Ohio State was outgained by 136 yards and did not score in the final 35 minutes of Friday’s Cotton Bowl, yet the Buckeyes still ended up earning their 12th and final win of the season by a comfortable margin, defeating USC by a score of 24-7.
The following three statistics were key reasons why.
Ohio State scores 21 points off turnovers
Ohio State’s offense had a season-low 277 yards and 13 first downs in Friday’s game, but the Buckeyes did take advantage of their opportunities when the defense set them up with good field position.
The Buckeyes forced a season-high four turnovers on Friday, and turned three of them into touchdowns. While one of those touchdowns was scored by the defense itself, as Damon Webb returned an interception 23 yards for a score, the Buckeyes offense was able to put together two touchdown drives off of other USC turnovers. After a fumble recovery by Webb on USC’s first possession, the Buckeyes put together a five-play, 19-yard scoring drive, capped by a one-yard J.T. Barrett touchdown run. After a fumble recovery by Jerome Baker in the second quarter, Ohio State went 59 yards in just two plays, capped by a 28-yard Barrett touchdown run.
Ohio State had not scored more than 17 points off turnovers in any previous games this season.
Ohio State has eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss
In addition to coming up with a season-high in takeaways, Ohio State’s defense also had season-highs in both sacks and tackles for loss, as the Buckeyes’ defensive front seven dominated in its final game of the year.
Sam Hubbard led the way for the defensive line, with 3.5 tackles for loss including 2.5 sacks. Tyquan Lewis had two tackles for loss, including one sack, while Nick Bosa had 1.5 sacks. Jerome Baker had 1.5 tackles for loss, including a half-sack, while Jalyn Holmes and Chase Young each had one sack. Malik Harrison also had a half-sack, while Kendall Sheffield, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell also all had tackles for loss.
USC held to 1.6 yards per carry
In Ohio State’s four wins over ranked teams this season, one constant in the Buckeyes’ success has been their defense’s dominance in shutting down opposing running game.
The Buckeyes held Penn State to only 2.6 yards per carry, including first-team All-Big Ten running back Saquon Barkley to 2.1 yards per carry, in their 39-38 win over Oct. 28. In their 27-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes held the Badgers to 1.9 yards per carry and this year’s other first-team All-Big Ten running back, Jonathan Taylor, to 2.7 yards per carry. The Buckeyes previously held Michigan State to only 1.9 yards per carry in a win on Nov. 11.
First-team All-Pac-12 running back Ronald Jones had only slightly more success against the Buckeyes, as he had 3.4 yards per carry (19 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown), but the Buckeyes’ overall effort against the Trojans’ running game was dominance once again, as they held USC to just 57 net rushing yards on 36 rushing attempts (including the aforementioned eight sacks).
The Buckeyes ranked eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with only 3.0 yards allowed per carry entering Friday’s game, and will almost certainly finish the year ranked among the nation’s best in that category after another dominant effort against the Trojans.