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There’s a fairly big game this Saturday in the ‘Shoe, and legend has it that some pretty feisty fans are set to make their return on the banks of the Olentangy.
After getting a very underappreciated and underrated win on the road against Minnesota, the Buckeyes now turn their attention to a visitor from the West Coast, a top twelve opponent in the Oregon Ducks. This one has been circled on the calendar ever since COVID-19 laid waste to the game taking place out in Eugene a year ago, so things should be at a fever pitch.
As fate would have it, Buckeyes Wire was able to get some time with former wide receiver, punishing blocker, former captain, and trick-play-passing-aficionado, Evan Spencer. The last time OSU faced off with the Ducks was during that memorable run to the 2014 inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, so what better guest to speak with than one that’s had the Ducks paddling around him in the Jerry Jones’ world of AT&T Stadium bliss.
The interview was wide-ranging, and we’ve got some of the highlights here, transcribed for your reading enjoyment. We talk about that 2014 season, including the Sugar Bowl against Alabama and Oregon contest, dive into the content you’ll hear on the “Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares” with Spencer and former linebacker Joshua Perry, and end it on a prediction for the game against Oregon Saturday.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
On Spencer's journey back to Columbus now
BW: Alright, so I know you're originally from the Chicago area, Vernon Hills right? Where are you staying are living today? Evan Spencer: Ohio, right here in the Short North. I haven't gotten too far though, a trip to the Washington Redskins -- now Football Team -- was my first stop. And then the Buccaneers was stop number two before retiring, landed into a layer of financial interviews, mentor conversations, a bunch of stuff like that, and then ended up back here in Columbus, Ohio. So that's kind of my path back here.
On playing with his dad while he was on staff in Tampa, and life in Florida for a brief period
BW: I'm based in Tampa now, you're familiar with Tampa Bay, you were down here with the Bucs. How cool was that? How cool was that to be with your dad who was on staff there for a little bit? Spencer: I mean, like speechless at times. Like it was the most unique environment that I could ever imagine. Now, since you do live in Tampa, you can laugh with me on this one. My dad and my mom, or no, Barack Obama could have been on the sideline, and it's so hard because the heat is so miserable. It didn't matter who was there. It was cool, because we both get to share that experience. But I'd say at least on my end, I was quickly aware of how fast those unique feelings would fade. BW: And the rain, I had no idea it rained here so much in the summer. When you vacation, you don't understand that. But I coach softball and it seems like I'm always dodging these intense lightning storms. Spencer: Hey, when I was down there, we didn't have that big 'ole fancy indoor facility. So we were much of the same, right? Like, there are times we went to like Tropicana field. I'll say this though, every time it's cloudy here in Ohio, I'm like, gosh, where's the sun? Ever since I left Florida, it's pretty much my first thought every morning.
On being from the Chicagoland area
BW: Okay, so we're gonna ask you this being from Chicago. What's your favorite Chicago deep-dish pizza? Spencer: Favorite deep dish? That's a bad question to ask me because I actually hate deep dish. I like thin crust, what used to be Kaiser's pizza, and then got bought and turned into Hitz pizza. That was like my local in Vernon Hills pizza to go to. Lou Minaldi's is another one. There's another one that's losing me off the top of the head. My thing was that I couldn't deal with all the sauce. BW: And now we have Portillo's down here in Tampa, two of them. So are you a Portillo's guy? Spencer: Come on. You can't claim to be from Chicago and not like Portillo's. Yeah, when they got that in Tampa, I about lost it.
On the ability to appreciate the accomplishments of the 2014 season
BW: Okay, I want to dive into Oregon, but I don't know that I can talk about Oregon without talking about that 2014 season first. Do you ever sit back and just marvel at what you guys accomplished in 2014? I mean, third-string quarterback, you obviously had the horrible incident of suicide to deal with and all of that. At the time, did you guys realize what you were doing? And have you ever got to sit back and just appreciate that, man, we won a national title with Cardale Jones pulling the trigger, the third-string quarterback? Spencer: My dog 12-gauge. No, quite honestly, I don't know that it ever will, especially with how it happened for us. We were so trained to be in the moment. So that's why we were able to succeed at a really high level in 2014. But, you know, I'm now having a chance to relive it. And now that we have our podcast, 12-part series where we're gonna go sequentially through that season, and just a that alone, going into those stories was just so unique, because we all were telling ourselves in the moment that, 'hey, this is going to be something so unique. But we're not even going to know a fraction of what this is actually going to mean for us in our lives and everything until much later in life.' And I think going back and retelling it like we've done recently, it's starting to catch up a little bit. So you know, I think oh, wow, well, the way that we did that probably won't be done again. The teams that we beat were some of the best that we've seen in a while and you start going down the list of accolades. And it's like, holy cow, impressive stuff, nonetheless. BW: Yeah. And you were part of something pretty cool. You know, memories for Ohio State fans that they'll have forever, which is pretty cool. Spencer: Exactly. And all under, for what we thought was just like a bubble, we're going to execute it and just do our jobs. And, you know, we look up now 6, 7, 8 years down the road, and it's like gee, some of these do our jobs developments are going to be some of the most notable plays in Ohio State history going forward. And it's so cool that we were a part of that and responsible for some of the good things that happened.
