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Buckeye Underclassmen Provide Stellar Auditions in Possible Final Performances
By Tony Gerdeman
Only one of these four players is expected back in 2016.
Photo by Dan Harker

COLUMBUS — Last March I was at Ohio State’s Pro Day and I was talking with somebody about how much bigger and how much crazier the 2016 Pro Day was going to be with all of the possible underclassmen leaving.

The list of names got into the double figures.

Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Pat Elflein, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and even Cameron Johnston.

They were all possibilities to play their final season with the Buckeyes in 2015, and some of them have already announced their intentions.

Elliott, Bosa and Jones are gone, while Elflein and Johnston have announced their intentions to return. The other seven names on that list could very well be gone, and if that is the case, their last game as Buckeyes was a good one.

In fact, aside from Jones, who didn’t play, each of the underclassmen with NFL decisions to make performed fantastically well.

Elliott accounted for 179 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. Bosa had three tackles and was everywhere in the little bit that he played in the first quarter before being banished to the land of wind and ghosts for his targeting penalty.

Thomas caught seven passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, though he did drop a pass. However, that drop was so surprising that it was easy to blame it on his brief stumble right before the ball hit his hands. Marshall had six touches from scrimmage for 44 yards, but added 73 yards on four punt returns and also had a 36-yard kickoff return.

Lee sacked Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer twice while being utilized as a pass coverer, a pass rusher, a pass dissuader, a run stopper, and other words that would convey his ability to do absolutely anything a defense needs. Apple, meanwhile, was the Defensive MVP for the way he consistently shut his man down, and that included big-play receiver Will Fuller.

Powell picked off two passes, though one came back following Bosa’s targeting call. Bell was actually fairly quiet, which basically means that he was doing his job in the passing game.

In other words, if this was a job interview for these guys, consider it a success.

“Tell me, what do you think is your biggest weakness?”

“My biggest weakness? Um, I think I catch the ball too well.”

“I think maybe I tackle too hard.”

“Weaknesses? I have trouble allowing players to catch the football around me.”

“I would say that I can do everything that a defense could possibly ask of a linebacker, and I do it naturally. Yeah, I’m probably too natural, and it sometimes keeps me up at night.”

Coaches have used the fact that their players might be looking ahead to the NFL as an excuse for a poor performance in a bowl game, and I myself wondered if that was the case for these Buckeyes throughout the season while searching for plausible reasons for why they weren’t playing too their potential.

But in this game the focus was only on Notre Dame and sending the seniors out with their 50th win. And maybe sending themselves out with a 38th win, or in the cases of Darron Lee and Eli Apple and Jalin Marshall, a 26th win.

Without yet knowing who is leaving and who is staying, if this is the last of the underclassmen that we see, then they left on a high note — even Joey Bosa and his ejection.

But if any of them choose to return with Pat Elflein and Cameron Johnston, then the Buckeye coaches will be further ahead of the game than they expected to be when they walked off of the Glendale turf as 44-28 victors.

Regardless, it has been a very good run for not just the seniors, but also for those “youngsters” who were so instrumental last season in helping the Buckeyes to a national title.

Even if they don’t finish out their eligibility, they have had a very full experience at Ohio State, and so has the Ohio State fanbase while watching them. If it is time for them to move on to the next step in their careers, everyone should look back in fondness.

The NFL, meanwhile, will look at some of these respective performances and think, “How soon can you start?”

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