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State's third-best Spring Game tradition is its timing.

If your firsthand Buckeye football recollections don't span beyond the cocaine-encrusted 1980s you can't appreciate the scheduling of this Saturday's hotly anticipated fake football game. This includes me. I have no lucid 1970s memories and the following decade was just D.A.R.E. propaganda and 9-3 football seasons.

I never lived through the old timing, in May. It's just always been a fun April scrimmage. I'll speak for myself and my juniors - friends, we were born in the right era.

Prior to 1980 the Internet was still called UseNet. Dumb name, and even dumber - only like 17 people had access to it; more like Youcan'tuseNet. During this primitive pre-online pre-sports pre-commerce pre-porn pre-outrage era, Ohio's mulleted settlers had scant access to granular, daily spring football practice updates beyond vague, buried blurbs in the Dispatch or the Citizen-Journal.

A two-newspaper football town didn't have football news. They drank water out of rusty wells and lived off the land. Everyone got cholera. Fullbacks with neck rolls were gods (some things don't change).

Ink smudged on your fingers was a small price to pay to see Art Schlichter's name in print - purely for football reasons back then - and our ancestors truly believed they were blessed. One tradition this diseased era had in common with our current times: Cold spring practice weather was on the ropes.

Today that's because earth's winter temperatures have gotten chaotic and consistently warmer. But back then it was because spring practices didn't really get started

From its inception right up until an alumnus named Earle Bruce took the job, our beloved Ohio State Spring Game - they called it Reds vs. Whites back then - conflicted with the Kentucky Derby. For the uniformed, that's next month.

legends like Bam Childress, Taurian Washington, Maurice Clarett and Terry Glenn all shined when the games didn't count.

Earle's most conspicuous fetish was run, run, pass, punt betting on ponies in Louisville, so after he secured Woody's desk he changed the spring and scrimmage dates to conclude in time for him to separate himself from his disposable income and mingle with bourbon-soaked masses wearing funny hats.

And that's our third best Spring Game tradition. We are so blessed - the fact that Ohio's favorite pretend football game had to be moved 45 years ago because the new guy had to accommodate his gambling schedule. No coach ever moved it back. Must have been the right call.

This year our fake football Saturday steps on The Masters. That's fine, we can watch golf from campus on our little pocket-sized Usenet devices now. No conflicts and no cholera.

Our second-best tradition is the annual Spring Heisman. The April Surprise. The Pollen Punisher. None of those terms are real so don't use them in public - we're talking about April legends like Bam Childress, Taurian Washington, Maurice Clarett and Terry Glenn shining bright when the games didn't count.

Spring is exciting, and it's also dangerous - we're now 40 years removed from QB1 Mike Tomczak breaking his damn leg running the option during the Spring Game. His position coach that season? A guy named James Patrick Tressel. Every conservative play caller has an origin story. You could argue his began the day his star QB broke his leg in a fake football game.

But that call wasn't Jimmy's - Earle dialed it up, possibly because he was distracted by the bath he had just taken at Churchill Downs. Tomczak was sent across the lawn to OSU Medical Center mid-scrimmage and eight months later the Big Ten champs went to the Rose Bowl, which stood as the most impressive program achievement involving a backup quarterback up until the 2014 season.

This brings us to our finest Spring Game tradition - the weight and emotion we put into an intrasquad scrimmage. Tens of thousands of people are going to attend it on Saturday. I'll end up watching it twice. Gotta make sure I don't miss anything important. Fake football holds important autumn clues. They really let you type anything on the Internet.

The last time we saw this team in uniform, it trotted out a needlessly reshuffled offensive line and proceeded to run exactly 57 plays which can all be found tucked into the Ohio State playbook under an obscure but unfortunately real section titled, For When We Absolutely Don't Trust Our Offensive Line. Oof, what a night.

The Cotton Bowl was a crime against football that will never make sense no matter how many times you examine it. But that's the past. On Saturday, the future! Let's get Situational.


Mar 7, 2024; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Quinshon Judkins (1) works with running backs coach Tony Alford during spring football practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Quinshon Judkins working with running backs coach Tony Alford on March 7 during spring football practice. Less than a week later, Alford took a lateral move to Ann Arbor. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Dallan Hayden and Tony Alford were both in the building when spring practices began in Columbus.

Alford didn't make it a week before moving laterally to Ann Arbor, and Hayden announced earlier this week he would bounce once the portal window opened. OSU's slipperiest running back since JK Dobbins couldn't get into or stay in games, and it's a fool's errand to debate the reasons why, even if the timing here smells a little tamperish.

