TAMPA, Fla. - They carried Ohio's former “Mr. Football” off the field on their shoulders like they would any conquering hero yesterday, except the shoulders weren't being provided by Ohioans.
Ryan Brewer, shunned by Ohio State two years ago after being named the state's top high school football player, went south, to South Carolina. It's there he dreamed that one day he could prove to the Buckeyes he was good enough to be among their ranks.
Yesterday, Ohio State's football team went south, too, losing to the Gamecocks 24-7 in the Outback Bowl. What was even more unpleasant for the Buckeyes was that it was the banished Brewer who became their worst nightmare as he realized an almost inconceivable dream.
The 5-8, 210-pound Brewer, a receiver, tailback, punt-returner, special teams player and you-name-it, totaled 219 yards. Ohio State's team aggregate was 258 yards.
But that's just the beginning of this script, sent from heaven or hell, depending on whose side you were on. The Troy, Ohio, native scored an Outback Bowl record-tying three touchdowns and was voted the game's Most Outstanding Player. He rushed 19 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns to OSU's 85 rushing yards. He caught three passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. He returned two punts for 18 yards.
The sophomore, converted from receiver to tailback for this game, had scored only one previous TD at South Carolina.
“It couldn't be better. It's a dream game for me, a dream come true and I'm not sure I even realize what happened yet,” said Brewer, whose No. 21 was the same number Holtz wore when he played at East Liverpool, Ohio, High School. “I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen. My only thought was to go out, play the best I can and let things fall, and they did.”
Brewer said last week he wasn't on a personal vendetta against Ohio State, he just wanted to prove he wasn't as bad as OSU's indifference toward him indicated.
“It meant a lot to me, but it meant more to our team to win a bowl game, and for our program,” Brewer said. “I wanted to prove it to myself pride-wise. I knew I could play there but I'm playing for a great team in South Carolina.”
Brewer dropped a pass during the pregame warmup, which allowed Holtz to make sure Brewer's mindset wasn't askew.
“I grabbed him by the throat,” Holtz explained. “Now, I wasn't trying to harm him. I just wanted to get his attention, that's all. I said, `You're not here to prove anything to Ohio State, you're here to help your teammates,' and that he certainly did. As the game went on the better he played.”
Brewer's reaction? “That relaxed me. I was glad he got on me. He does his job well.”
After the game that left both teams 8-4, it was Ohio State coach John Cooper who approached Brewer, whom Cooper said got lost in the numbers game two years ago when OSU recruiters passed on Brewer.
“I thought he played a great game and I told him that on the field after the game,” Cooper said, trying to quell the somewhat delicate situation. “I can imagine how happy he is right now. I told him I had the same thing happen to me in high school. I wasn't offered a scholarship by anybody. I had to go away and play football (at Iowa State) and I had a decent career, but I didn't have that kind of a game, don't get me wrong.
“We helped them out by turning the ball over and we didn't play as well as I hoped we would. They played an eight-man front and that's difficult to run against. We did not do a good job protecting our quarterback (Steve Bellisari), throwing and catching. Obviously, I'm very disappointed in the way we played today. I wish we could have been a little more competitive.”
This was an Ohio State team that wasn't particularly motivated to play a seven-point underdog, unranked South Carolina team that had lost its last three regular-season games. And this wasn't unusual for an OSU team under Cooper.
It was the seventh time in Cooper's 13-year OSU reign that the Bucks lost their last two games of the season, including six times after losing to Michigan in the last regular-season contest. Cooper's record in the last two games of the season is 5-18-1.
Cooper is now 0-5 against SEC teams in bowl games and 2-14 overall including previous coaching positions at Tulsa and Arizona State. Holtz is now 1-4 against Ohio State and 11-8-2 in bowl games to Cooper's 3-8 bowl record at OSU.
“We got beat at crucial times by another team that wanted it more than us,” said OSU defensive end Brent Johnson. “The emotions were running pretty high, especially when they were knocking on the door again, and again. You play this game with emotion and things happen. It never happened for us.”
The Buckeyes were shut out in the first half for the first time this season, trailing 3-0, and, again, got very limited production from Bellisari.
Attached to the Outback Bowl Trophy was a boomerang, which was somewhat symbolic of this game, played before a crowd of 65,229 in Raymond James Stadium. The Buckeyes hurled Ryan Brewer and he returned to bedevil them.
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