NEW ORLEANS - As Ohio State prepared to face LSU, the Buckeyes defense vowed things would be different this time.
They remembered last year’s humiliating 41-14 loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. And they knew everyone else did, too.
“It’s going to be on highlight reels for centuries from now,” All-Big Ten cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said last week. “But that’s something we expected, and luckily we have a chance to get that taste out of our mouths, erase that memory.”
The Buckeyes defense didn’t erase that memory. They added another one.
LSU 38, Ohio State 24.
Somewhere, legendary Ohio State head-crackers Jack Tatum, Tom Cousineau and Randy Gradishar are not smiling.
The Buckeyes rolled into New Orleans with the nation’s top-rated defense, allowing only 10.7 points and 225 yards per game.
They didn’t quite match those figures in the Superdome on Monday.
The defense’s lone highlight-reel play came when Jenkins picked off a Matt Flynn pass on the left sideline and returned it 23 yards to the LSU 11, setting up a Buckeyes touchdown that cut their deficit to 31-17.
Make no mistake, the defense wasn’t embarrassed this time. But it didn’t play well enough to bring home the crystal BCS trophy.
If the Buckeyes have forgotten defense wins championships, they only need to look into their own trophy case for proof.
Defense played a big role the last two times Ohio State sewed up a national title.
In the Rose Bowl after the 1968 season, Ohio State overcame USC and Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson 27-16, recovering three Trojans fumbles and intercepting two passes.
In the Fiesta Bowl after the 2002 season, the Buckeyes again forced five turnovers in a memorable 31-24 double-overtime win over Miami.
Well, these Buckeyes aren’t those Buckeyes. Not even close.
There are plenty of reasons they aren’t sitting on back-to-back national titles, but a case can be made that Ohio State’s defense is the main culprit.
A unit that has performed so well in the last two regular seasons has mysteriously failed to show up in the postseason.
Last season, the Buckeyes brought the No. 5 scoring defense into the BCS title showdown against Florida, conceding 12.7 points per game. The Gators erupted for 41.
The Buckeyes sat in a zone while Florida quarterback Chris Leak zeroed in on his receivers.
Ohio State learned from that experience. This time, Ohio State was clearly determined not to be picked apart like a chicken dinner. The Buckeyes brought pressure, and early in the game appeared to have the Tigers rattled.
LSU was held to 57 yards on 17 plays in the first quarter.
The second quarter was a slightly different story. The Buckeyes allowed three touchdowns and 141 yards in 15 ugly minutes.
Leading 10-3, the Buckeyes committed two big mental mistakes to help LSU on its first touchdown drive. First, defensive tackle Todd Denlinger drew a personal foul for a late, out-of-bounds hit on LSU’s Keiland Williams.
Another big mental mistake — a personal foul on linebacker Austin Spitler — set up LSU’s fourth touchdown. Spitler’s foul gave LSU the ball at Ohio State’s 29. Three plays later, Early Doucet caught a pass in the right flat, slithered out of a tackle by free safety Anderson Russell and danced into the end zone to give LSU a 31-10 lead.
That play seemed to wake up the defense. On the next possession, Jenkins picked off Flynn’s pass.
Then the Buckeyes forced a pair of three-and-outs early in the fourth quarter. The red-shirted Buckeyes sprinted to their bench, high-fiving co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.
Suddenly they looked like the tough, intimidating unit that started the game.
It was too late. Those 31 LSU points weren’t coming off the scoreboard.
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
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