NEW ORLEANS - For the second year in a row, Ohio State self-destructed in the national championship game.
After fumbling and bumbling to a 41-14 beating at the hands of Florida a year ago, the top-ranked Buckeyes were their own worst enemies — OK, along with some serious help from No. 2 LSU — on Monday night in a 38-24 defeat in the BCS title game at the Superdome.
“I can’t even wait to hear what they’re going to be saying,” offensive lineman Alex Boone said about the team’s critics. “They might all just be saying we should go jump off a bridge or something.”
How did the Buckeyes fall apart? Count the ways: 87 yards in penalties, including five personal fouls, missed tackles, a blocked kick, two interceptions, a fumble and, in general, moments when they looked completely befuddled by everything taking place on the field.
Defensive lineman Doug Worthington thought some players got carried away with being in such a big game.
“I feel emotions got to a lot of guys,” he said.
But coach Jim Tressel didn’t think his team lost its composure.
“I don’t know about the one of those (personal fouls) over on our sideline. It was just a guy running hard to the ball,” he said. “I don’t know if any were vicious, or a loss of composure. That was just a tough football game, and it was very demanding. ... No, I don’t think we ever lost our composure.”
Funny, but heading into the game, Ohio State was seen as the more stable of the two teams. LSU was prone to penalties and mistakes, to giving up big plays and then making up for them with big plays of their own. The Buckeyes weren’t flashy, but dependable.
The opening minutes seemed to underscore that. LSU got caught jamming the line, leading to Chris “Beanie” Wells’ 65-yard touchdown run on the game’s fourth play.
“Everybody was riled up. I thought we were going to finish it off,” Wells said.
After an LSU punt, the Buckeyes made it 10-0 when the Tigers got crossed up on defense, resulting in a 44-yard Todd Boeckman-to-Brandon Saine pass play that set up Ryan Pretorius’ 25-yard field goal.
So far, so good for the Buckeyes.
Just as suddenly as they took the early lead, however, they began to collapse.
Late in the first quarter, the Tigers’ Chad Jones muffed a punt but teammate Harry Coleman — remember that name — fell on it even though the Buckeyes had a clean shot at the loose ball.
The Buckeyes then had three major penalties in a span of seven plays. Keiland Williams picked up nine yards on a sweep that took him to the Ohio State sideline, but the officials tacked on 15 more yards when cornerback Donald Washington pushed him down on a late hit well out of bounds. Three plays after that, linebacker James Laurinaitis grabbed Williams’ facemask on a completion and the Tigers were getting all the help they needed to tie it 10-all on Matt Flynn’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Richard Dickson.
“Those penalties helped us some,” Flynn said.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Buckeyes picked up two first downs on two plays before a personal foul was called on wide receiver Brian Hartline. Brian Robiskie then dropped what appeared to be a certain touchdown on a fade pass into the left corner.
Those mistakes crippled a promising drive that ended in disappointment when Ricky Jean-Francois got a hand on Pretorius’ 38-yard field-goal attempt.
On their next possession, the Buckeyes gave up the ball when Boeckman was under pressure from Coleman, zooming in on him on a safety blitz.
Freshman defensive end Cameron Heyward was assessed a personal foul on LSU’s first scoring drive. Faced with fourth-and-23 at their own 40, LSU was set to punt. But Ohio State’s Austin Spitler missed a clear shot at a block, running into punter Patrick Fisher and giving the Tigers another set of downs.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes went for it on fourth-and-8 at the LSU 34. Boeckman couldn’t find anyone open, took three strides to his right and was walloped by linebacker Ali Highsmith. The ball popped loose and was picked up by — who else? — Coleman.
LSU didn’t score on that thrust, but it was able to exhaust lots of time while maintaining a two-touchdown lead.
Curtis Taylor’s interception of Boeckman with just under six minutes left was the last straw for the Big Ten champions.
A year earlier, another SEC team had clearly outplayed Ohio State.
This year, the Buckeyes kept finding ways to make things hard on themselves.
“It hurts tremendously,” Wells said. “You can’t compare it to anything. To go to the national championship twice and lose, it’s incredible.”
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
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