No backup at any position flashed like Hayden did going back to 2022 when Soft Tissue Injury University's Strength & Conditioning Program + a hazardous playing surface may or may not have been culpable in wiping out Alford's entire room late in the season.

The Coaching Fraternity (comprised of actual coaches and people online pretending to be actual coaches) will tell you Hayden must have told on himself in damning, bench-worthy ways behind closed doors. A chronic inability to pick up pass protection, secure the football or catch the football - to which I say hey did any of you happen to watch Chip Trayanum in pass protection? There's no way he was worse than that.

Alford's entire room has been underperforming since Dobbins bounced. Two epic Trey Sermon games and Typhoid Mary's cousin Soft Tissue Sophia are all we have to show for the past four seasons. Hayden was a bright spot with an unacceptable sample size.

Hayden should never have wasted away on the sideline, especially while TreVeyon Henderson was nursing injured ribs last season.

He is literally the only running back who didn't suffer any known non-Covid injuries since 2020, possibly in part because of his sideline subjugation. He's one of numerous players, position-agnostic, whose maddening lack of playing time made no sense in a sport where playing 15 games - this year, even more than that - is the aspiration. Load management is a hot topic entering the 12-team CFP era, but it should have been hotter in Columbus over the past five seasons.

As easy as it is to blame Wear & Tear, Waning Stamina, Competitive Fatigue, Comprehensively Shitty Defenses, Hideos Special Teams, Michigan Brazenly Cheating, Ryan Day Holding Down Four Jobs at Once and Impairing In-Game Coaching and Kyle McCord's Chronic Inability to Throw a Competent Forward Pass for late-season failures, Not Seasoning or Trusting the Depth should be a lousy tradition which exits town with Alford, Parker Fleming, Corey Dennis and Perry Eliano.

Hayden should never have wasted away on the sideline, especially while TreVeyon Henderson was nursing injured ribs last season - he was the only player who consistently found and launched himself through what scarce holes appeared during running plays. I'm wholly uninterested in The Coaching Fraternity's position on why this was the right decision. Ohio State gained nothing by keeping the shrink wrap on Hayden.

He will play somewhere else this fall, which is as unfortunate as Alford finally taking his stale contributions elsewhere is a blessing. Henderson's natural burst, which was not #DevelopedHere - he brought that with him to Columbus - is the only thing preventing the Ohio State running game from being its stalest edition since a ragtag bunch of 5'7" linemen and cholera survivors wore literal sweaters on game days for what was a club sport.

Sometimes turnover is good. Other times, you just deserve to lose what you refused to appreciate and nurture. If Hayden is allowed to cook with regularity at his next stop, it's a smart bet he'll surprise no one with his ability. We all saw what he was capable of on literally every rare occasion he was allowed into games.

Here's to him thriving elsewhere, against other teams. And here's to this staff seasoning its depth - and trusting it - during the 2024 season.


The Solo

Let's recognize the most underrated and overlooked element to any song worth remembering beyond one year of its issue. No, not a catchy tune or riff - everyone grasps that.

A good solo, yes - equally conspicuous and accepted. The sleeper attribute of any song - good or bad - is having just one great lyric. Something you can make your yearbook quote or print on a tee shirt. Aztec Camera's Oblivious is a mostly disposable 80s noisemaker with two exceptional things going for it.

First, the solo - always our first order of business here. Let's answer our two questions.

Is the soloist in this video actually playing the guitar?

Hiding among the scenery of some plotless, pre-woke backyard chicanery is a guitar player sitting on playground equipment pretending to play guitar. It's Craig Gannon, better known for his legendary work with The Smiths than for anything produced by Aztec Camera.

Apparently the label wasn't paying him enough for this video, and as Mary often says to Santa when he's complaining about elves failing quality spot checks - compensation shapes behavior, tubby. VERDICT: Craig is not actually playing the guitar.

Does this guitar solo slap?

It's exceptional both in its simplicity and velocity, which partially explains why there are no fewer than a dozen videos online of instructors demonstrating how to play it. It's the only redeemable music in the song. This is the conspicuous and accepted element to what makes Oblivious redeemable.

The other is its One Great Lyric: I see you crying and I want to kill your friends. One sentence carrying the weight and layers of a 5,000-word backstory. If that line seems overly violent, that probably means you don't have any Scottish friends. Trust me, it's actually romantic.

Mediocre tune. Terrific solo. One great lyric. Minimum passing grade. VERDICT: Slaps

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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.
Whoa Black Button, bam-uh-lam

Rochester, NY is home to blustery winters and cautionary tales. Eastman Kodak is based there - the company which invented the digital camera and freaked out that it would kill its film business, so it sat on its hands and watched other companies kill its film business with - hold for applause - their own versions of Kodak's digital camera.