On the reverse, wide receiver pass he threw to Michael Thomas in the Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama
BW: Speaking of notable plays, there's been many, many things written, and videos produced -- I know you were even a part of the Big Ten's elite show they had about the 2014 season -- so let's talk about the throw (against Alabama). A lot of people call it the Michael Thomas play. But that play doesn't happen if you don't put that ball in the exact spot that it needed to be put in. I don't know that that ball could have been thrown any better. Spencer: I mean, that's what I'm saying. To give Mike (Thomas) a little bit more credit here, that play doesn't happen unless he doesn't give me all the crap that he gave me after we ran that play against Michigan State (Spencer didn't throw the ball that time) earlier in that year. So definitely that one, you could wear that one Mike for sure. But it's just one of those things, man, where it's like, hey, we're so focused on putting one foot in front of the other and not being disappointed and doing our jobs, or not getting close to essentially, you know, what our outcomes are, living in that little bubble allows us to be so great. Obviously, too, we're not paying attention to what the moments are like. So, you know, this play or that play? It just feels like, 'yes, I did my job.' And then you know, at 28 you're like, 'holy cow, that was going down in history.' BW: That was my daughter's first game she ever watched as an Ohio State fan. I told her I was getting on the phone with you. And she's like, oh, that guy. She was pretty excited. So for Buckeyes Wire from now on, we will refer to that play as the Evan Spencer play as opposed to Michael Thomas, just you know. Spencer: Ha, I appreciate it. Yeah, it's a fun memory for sure.
On the block he made to spring Ezekiel Elliott to an 85-yard TD against Alabama
BW: So the other play and we'll talk before we get into Oregon here. The other play obviously you're known for was that block on the Alabama linebacker that sprung Ezekiel Elliott. Spencer: It was their senior linebacker Trey DePriest. And then I hit the guy that was next. We were slightly backed up against a wall in our own red zone. That's when we kind of had a one or two punch, play. And then obviously, I came down, contacted both of those linebackers and it was Zeke's to really crack it open.
On how that 2014 Ohio State team was able to improve so much throughout the year
BW: Let's talk about getting better. We hear all the time how a team gets better throughout the year, but sometimes it feels more like coach's speak. I don't know that I've ever seen a team improve to the extent you guys did that year. How did you go from what we saw from walking off the field against Virginia Tech, to what we witnessed against Wisconsin, Alabama, then ultimately taking the national championship home against Oregon? Spencer: Honestly, I'd say it was well before Wisconsin and that's how we really did it right. Like it was terrible that J.T. (Barrett) broke his leg. But we had so much we had overcome at that moment. We've won in double overtime against Penn State when we're back against the wall and everybody in the world wants us to lose. And then we went to Michigan State under the lights, primetime environment, Michigan state's rated above us. Really, it was, 'we have a loss to Virginia Tech, who are we, and what legacy are we going to leave out there?' We were able to go out there and through some imperfect football, showcase that we were unequivocally the better football team. So I think moments like those, just for us internally, built our confidence so strongly so that once we started to realize that Kosta Karageorge's not around, like 'who's seen him? Where's he at?' We're hurting as a family here, but everything that we did going forward was for him. We found out horrific news and we figured out ways to be there for his family. And our program wrapped around itself to make sure that we were there for each other, and you know, we played harder and stronger because of it. So it's like we had just so many unexpected life moments that happened to us generally, that we were just so ready for turmoil, like negative or anything like that, but we were ready for change essentially. Stars align and our third-string was somebody that we could play really good football with.
