With a shot at a national championship out of reach, a match-up in the desert against No. 8 Notre Dame on New Year’s Day wasn’t a bad consolation prize. Ohio State and Notre Dame is always a game worth watching and the last few meetings have gone the way of the good guys. So, despite the disappointment of not getting a chance to play in the College Football Playoff or even the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes went to Glendale to face the Irish.
Notre Dame entered having only lost two games and both were against top 10 teams on the road. The Fighting Irish fell at Clemson and at Stanford, losing both games by two points. Clemson has a game left and Stanford faced Iowa in the Rose Bowl just after Ohio State and the Irish finished their business. The Irish entered scoring 35 points per game.
Would the Buckeyes duplicate the offensive success they found at Michigan? Could Ohio State’s depleted defensive line stop the Irish running game? Would J.T. Barrett be able to pick apart a depleted Notre Dame secondary? Could Ohio State win its fourth straight over the Irish and send Braxton Miller off with his first postseason win on the field?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Ohio State rolled up 496 total yards on offense and 44 points. Notre Dame rushed for 121 yards and much of that came on three plays, as the OSU front seven controlled the middle. Barrett 19/31 for 211 yards with one touchdown and an interception caused when he was hit as he threw. Miller went out a winner and the senior class captured their 50th victory — the most ever by a Power 5 team.
Here are your final talking points from the 2015 college football season after Ohio State’s 44-28 win over Notre Dame:
WATER COOLER PREP (EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW…IN ONE PARAGRAPH)
The game lost its two marquee defensive players in the first quarter, with Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith sustaining a knee injury and Joey Bosa ejected for targeting after terrorizing Notre Dame for two series’. The targeting also nullified a Tyvis Powell interception, although he got another one later. Ohio State scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives. Ezekiel Elliott rushed 27 times for 149 yards and four scores and caught one pass for 30 yards. Barrett guided the offense well, leading Ohio State to 10/18 on third downs.
GIVE THAT MAN A BUCKEYE LEAF (PLAYER OF THE GAME)
There were great candidates in Barrett (named Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP), offensive tackle Taylor Decker and linebacker Darron Lee, who finished with seven tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble.
But I’m going with Elliott, who was a difference maker. Ohio State didn’t get him involved in the game very early, as the game was well into the second quarter and Elliott was stuck on just four carries. But when they started using him, the defense had few answers. With 179 total yards and four touchdowns, he was the Buckeyes’ top weapon.
DID YOU SEE THAT?! (PLAY OF THE GAME)
Notre Dame cut Ohio State’s lead to 28-21 in the third quarter, taking over after Barrett’s interception and driving for a score. The Buckeyes got the ball back at the 25 after the kickoff and moved just beyond midfield in five plays. On 1st-and-10 from the Notre Dame 47, Barrett brought Miller in motion and handed to Elliott on a misdirection run. Elliott burst 47 yards through the Irish defense for a touchdown and celebrated like this:
The people said, GIVE US THE \_()_/ GIF. And behold, the GIF appeared. pic.twitter.com/fqA1AE2rRU— Eleven Warriors (@11W) January 1, 2016
SLOBBER KNOCKER OF THE GAME
The Buckeyes left this one until late. With the game out of reach at 44-28, DeShone Kizer tried desperately to get his team back into it, driving his team to the OSU 38. On first down, Kizer dropped back to throw and Darron Lee clobbered him, forcing a fumble that Tracy Sprinkle recovered to squash Notre Dame’s last gasp.
TALK IN THE AFTERMATH
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg just had to go there.
O-H ... what might have been— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) January 1, 2016
Let's celebrate Braxton Miller's career one more time.
In his last game as a Buckeye, Braxton Miller physically participated in the first postseason victory of his Ohio State career.— Elika Sadeghi (@steakNstiffarms) January 1, 2016
And a quick look at the future, with a quote from Kylo Ren:
"I will finish what you started"— Nick Bosa (@nbsmallerbear) January 1, 2016
JIM TRESSEL'S LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE GAME
Tressel’s garage was in disarray as he spent the holiday break building a scale model of the city of Youngstown. With one eye on the game, Tressel was putting the finishing touches on his favorite building — the George Voinovich Government Center on Federal — early in the second quarter, when Barrett was dropped just shy of a first down on a third-down carry to the OSU 31. Tressel perked up, expecting to see his favorite Buckeye, Cameron Johnston. When Ohio State instead left its offense on the field, 19 yards on the minus side of midfield, Tressel brought his fist down hard, smashing the Voinovich Center and two nearby buildings, including the Mahoning County Children’s Services Center.
WHEN YOU SANK INTO YOUR CHAIR (THE MOMENT BUCKEYE FOOTBALL DISGRACED YOUR FAMILY)
For me, this moment came at the end of the first half. Ohio State led 28-7 and Notre Dame took over after the kickoff at its own 25. The Buckeyes played soft on the ensuing drive and allowed the Irish to pull back within 14 in the final minute of the half on a one-yard run by Kizer. I shook my head.
WHAT YOU TEXTED YOUR FRIEND AT THE END OF EACH QUARTER
First: “Perfect quarter until they tossed Bosa.”
Second: “Could have lived without the defensive meltdown on the last drive.”
Third: “Gonna miss Zeke so much.”
Fourth: “No championship, but 12-1 ain’t bad at all.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN
When Sam Hubbard sacked DeShone Kizer just outside the end zone, with Ohio State holding a 41-28 lead, forcing a punt, the last Irish hope was extinguished. Notre Dame had a tough uphill battle anyway, but that sack finished off the domers. The Irish punt out of the end zone was returned inside the 25 by Jalin Marshall and Ohio State tacked on another field goal.
The season is over and Ohio State won’t play again until Sept. 3 in Ohio Stadium against Bowling Green. That Buckeye team will look a lot different with graduations and attrition of juniors to the NFL Draft. Now we'll have to watch our young hoops team to fend off the off-season, which is dark and full of terrors.