COMMENTARY: Ohio State football, New Orleans in a pandemic and the Bengals

Ready for the first blog of the new year? It’s coming at you whether or not...

  • For the second straight year, Ohio State was better than Clemson. This time, the Buckeyes beat the Tigers. Why? Justin Fields mostly. Despite a vicious hit to the side in the second quarter, he lobbed bombs all night and Clemson couldn’t keep up with the Ohio State receivers.
  • The rest went about as I thought it would with minor exceptions: Trevor Lawrence was good, but not good enough. The Ohio State offensive line was great, and not just in the running game. Trey Sermon was not just effective but great again. The Buckeyes’ elite receivers did elite things, and the tight ends were there when needed. Ohio State’s defensive front seven won, but the secondary struggled.

A bit more on those areas:

  • Lawrence wasn’t at his best, but he still threw for 400 yards. If that says a lot about him, of course, that such a game registered as at least a mild disappointment. Then again when you’ve won a national title before and ripped off some big plays to win this same matchup last year, those expectations are warranted.
  • Ohio State’s offensive line dominated, which was not a surprise. That is an elite unite and has been most of the time since 2012 (perhaps Urban Meyer’s most underrated accomplishment as coach of the Buckeyes after the unit was typically so-so or disappointing in the Tressel years). The Buckeyes exceeded expectations as far as protection since that has been weakness. Clemson was not able to win individual matchups or manufacture pressure, making Fields’ job a lot easier of course.
  • Solid running backs are not terribly hard to find, but guys who make some of the cuts Sermon did are. He does not blow you away with his size or raw speed, but the way he was seeing the holes and getting through them Friday night was almost otherworldly.
  • The Ohio State secondary struggled about as much as expected and the interior dominated again, but more importantly the defense was better prepared for the quarterback running game and did a better job gettin both Lawrence and star tailback Travis Etienne on the ground when they had the opportunity.
  • Sometimes football is a really simple game: Block, tackle, throw, catch. Ohio State did all those things well.
  • Ultimately it came down to Fields being more efficient and also making more big plays. A pair of haymakers in the second half were enough to keep the Tigers at bay. And the rest is history.
  • Like the last Sugar Bowl they played in, Ohio State’s offense was great and the defense was good enough. Now they get to play Alabama again. I suspect this version of the Crimson Tide is a lot better than the 2014 crew, not to mention any Oregon team ever assembled. The Crimson Tide are certainly more talented than the Ducks, but there is a path to victory for Ohio State we will get more into as the week goes on.

Visiting New Orleans during a pandemic was certainly interesting:

  • On my fourth trip to the Big Easy, I found there were still plenty of things to do but less time to do it because a city that usually never sleeps is under orders to shutdown by midnight in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Obviously this is not a time to be spending lots of time around large groups of strangers, but it was possible to see the sites and take in the food (and do some people-watching from afar) without getting too close to too many people, and that’s what I attempted to do.
  • I managed to get beignets three separate times, so that’s a win. Also had gumbo, étouffée, blackened fish, a spicy shrimp po’ boy, jambalaya, oysters raw and chargrilled so I’m proud of myself for that at least.
  • I did not have any signature New Orleans drinks but had three cafe au laits and did try a local lager that was great. Also had a very nice steak on the first night at a place called The Chophouse.
  • While many places remained open, there were boards on a lot of stores and restaurants, too. As is the case here at home, many places are obviously struggling. Hopefully better days are ahead.

  • I am of course very grateful for the opportunity to do this anytime, and I tried to document the experience for posterity and our readers on social media and with a photo gallery showing some of the things that look the same and what is a bit different, including the boarded up places on Bourbon Street and elsewhere.
  • This blog was going to be posted sooner, but the Bengals announcing their decision to retain Zac Taylor delayed me a bit.
  • That move was not a surprise, but it is probably a mistake. For the good things he’s done with the offense (which aren’t really novel), the defense has been a consistent embarrassment and his record in close games doesn’t speak for his ability to manage a game, either. Neither does his ability to utilize just about any of the stars from the Marvin Lewis era.
  • At the end of the day, Taylor is 6-25-1. He narrowly missed the worst two-season stretch in franchise history (they were 6-26 in 1993-94 under Dave Shula) mostly because they caught the Titans and Steelers on the right day.
  • The parallels between Taylor and Shula have been easy to identify from the start. After two years, Shula had won two more games but in both cases paper-thin resumes made conjuring up confidence better days were ahead tough. Of course, one had David Klingler to pin his future on and the other has Joe Burrow…
  • Cincinnati’s 4-11-1 mark this year came despite a very weak schedule. Admittedly I’m surprised the Bengals won two games after Burrow was injured, but they also failed to win about four games they should have when he was still able to play (one was a tie).
  • Bengals management, notorious for resisting change, seemed to believe it was doing something cutting edge when hiring Taylor, and the team’s statement about retaining him pretty much confirms this is an extension of that leap of faith. Essentially they continue to believe in their belief Taylor can be a good NFL coach despite evidence to the contrary.
  • There is something to be said for sticking to one’s convictions in a day and age when so many teams are so quick to cut and run — but only if their patience (and thus the fans) is rewarded in the end.
  • Whatever Taylor might have learned on the job is offset by the unlikelihood he can upgrade the staff, which looked worse than him on paper from day one and mostly seems to have performed worse since. Taylor’s lack of time in the league leaves his Rolodex relatively light, so how is he going to get a top-flight defensive coordinator or offensive line coach to come to Cincinnati when he’s going to be on the hot seat? Maybe someone thinks they cam swoop in as interim and steal the job later? That seems like a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to or find us on Twitter or Facebook.

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