Paychex is also based in Rochester, shout out to payday. Xerox, Western Union, elite grocery store chain Wegman's and the author of this column were all born there too. We've spent years lauding the quality of New York corn here, which means Black Button - Rochester's finest - is the opposite of a cautionary tale.

Only Kentucky - by a significant margin, let's stay grounded in reality - has more distilleries scattered throughout its hinterlands. From Hudson through the Finger Lakes right up until you can smell the mist from Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, there's excellent, worthy bourbon across the Empire State.

It's the corn and the water, as I'm told - and I have no choice but to believe it. BB's straight bourbon smells like almond extract blended into instant coffee. You get a savory herb and nutmeg palate and a very subtle vanilla meringue finish. What a ride.

The effortless and unassuming sweetness makes sense given the mash bill (60/20/11/9 corn/wheat/barley/rye) which is sweet and wheated with no bite. Available online, sometimes, and usually south of $80. Strike if you see it available. Don't be Kodak and allow someone else to take what's yours.


Oct. 1, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle Hero Kanu (93) tries to get a hand on a punt by Rutgers Scarlet Knights punter Adam Korsak (94) during the second half of Saturday's game in Columbus. Mandatory Credit: Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch Sports Ohio State Rutgers Ncaa Football
OSU DT Hero Kanu fights through an uncalled hold to attempt a punt block against Rutgers in 2022.©Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

The 2024 season doesn't appear to be one of those years where the Buckeyes are the obvious choice to run away with the national title, which is a welcome news because every single one of those seasons without exception has become a What Could Have Been cautionary tale.

The best teams don't win national titles in Columbus. This one is both loaded and loaded with question marks, which is exactly what Ohio State title teams have looked like. Also, welcome news.

Question marks are not the same things as glaring weaknesses, and Buckeyes have had the latter to overcome since its last cautionary tale, the 2015 championship defense campaign which if you go back and watch the first ten games (don't do that) a saboteur couldn't have made what should have been an erotic death march to a repeat title less enjoyable.

It turns out overthinking and incompetence are a wicked pairing - the past three Ohio State teams have had elements of those in their connective tissue. As for 2015, damn it Ed, if only you could have found your happy place just coaching the Slobs forever.

We've got 2015, 2006 and 1998 over the past quarter century-ish as the three years which looked like layups on paper. The 2003 team doesn't qualify because the volume of 2002 nailbiters suggested Ohio State was overdue to drop a couple. The 2009 and 2010 teams were expected to cruise to conference titles, but that's about it.

As good as Jeremiah Smith appears to be, the Buckeyes are replacing their two-season cheat code at receiver with a guy who should be attending his prom this month.

Justin Fields was all potential entering 2019. Covid derailed 2020. Defense and special teams were stinky in 2021-2022. Ohio State's QB luck ran out last season, and the staleness of the running game - especially in short yardage - was never a cause for confidence or championship inevitability.

Overthinking and incompetence were the two biggest movers since the Cotton Bowl. That brings us to here.

We have no idea who the quarterback is or should be for this team, which immediately strikes 2024 from the Inevitability conversation (remember, this is a welcome development). As good as Jeremiah Smith appears to be, the Buckeyes are replacing their two-season cheat code at receiver with a guy who should be attending his prom this month.

Defense will be as seasoned and stout as it's been since that cursed 2015 season, but it's also carrying a legacy of not being able to get a critical stop in games where it absolutely needed to get a stop. It doesn't generate turnovers. Opponents in the back half of the season are able to commit the tendencies to strategy. A championship defense? Maybe. Kicked Missouri's ass and still lost.

Only special teams, which had been the worst in program history for a three-season stretch can be reliably expected to improve. Day offloading play calling and in-game offensive management to a trusted mentor will reduce some of the hairbrained and cowardly decisions we've seen at the worst possible times the past two Novembers.

But the shared goals of the guys with student IDs - going 3/3 in team objectives while embarking on a transparent load management journey to NFL Draft preparation - is the strongest foundation for sustainability and success. I cannot remember this roster's equal in this regard at Ohio State - the seniors are staring going 0/12 in goal achievement since their arrival four years ago.

Maybe 1994? Don't look that up, you'll hate the record even if the last game was good.

This is all good urgency. Entitlement, long a program adversary, is non-existent in 2024. Saturday won't peel back the curtain to any of the reasons Ohio State football will be successful this fall, but it will allow us to see what some of the new parts might look like when it's their turn to do something legendary. This isn't the fun part, but it's still fun.

Thanks for getting Situational today. Go Gray. Beat Scarlet.

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