On Cardale Jones' ability to come in and make history
BW: Yeah, I don't want to say lightning in a bottle, but who would have written a story where 12-Gauge (Cardale Jones) would come in and absolutely light teams up? Spencer: But, I want to tell you, the entire time I was at Ohio State, I could have told you that at some point Cardale was gonna have that moment. Because we would watch him throw the ball and embarrass everyone doing all these quarterback field drills. He did it there, and at some point, it's going to click. And when we all surrounded ourselves around Cardel and said, 'Man, you know, first and foremost, we love you. Second of all, let's fail together. But let's do it at 100 friggin miles an hour,' and then we go out the next practice and all of that Wednesday practice at Ohio State before we go play Wisconsin. We would have beaten the Bengals that day. So it's really about confidence. I mean, heck, I could give you another analogy about what confidence does to success in golf, and professional career success, and everything. But we were just able to capture that.
On how Ohio State was able to stay focused after slaying the Alabama dragon and still beat Oregon
BW: Alright, let's go back to that game against Oregon for the national championship. I always equated what you guys did to the Miracle on Ice. It was Russia for Team USA that was the big prize. They took down Russia, but still had another game to play to win the Gold medal and got it done. Likewise, we've all heard about "The Chase," referring to tracking down and beating Alabama. You did that, but oh, by the way, there's still another game to play for a national title against a team that is putting up points like they're playing Madden with their friends on Saturday. How did you guys stay focused, not have a letdown, and still finish the deal? Spencer: Well, I think that we knew essentially what type of football team that we had after we have had the chance to play Wisconsin, definitely after we had a chance to play Alabama. We knew the responses that we would essentially respond with. We knew essentially how to get out of a lot of things. And when you watch film, you'd have to go chess piece for chess piece. So what does my pawn do well, and what is their defender against that pawn do well? And you know, as we started to do that in film, and we realized when we said 'listen, guys, the team that we just beat, beats this team by a hundred that we're going to go play next week. So let's just figure out a way to go capture exactly what we just did. Tenacity, focus, and intent and finish this job. We are not done, we have a ration here. But you know, gosh, darn it, we got all this work here for a reason, right? Like we've overcome so much to this point for a reason. So don't let this team that you know that you can be better than and perform better than, and can be more physical than in this game be that stopping factor.' And yeah, were there momentum swings? Absolutely. Did Oregon have a chance with their Heisman Trophy winner (Marcus Mariota) to really take some potential swings, and maybe they'll have a chance? Absolutely. But we were so good at whether it was takeaways when we needed them, scoring when our backs were against the wall, or controlling the clock. Like there's real ways to take advantage or take advantage, take control of a football game. And after proving to ourselves that we could do that against Alabama, we watched film against Oregon and said 'This one is just one more. Let's go do it guys.'
On seeing Oregon go right down the field on its first possession in the national title game
BW: And then the game starts and Oregon goes right down the field, and it's like 'OK, here we go?' Spencer: That's football though, man. I mean, the offense often scripts the first 15 plays to be perfect against most of the common defenses anyway, right? So it's like, you know, at some point, the offense always kinds of wins eventually. The best defenses are just the ones that hold them to like one win or two wins a game, essentially. I mean, sure. That's something that we were really good at. 'Hey, you know, we saw what they're gonna do to us. Cool, let's go out the next possession and learn from our mistakes.'
On how big of an Ohio State fan Spencer is still to this day
BW: OK. Let's talk about you as a fan. I assume you're still a huge Buckeye fan and sit and watch the games on pins and needles? You already talked about losing your nails over the Minnesota game before we got going here. Spencer: You're talking to a kid who has pictures next to Eddie George's Heisman Trophy because my dad (Tim Spencer) was coaching them or whatever at the time. So yeah, that was in me before I realized that I was halfway coordinated and that I could be athletic in anything. That'll never leave. And you know, I love to be passionate about it. Yeah, sure. We were watching every second of the game, and watching some young guys play well is cool because obviously myself and my dad can both put ourselves in those shoes.
On whether or not he considered playing for any other program besides Ohio State
BW: It's so awesome to have that that mutual experience with your dad. So did you ever even consider going anywhere else besides Ohio State? Spencer: I actually, really did. I was pretty close to going to Iowa. There's a longer story than probably we have time for, but the synopsis of it was my dad coached against the receivers coach that was there for a long time. And he was at Michigan and was really close with him, and knew that he was a straight shooter and knew that, you know, he's really a darn good coach. And at the time, they had just come off the Orange Bowl, and they needed an extra receiver, and I was one of their top receiver prospects. So it was almost kind of stars aligning. And then you know, a layer of things happened where I decided that I want to come to Ohio State for the spring game and you stepped out onto the field and you're like 'Holy Cow, this is home. There's really no other place to consider past this thing because how could I not want this to be my forever, or at least the next four years of my life?'
