Undefeated no longer, the crushing pressure to finish 12-0, 13-0 or 14-0 is behind them. With national media likely backing off from Athens, now their minds are free to set their sights on a more reasonable goal: win the MAC for the first time since 1968.
It's not easy going undefeated as a MAC player. Teams have tried. Teams have done it before. Ball State got so freaking close in 2008, and then Buffalo happened. Marshall in 1999 was our last undefeated delegate.
It's asking so damn much for a team to be "perfect." Much like a perfect game in baseball, that is not the expectation, but the closer one gets to it, the more your surrounding sense how close you are, and pressure is placed on you — either externally or internally — to stay perfect for as long as possible. They got all the way to their rivalry game.
To be perfect, everything has to go your way. Sure, much of it is your own ability and execution, but forces outside of one's control need to be aligned with the stars. In this case, the moment which ceased that perfection was a brain fart.
Tyler Tettleton had brought his troops 10 yards away from the end zone, and at this moment I thought, yeah, they're going to pull this out somehow. But the coverage was there and Tettleton, to his own admission, forgot his team had zero timeouts left. Luke Kelly broke free of a block from Ryan McGrath on the outside, who didn't really push him to the side, and when Tettleton stepped up, Kelly had a direct line to him. Sack, end of game.
It stings because Tettleton has been the face of the team, second to Frank Solich, in all of the feature stories written about them, from Yahoo! Sports to Sports Illustrated to Fox Sports Ohio, Tettleton is the go-to quote, or in the case of Zac Jackson's, the focal point. But he did take Jackson to Subway for the feature story, and that could've been the reason why they lost.
I will commend Tettleton for falling on the sword after the game. Part of a leader — a HUGE part, actually — is not so much being the face of a team that wins, but being the face of it after a tough loss. All told, the pass protection was not there for him (six sacks!) and they got themselves into a lot of third and long plays, both of which you have to credit Miami for doing. And that's going to happen in the MAC. Don't sleep on them; if we're going to vaunt the conference for being as strong as it has been in years, we need to also accept that teams in the middle are capable of being those at the top.
But while hope is lost for a 12-0 season, or even an 8-0 one in the MAC, having just one loss at this juncture is pretty darn good, although the Bobcats are relegated to regrouping on the fly. Eastern Michigan comes into town Thursday, and I wouldn't want to be Eagles at this point, susceptible to a few weeks of frustration. A MAC championship remains in their sights, although now they're in a pack of teams rather than the runaway favorite. And we're weeks from understanding tiebreakers. But with the unneeded pressure of being unbeaten off your shoulders, and the need to deflect questions about taking it one game at a time, now Ohio can relax and try to win the division and still do something they haven't done since the '60s.