MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
As Clemson redshirt-senior quarterback Tajh Boyd took a knee to run out the clock in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl — signaling his team’s 40-35 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes (12-2, 8-1) — a harsh reality was setting in for OSU seniors.
Despite winning 24 straight games under coach Urban Meyer, the 2013 senior class has no postseason victories to their name, unless they were redshirted during their Buckeye career and were thus a part of the team of 2010 Rose Bowl champions.
Between a loss in the Orange Bowl this season, a bowl ban in 2012-13 season, falling short in the 2012 Gator Bowl and getting the 2011 Sugar Bowl win vacated, something will always be missing from a group that had championship expectations.
“It’s always going to be hard. My college career did not end the way I thought it would or I wanted it to,” redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said following the loss to the Tigers (11-2, 7-1).
Regardless of the team’s postseason shortcomings in recent years, that’s not how Mewhort and company want to be remembered.
“I think we’re very resilient. I think we’re hard workers, good people. Good football players, even better people,” Mewhort said. “I’d like to take that to be the legacy. Obviously we dropped a few tough ones here at the end. We would have liked to go out on top, but I think we set a standard for these younger guys.”
From the depths of a 6-7 season in 2011 capped with the Gator Bowl loss to Florida, this year’s class of seniors will be remembered fondly by its head coach even though the group fell short in this season’s biggest games.
“Senior class, we just said an emotional goodbye to them,” Meyer said after the Orange Bowl loss. “It’s not because they’re seniors, it’s because of what they’ve done. I tried to make that perfectly clear. Just because you stay some place for a couple years doesn’t mean you deserve that respect. It’s what you did, and how you did it.”
The seniors on the offensive side of the ball turned in a record-setting season in their last year at OSU, setting school records for points (637), points per game (45.5), yards per game (512.0), passing touchdowns (38), first downs (361) and rushing yards (4,321).
The Buckeyes had chances to win both postseason games late, but ultimately fell short. It is that unwillingness to give up that sets them apart, senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said after the loss to the Tigers.
“(We have) great leadership, especially the senior class. It’s a tough football team. A team that will never give up,” Brown said.
When Meyer’s reign began in 2012, a change in the culture came along with it, something Mewhort said was not an easy adjustment.
“I know it looks like immediately the next season after going 6-7 we came back and go 12-0, but it was not immediate — at all,” Mewhort said. “It started at 5 a.m. in January of last year. Every day we came to work and we grinded hard.”
Aside for Ryan Shazier — who declared for the NFL Draft Saturday — OSU will be leaning on juniors like quarterback Braxton Miller, tight end Jeff Heuerman, defensive lineman Michael Bennett and wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer in 2014 to follow in the footsteps of a class who Meyer thinks has a bright future.
“It will be great. A student-athlete at Ohio State University, (will) get a great degree, and go on and build for the future,” Meyer said. “It’s going to sting for a while, probably a long while, because we just didn’t finish, and it was right there to finish.
“This year’s senior class … When I looked around the room, every one of them could impact that play. And that’s the sign of a decent senior class.”
No matter how it ended, Mewhort said being remembered for getting the program “back to where Ohio State should be” is the most important thing.
“Talking about the last two games, obviously we would have liked to come out on top of those but I think our seniors did a good job of setting the template of how to come to work every day,” Mewhort said. “Do things the right way on and off the field. Hopefully we’ll be remembered for that.”