On what he sees from Oregon this year
BW: Alright, so back to Oregon. Have you had a chance to watch the Ducks and what do you see? Spencer: I've had the chance to preview them a little bit both before that they played Fresno State and, and I got the chance to dig into Fresno State most recently this afternoon. Anthony Brown the quarterback, I can't give you both of their running backs names right now, but it looks like you're going to get a little bit more of a bruiser, and a razor blade, wherein last week, we had both combined into one. It might be a split of two, but that comes with its own complications. So it's another game that I'm looking forward to, just like any other team that can play that has athletes. You watched Oregon play against Fresno State, they capitalize on turnovers. Right? What good team with athletes doesn't? Just small things that I've thought of, and I'm sure that guys on the team thought of as well that, 'hey, let's bottle these things. And let's make sure that they play our type of football and then we get the ball back to the offense and let them do their thing. You know, what we thought we could do with a young quarterback last week, and we're gonna get better from here.'
On how Ohio State might control the game Saturday
BW: I look at Oregon too and the Ducks are going to be a more athletic team than Minnesota. Not that the Gophers didn't have some guys, because they do, but you'll get a little more athleticism and ability to pass the ball a little more. How do you see Ohio State controlling this game? Spencer: Yeah, they can't pass the ball better. The biggest challenge I think with Oregon though is going to be establishing their downhill Run. Because Brown, he's an athlete, a quarterback, he showed that he can make plays under pressure, because his touchdown helped seal the deal last week. I think just figuring out ways to -- if I were Oregon's coach -- find that downhill rushing attack. It's kind of the essence of football. And Ohio State, that's what we are. That's what we are planning to take away from you. And we're really good at doing it. So once we make you one-dimensional, you're playing our style of football, because we bet on our athletes 100 percent of the time. So that's what they need to think about. At least for our fans respective, that's a piece of comfort.
On whether or not you can take anything from Oregon's first game where it struggled vs. Fresno State
BW: I know Oregon struggled a little last week, but I think a lot of that just goes with being the first game of the year. Spencer: So much of it is it's fresh out of the can. I mean, think about everything that's new, just in this year alone. We're gonna get students back, but we're fresh off of COVID from last year, and nobody knows what camps gonna be like. How many of these are actually going to get together and then who's hitting? And then finally, we get to hit somebody else. There's just an overwhelming of activities and emotions that happened in game one. So there's so much you got to write off.
On Ohio State beating Minnesota on the road as an undervalued win
BW: Yeah, absolutely. And then I think the win by Ohio State was a very underappreciated and undervalued one. I mean you're going to go on the road for the first time with a freshman quarterback, in a nasty, hostile environment. I mean it was a pretty good environment up there in Minneapolis. A team, by the way, in Minnesota that I think is going to give some people some problems this year, I really do. Spencer: Yeah. They have tall, athletic talent at receiver. It's obviously unfortunate about the Ibrahim, but it's another program that's got athletes, so they'll find ways to make some productive use of those backs. Their offensive line, they got some big guys up there. I mean, they were punching us in the mouth some in that game. That goes a long way.
On what Spencer saw from C.J. Stroud
BW: What did you see from C.J. Stroud in game one? Spencer: Think about this -- 19 years old, back against the wall, against a conference opponent up with fans for the first time in forever. I'm sure all of his experiences last year were far from that. So you get into it. What would you expect the young person that's in those environments for the first time dealing with these checks, and not being able to hear but still execute? In my mind, because I know that I've been through it and I just have general thoughts about football, like I would expect some slip of the ball when he's throwing it, reading and going the wrong way on a running play, just because his head's too much into things. And we didn't see much of that. So I give the kid a heck of a lot of credit, for being as poised and as competent as he was. Now was he making the right reads and throws all the time? I don't think so. And I think that there were times where I don't know if he's involved in the running game, but there are times he could have kept some of those crashing defenders on us. But that's what film's for, what the first game's for, and more importantly, right fresh off camp, kind of just got to get the guys out there, get them loose, let them have fun a little bit so you can work on it and tighten it up for further weeks coming. In 2014 that's what we did so well. We didn't have any other option. Every practice, every rep meant that much. And you're talking about a team that got as good as we did in such a short amount of time. While we were really friggin intentful every day we went to the Woody Hayes. If this team now takes that approach, watch out. Seriously. C.J. Stroud included.
