Though the game failed to live up to its advanced billing featuring two college football blue bloods slotted just outside the College Football Playoff's top four, Ohio State's defensive line swallowed up USC's offensive front triggering 14 TFL and four turnovers in a 24-7 victory over quarterback Sam Darnold and the Trojans in the Cotton Bowl.
The ferocious effort turned in by the defensive line allowed Ohio State's offense to limp through the night as it registered the second-fewest total yards in a victory (277) since Urban Meyer's arrival in Columbus.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to USC dating back to 1974 and moved Meyer to 73-8 at Ohio State (.901) and 4-2 in bowl games.
With that, here are Five Things from the season-capping victory over the Men of Troy.
Larry Johnson's boys done did it again.
Facing USC's high-powered attack and a quarterback hyped as a top-2 pick in next year's NFL Draft, Johnson's defensive line paved the way for 14 TFL and a Cotton Bowl record eight sacks in a truly dominant performance.
Helton noted postgame the avalanche wasn't about scheme, it was about one-on-one beats. To that end, the Rushmen accounted for 11 of those 14 TFL and seven of the eight sacks paced by ridiculous performances from Sam Hubbard (3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks), Tyquan Lewis (2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, QBH, FF), Jalyn Holmes (1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, PBU, FF) and Nick Bosa (1.5 sacks).
The Trojans came into the contest averaging 194 rushing yards per game but finished with 57 on 36 attempts, good for 1.6 yards per carry. Adjusting for those eight sacks, the numbers even out a bit at 104 rushing yards on 3.7 yards per carry but the dominance was real as star tailback Ronald Jones managed just 64 yards on 19 carries (3.4 avg) including only 12 for 34 in the opening half (2.8 avg.).
That story is nothing knew for Buckeye fans as the defense held the trio of Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor and Jones to an average of 18.3 carries for 49.7 yards, good for just 2.9 yards a pop.
Hell of an effort from the Rushmen. Hat tip to Johnson and his rotation of monsters.
FAREWELL TO A LEGEND
J.T. Barrett ended a Buckeye career that seemingly started when Woody recruited him out of Wichita Falls, Texas to Columbus with one final win, setting the Big Ten's all-time total offense record with 12,697, passing a cat named Drew Brees.
Totaling 180 yards and two touchdowns, Barrett also bettered two of his own single-season Buckeye records for total offense and touchdowns.
That said, Barrett's farewell performance was far from dominant thanks in part to a Buckeye offensive line that struggled to stay in front of USC's front four.
Barrett completed 11 of 17 throws for 114 yards – season lows across the board excepting his 3 of 8 for 30 yards before leaving the Michigan with a knee injury – while rushing for 66 yards and a pair of scores to pace the offensive attack.
There's absolutely no question Barrett's leadership will be missed and he is a worthy Buckeye legend owning virtually every school passing record but there's also no question his performance dipped sharply over the last six games which factored heavily into Ohio State falling short of the ultimate goal; a bid in the College Football Playoff.
In his first eight games this season, Barrett completed 171 of 246 throws (69.5%) for 2,166 yards (270.8 per game) with 25 touchdowns against one interception.
Over his final six games, the signal-caller completed 69 of 125 throws (55.2%) for 887 yards (147.8 per game) with 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
As a lifelong Barrett backer, I salute the gamer for all he gave to the program in the form of production, toughness, grace, selflessness and leadership.
NO WARD, NO PROBLEM
The big news pregame came as Ohio State's top corner, Denzel Ward, announced his decision to be a healthy scratch as he looks toward the 2018 NFL Draft.
With Ward on the sidelines and the Buckeyes facing a legit passing attack, the secondary ultimately surrendered 356 yards passing from Darnold and a 12-catch, 139-yard receiving effort from Deonta Burnett, but it yielded zero passing touchdowns while snagging an interception as the defense tallied four turnovers overall.
USC's plan to target Kendall Sheffield in coverage was expected and it started early as he got spun around on the Trojans' third play of the game. To his credit, after allowing a Burnett catch, Sheffield hung in to force a fumble as Burnett turned upfield and safety Damon Webb was there to grab the ball setting up a Barrett keeper giving Ohio State and early 7-0 lead.
A few possessions later, Webb was again in the mix as he made a film study interception and easily raced 23 yards for the pick six putting the Buckeyes in front 17-0.
Webb would go on to capture Defensive MVP honors on the strength of five tackles along with the fumble recovery and pick six putting a nice capstone on his Buckeye career.
To Sheffield's credit, he allowed his fair share of yards on the night but he did finish with four PBUs including a first half stat line of one TFL, PBU and forced fumble coupled with three stops and a near interception late in the half deep in USC territory.
With the secondary enjoying the benefits of the pressure provided by the Rushmen, the defense held Darnold to just 12 of 22 passing in the opening half (55%) and while he finished 26 of 45 (58%) that was still well below his season completion rate of 64%. It was the fourth time this season Darnold failed to record a touchdown pass.
DOWN DAY FOR J.K.
Hoping to put an exclamation point on a magical season, true freshman running back J.K. Dobbins was held to just 39 yards on 13 carries as the creases were few and far between against what was expected to be a fairly soft Trojan front.
Dobbins was on pace to break the single-season school record for yards per carry by the team's leading rusher but his 3.0 average on those 13 carries lowered his season yards per carry average from 7.5 to 7.23 which stands just behind Carlos Hyde's 2013 average of 7.31 per attempt.
Still, his 39 yards pushed him over the 1,400 yard mark for the season making him just the ninth Buckeye back to accomplish the feat.
In fact, his 1,403 yards stand as the 13th-most in a single-season by a Buckeye which is even more amazing when you consider he registered just 194 attempts on the season which is 14 fewer than Hyde tallied in 2013 when he went for 1,521 yards, 53 fewer than Archie Griffin had when he rushed for 1,577 yards in 1973 and a whopping 134 less than Eddie George earned when he went for 1,927 yards in 1995.
Most fans are excited for 2018 to come so they can see what Dwayne Haskins can do as Barrett's replacement. While that's certainly a worthy storyline, I think I'm just as interested in seeing what Dobbins can do after another offseason honing his craft.
RETURN OF THE MACK
Ohio State's passing attack was largely anemic last night, part of a recent trend already noted, but wide receiver Austin Mack stood out as a bright spot within the much-maligned Zone Six.
Mack's night, three catches for 56 yards which was basically 50% of the team's passing yardage output, was highlighted by a slick 33-yard catch and go on a 3rd-and-8 play and later on the same drive, a 15-yard grab on 2nd-and-8. Both plays set up a Sean Nuernberger field goal pushing Ohio State to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Though not as noticeable, another big play from Mack was an effective downfield block ensuring Barrett would find the end zone on a 28-yard run putting Ohio State in front 24-0 with a little over five minutes left in the first half.
The block was simple yet textbook work from a kid who had virtually disappeared after a clutch six-catch, 90-yard performance against Penn State.
In fact, Mack had just one catch over his previous five games, albeit a big one as he hauled in a 27-yarder against Michigan on a 3rd-and-13 throw from Haskins allowing Ohio State to take a 21-20 lead in Ann Arbor three plays later.
It remains to be seen if his strong Cotton Bowl performance can serve as a springboard to more consistent production in 2018 but one thing is for certain, Zone Six is desperate for a true wide receiver to step up and consistently augment the work of the slot guys.