The last time Ohio State went to New Orleans to face an SEC team the Buckeyes came away with a win, only to have it later taken away in the most trying year we’ve all faced in recent memory. Four years later, the Buckeyes returned to take on top ranked Alabama in the first ever College Football Playoffs.
It had been 26 days since Cardale Jones stepped into the spotlight as the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Braxton Miller. He played brilliantly in the Big Ten Championship Game, but didn’t give Nick Saban a whole lot of tape to look at in figuring out how to defend him. The team had a chance to come down from the emotional week that led to the thumping of the Badgers.
The Crimson Tide are not the Badgers. Saban is one of the country’s elite coaches and his 2014 team, while not showing the same invincibility of some of his previous squads, had become an offensive juggernaut and was adept as usual at shutting down the opposition’s running game.
Would Ohio State be able to move the ball on the Alabama defense? Could Jones continue to silence his critics with his play? Would the Buckeye defense be able to handle Heisman finalist receiver Amari Cooper? Could Ohio State really beat the SEC’s bluest of blue bloods and advance to the National Championship Game?
Yes, yes, for the most part, and yes. The Buckeyes rolled for 537 yards even though the offense slowed dramatically late in the third and through much of the fourth quarter. Jones was 18/35 for 243 yards and a touchdown, although he did throw an interception, and he ran for 43 yards. Cooper caught nine passes but was held to 71 yards, although he did score twice. His longest reception only went for 15 yards.
Here are your talking points from the 2015 Sugar Bowl:
WATER COOLER PREP (EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW…IN ONE PARAGRAPH)
The Buckeyes fell behind 21-6 due to settling for field goals and turning the ball over early, but clawed back into it by halftime on an Ezekiel Elliott three-yard run and a great catch by Michael Thomas (more on that later). After the break, the Buckeyes took control with a 47-yard bomb to Devin Smith and a 41-yard interception return by Steve Miller. Tyvis Powell’s interception in the end zone on the final play preserved the victory after Bama closed the gap.
TALK BEFORE THE GAME
“No mistakes, let’s go get this!”
“Can’t tell if there are more Bama or Ohio State fans. Looked like Buckeyes early but the Crimson Tide fans are filing in as we get closer to kickoff.”
A lot of folks wondered if the injured Dontre Wilson would return. Nope, but he was a decoy before the game:
Dontre Wilson jogged, looked sharp in quick cals, slapped hands with band members. #wilsonwatch
— Doug Lesmerises (@DougLesmerises) January 2, 2015
And let’s never forget No. 53:
Ohio State staff paying tribute to Kosta Karageorge tonight as well. pic.twitter.com/AvXbALCzC6
— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) January 2, 2015
TALK IN THE AFTERMATH
“Finebaum is going to be so much fun tomorrow.”
"I'd take these guys anywhere. If we had to play 10 more (games), I'd play 10 more. That's how much respect I have for our players." – Meyer
Michael Bennett was hoping the game shut everyone up:
Ohio State's Michael Bennett: "I'm tired of hearing about the SEC."
— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 2, 2015
Some folks were a bit more surprised than the fan base:
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Ohio State beating Alabama with a third string quarterback. Gotta hand it to Urban.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) January 2, 2015
GIVE THAT MAN A BUCKEYE LEAF (PLAYER OF THE GAME)
Elliott was a beast, setting a Sugar Bowl record with 230 rushing yards on 20 carries (11.5 YPA), including an 85-yard score to restore Ohio State’s two-touchdown lead with 3:24 to play. He also ripped off a 54-yard run in the first quarter to set up Ohio State’s first field goal. His fumble set up Alabama’s first score, but Zeke was the truth.
DID YOU SEE THAT?! (PLAY OF THE GAME)
Mike Thomas scored with 12 seconds to play in the first half on a reverse pass from Evan Spencer. Jones took the snap and handed to Jalin Marshall, running right. Marshall pitched off to Spencer who threw a perfect strike to a well-covered Thomas, who managed to get his foot just inside the sideline stripe. The touchdown pulled Ohio State within 21-20 at the half and provided much-needed momentum entering the second half.
Honorable mention to Miller’s 41-yard interception return, dropping into coverage in front of Cooper on a zone blitz in the third quarter, and also to Elliott’s dagger 85-yard run late in the fourth.
SLOBBER KNOCKER OF THE GAME
Pick one of Corey Smith’s three kickoff return tackles. Smith destroyed Christion Jones three times on the night inside the 20. His best was probably the third, following Miller’s interception return. Smith’s speed turned him into a missile and it was amazing to watch.
JIM TRESSEL'S LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE GAME
Poor Tress. His least favorite moment lasted all night long. Tressel, with a longing look upon his face, tenderly touched his television screen every time J.K. Scott trotted onto the field for Alabama. Scott was a legitimate threat to win Sugar Bowl MVP honors with his seven punts for a 55-yard average and five of those pinning Ohio State not only inside its own 20 but often inside its own 10. When he boomed a 73-yard punt following Alabama’s second possession, Tressel screamed at his TV, “WHY? WHY DID YOU NOT COME TO OHIO STATE?!” He then broke down in tears and fell to his knees.
WHEN YOU SANK INTO YOUR CHAIR (THE MOMENT BUCKEYE FOOTBALL DISGRACED YOUR FAMILY)
Having to settle for early field goals. You can’t do that against a team like Alabama. Both the first and second goal-to-go possessions could have gone better, particularly the one set up by Devin Smith’s 40-yard reception to the one on Ohio State’s third possession. A bobbled snap on first down lost nine on the play with an empty backfield. Not having Elliott back there to give it to, it was likely a designed Jones run. Mistakes are made when you try to do something too fast, as Jones did when he tried to run before catching the snap. Despite having to settle for two very short Sean Nuernberger field goals, the Buckeyes prevailed.
WHAT YOU TEXTED YOUR FRIEND AT THE END OF EACH QUARTER
First: “Nothing is going well so far. Lots of almost good things though.”
Second: “Everyone can throw on this team. What an end to the half.”
Third: “What an awesome quarter. Could’ve done without that last drive tho.”
Fourth: “We got Bama!”
IT WAS OVER WHEN
There were a couple moments when it seemed to be over, but Alabama did its best Freddy Krueger impersonation. The Tide were just too hard to kill until the very end. Ohio State helped with a curious incomplete long pass after recovering an onside kick, which saved the Crimson Tide at least 40 seconds. Bama moved down the field, crossing the 50 to set up a Hail Mary try with eight seconds left. As the clock ran out, Tyvis Powell picked off Blake Sims in the end zone to preserve the win. Powell then gave everyone in Ohio a heart attack by returning the interception instead of kneeling down. Let’s just call it a coachable moment and move on.
There’s one game left in the 2014-15 season, as the Buckeyes travel to Dallas for a Jan. 12 meeting with the Oregon Ducks in the championship game. The Ducks advanced by curb stomping Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl yesterday. Oregon put up 639 yards against the Seminoles. Yikes.