On this year's Ohio State receivers
BW: Let's now talk about the position group you know the most about, the receiver room. Your group was pretty good too with Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, and yourself, but man is this group of wideouts loaded at Ohio State. Spencer: It's loaded from top to bottom, and all these kids have top-notch talent to go start anywhere. To give our group, ourselves, and our room any credit that I can, this is a much different offense than we ran. I would have loved to have just a sliver on all 34 attempts think that they had in the national championship. I digress. Anyway, back to the topic. No, I mean, I think you look at these guys and Marvin Harrison, Jr., a freshman who is 6 foot three, 200-plus pounds. Now you're thinking about 'Okay, now that's a mismatch down in the red zone.' And he did not get much burn or play time against Minnesota. So we just got so many weapons in the arsenal and talking about the guys that were out there -- Chris Olave he's got the coin, the 'Terrelle Pryor, doesn't look like you're running, but running past everybody on the field thing going.' That comes with just a general presence on the football field. 'I know where I need to be when I need to be there, so I don't need to rush, and since I'm not rushed, I can make the right moves and cuts and stay in-bounds and go make a play for a touchdown.' You know, in gear it's very similar right? So it's just a fun room to watch because they're able to play really free and they get a ton of opportunities. So you know, I'm going to be their biggest fan for life, for sure.
A prediction for Saturday
BW: OK. One last thing before we let you talk about the Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares podcast. You've seen Ohio State, you've looked at Oregon a bit. Are you willing to go on the record with a prediction? Spencer: Yeah, I got you on a little prediction. Oregon is going to struggle with a little bit of the downhill running as I was mentioning, so they are going to have to rely on their throwing which is going to put them in a quicker hole. I got us 49, to a late 21 points that they score. Twenty-one to 24 points. So I got 49-24 with a bulk of their points coming in the fourth quarter.
On what Ohio State fans and listeners can expect from the Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares Podcast
BW: Alright, you heard it here first. So let's talk about the podcast then. 'Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares.' Tell us what we need to know. Spencer: Yeah, the irony there is the song, Dreams and Nightmares from Meek Mill is something that resonates so deeply with us in that season, and that year specifically. But then you just think about the general metaphor or analogy of dreams and nightmares when you look at the triumphant success of our season as one thing. And then you start looking down through all of the hurdles we overcame that season. Whether it's two Heisman trophy candidates going down, the death of a teammate we were all so close with that I could tell you what we were talking about at dinner days before all of this happened. But then still coming back and finding a way to be our best selves on Saturday mornings, evenings, and nights. It's been really cool to kind of go back and retell these stories because in the moments, we thought nothing but, not that we were saying this could never happen, but this is just going to be so unique and somebody has got to tell the story and really give it justice. What we realized is, well, nobody can tell the story better than from a first-person perspective. So, why don't we do that while realize that we got a chance to be connected with two ex-FOX Sports executives, and both of them come with their own layers of relationships and expertise and connections. Now we're looking at nine team members fourteen months later and releasing our second episode Wednesday the 8th of September and we're really cooking. It's now a well-oiled machine. We're now actively engaging in sales conversations, engaging with brands, and figuring out ways that we can be mutually beneficial with everybody. But it's all backed on the fact that we own our story, and we want to make sure that we can give this detailed, first-person perspective. And ... hopefully, use it as an example for other guys and girls that are in sports that have highly unique moments and memories that they would want to share. This is something that's unique to us, but other people's moments are unique to them. Hopefully, they can see from abilities in a creative studio standpoint to do this. Hopefully, they can see that we can help replicate theirs. That's really the long-term mission, and where we are on the project.
How to listen to the 'Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares' podcast and what's coming in the future
We want to thank Evan and the folks with Glory Days Podcast for their time. And trust us when we say re-living that 2014 season is something you are not going to want to miss. Episode 1 of Glory Days: Dreams and Nightmares is already out there, with Episode 2 dropping Wednesday, September 8. You can go to the home of Glory Days Podcast and begin to get a peek behind the curtain of what we all fondly remember from that unexpected run to a national title by listening and spreading the word. [listicle id=58571] Contact/Follow us @BuckeyesWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Ohio State news, notes and opinion.