Receiver played key role in getting the Buckeyes to championship game

Evan Spencer hauls in a pass for a 19-yard touchdown in a 50-28 win over Cincinnati in Sept. 27.

When asked who he thought was the most valuable player for the Ohio State football team’s drive to the national championship game, Evan Spencer carefully weighed his options.

“I don’t even know. There are so many people who have been so valuable to us,” the senior wide receiver said at a media day before the team’s trip to the inaugural national championship game Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. “It could be (quarterbacks) J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, (wide receiver) Devin Smith or (running back) Zeke (Elliott). Name whoever you want to.”

Asked the same question, coach Urban Meyer had one name jump quickly to his mind.

“(Spencer) is the MVP of our team,” Meyer said. “He's the leader of our team. I'll probably make an executive decision and make him a captain. He's really what, to me, football is all about.”

Spencer made a strong case for the honor in a 42-35 victory over top ranked Alabama in the Jan. 1 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Although he was limited to one reception for seven yards, Spencer:


* tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas;

* leveled two Crimson Tide players to pave the way for Elliott’s 85-yard touchdown run;

* and recovered an onside kick to help Ohio State pick up its first win over


Alabama and earn its first win over an SEC team in the postseason. (The Buckeyes defeated Arkansas 31-26 in the 2011 Sugar Bowl but the win had to be vacated in the wake of the “Tattoo gate” scandal).

Meyer’s comments about Spencer being an MVP raised a few eyebrows. Going into the national championship game against Oregon, Spencer hauled in 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

But it is the little things the Vernon Hills, Ill. native brought to the team that earned Meyer’s respect.

“Urban and I joke about that,” Spencer said. “That’s my secret. You go out and do what you can do well every day in practice and bring the other guys with you. Coach Meyer saw that and that prompted him to say the things he has.”

Spencer almost ended up on the other sideline of AT&T Stadium for the championship. After scoring 33 touchdowns his final two seasons at Vernon Hills, the all-Illinois selection was offered a scholarship for Oregon around the time he was offered by Ohio State.

Spencer decided to follow the footsteps of his father Tim, a running back with Ohio State from 1979-82 and an assistant coach from 1994-2003. The elder Spencer is the third-leading rusher (3,553 yards, behind Heisman trophy winners Archie Griffin and Eddie George) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (36, behind Pete Johnson, Keith Byers and George).

“(Oregon has) a very attractive program,” Evan Spencer said. “Nike’s out there. They do a lot of cool things and have a lot of cool facilities. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to be that far away from my family and I wanted to be a part of a tradition rich program like Ohio State.”

After the semifinal win over Alabama, Meyer was glad Spencer made that choice. With 12 seconds remaining in the first half, the receiver completed his first collegiate pass. He hit Thomas for a 13-yard touchdown pass to pull Ohio State within a point, 21-20, at the half.

The play was in Ohio State’s bag of tricks all season. It was last called in a 49-37 win over Michigan State on Nov. 8 but Spencer decided to run it for nine yards instead of passing.

“It was up to my discretion to throw it or not. If I didn’t like the look, I was supposed to tuck it and run or throw it out of bounds,” Spencer said. “Once I got the pitch, I realized I didn’t have the opportunity to run so I just saw Mike. I knew if I put it in the right spot, he could get it.”

Asked if it was his first touchdown pass, Spencer laughed.

“In high school I was like 1-for-2 passing with a pick,” he said. “This one ended up pretty well for me.”

With 3:24 remaining in the game, Spencer delivered the death blow to the SEC’s eight-year string of appearances in the national championship game.

Facing a first down at Ohio State’s own 15, Spencer took out Alabama freshman linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and the resulting collision also knocked out Trey DePriest to spring Elliott on an 85-yard run. The play was the longest play from scrimmage Alabama had given up this season.

“I was kind of in a panic mode,” Spencer said. “I went in there as fast as I could and saw (Hamilton). I tried to clean him up to the best of my ability. I heard the crowd going wild and I looked up and (Elliott) was gone. It was a great feeling.

“You can go through all the guys in our locker room. From top to bottom, we have so many guys who can make plays. You have to be hungry for success and be the best you can be.”

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