If you would have told me before the season that Ohio State would hold USC to seven points in a postseason game, I would have bet my rent that the Buckeyes would at least be playing for a national title this year.
That wasn't the case. This game was just for pride.
But you know what? For a kid who grew up watching Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart dominate and saw USC beat Ohio State in two drastically different, but equally crushing ways just under ten years ago, pride is a perfectly valid reason to play a football game.
Because of pride, I loved every bit of Ohio State manhandling USC in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. I lived for the Trojans' prototypical pro-style quarterback picking turf out of his helmet all night and throwing a crucial pick six. I reveled in USC's 1,500 yard rusher being held to just 64 yards on 19 carries.
It didn't lead to a national title or even a playoff win, it wasn't in the Rose Bowl, and it wasn't even on New Year's Day, but it was still a 24-7 USC loss at the hands of Ohio State, which is extremely good.
At the beginning of this game, I thought Ohio State was going to have no problem moving the ball. I thought the Buckeyes were going to have 250 rushing yards, with J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and J.T. Barrett all gashing the Trojan defense.
Turns out, Ohio State barely had 250 total yards.
This was arguably the Buckeyes' worst offensive showing of the season. Weber and Dobbins combined for just 57 yards, averaging just over 3 yards a carry. Barrett was the game's leading rusher with a modest 66 yards.
Meanwhile, the wide receivers combined for just six catches for 58 yards. USC had one receiver who doubled those number by himself, as Deontay Burnett had 12 catches for 139 yards.
But a win is a win, I guess.
The good news for the Buckeyes was that the defense was every bit as good as the offense was bad.
The defense had more tackles for a loss than the offense had receptions, had more sacks than any receiver had catches, and more takeaways than the offense had scores.
The Silver Bullets held the high-powered USC offense to just 7 points, which it scored on a short field after a muffed punt. The Trojans managed just 54 rushing yards, and though they put up 356 yards through the air, the Buckeye defensive line kept pressure on Sam Darnold all game, forcing eight sacks sacks.
The Silver Bullets came through when it mattered on Friday night. Ohio State forced four turnovers in the game, and scored touchdowns following three of them.
Defense won this game.
Offense: J.T. Barrett
I'm going to be honest, I really wanted to leave this section blank, but I'm not going to do that.
At the end of the (very long) day, J.T. Barrett was the most valuable player on the Ohio State offense. He led all players with 66 rushing yards and rushed for the team's only two offensive touchdowns. He also threw for 117 yards on an 11-for-17 passing performance.
They aren't eye-popping numbers by any means, but they were good enough. If nothing else, Barrett protected the ball, which turned out to be important, as the only time USC scored was when the Trojans were given a short field.
Defense: Sam Hubbard
He's not a senior, but we probably saw the last of Sam Hubbard in a Buckeye uniform on Friday night, and he had one hell of an encore.
Hubbard lived in the USC backfield, leading all players with 3.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.
Plays of the Game
Again, not a lot to choose from here, but we'll work with what we've got.
USC's turned the ball over for the third time in the first half, and the Buckeyes made the Trojans pay shortly after. J.T. Barrett broke a tackle in the backfield, bounced outside and scampered 28 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up 24-0 before the half.
That, folks, is the last touchdown Barrett will ever score as a Buckeye.
In his last game as a Buckeye, Damon Webb also went out with a bang.
Ohio State forced four turnovers on Friday night, and Webb was responsible for half of them, recovering a fumble and picking off a pass which he brought back for a touchdown the other way.
Webb stepped right in front of the pass and frolicked easily into the end zone.
Uh, where did the offense go?
Ohio State's struggles in the passing game the past few seasons are well documented, but usually the Buckeyes can at least move the ball on the ground. Ohio State could do neither on Friday night, finishing with under 300 total yards.
Perhaps the biggest surprise isn't necessarily that this happened, but that the Buckeyes still won fairly decisively even without the offense really showing up.
Jim Tressel's Least Favorite Moment
Jim and Ellen Tressel took part in one of their favorite post-holiday traditions: candle shopping. You see, scented candles are drastically cheaper after Christmas than they are before, making it the perfect time for candle enthusiasts to make their purchases.
The Tressels braved the cold and went to various candle shops around town before heading home in time to watch the game.
Sensing her husband's exhaustion from the long day out, Ellen lit an orange and ginger scented candle, because she knew those scents to be the most energizing of all the candles they purchased that day.
It worked. Jim was awake and alert by kickoff, ready to cheer on his Buckeyes.
Not long into the game, Ohio State found itself in a fourth-and-short, well within field goal range. Of course, Urban Meyer elected to go for it and much to Tressel's displeasure, his reckless coaching decision paid off once again.
A few plays later, the Buckeyes were in a fourth-and-short situation once again, but this time they kicked the field goal.
"He's coming around," Jim said softly to himself, hiding a smile.
In the third quarter, Ohio State found itself once again in a fourth-and-short situation. Based on what he saw last time, Jim was confident Meyer would elect to punt and pin USC inside its own 20-yard line – the correct decision.
That's not what happened. Meyer went for it on fourth down, and J.T. Barrett was stopped short.
Jim just started forward, looking emotionless at the television set. Ellen had seen that look before.
"Should I light the lavender candle?" Ellen asked sweetly. "It's supposed to be calming."
"Sweetheart, 1,000 lavender candles couldn't keep me calm while I watch this team," Jim said plainly.
Ohio State led 24-0 with just under three minutes left in the first half. With USC punting the ball back to the Buckeyes, it seemed they would at worst take a 24-point lead into the second half, and at best might add another score on top of that.
Turns out, neither of those were true.
USC punted, and returner K.J. Hill muffed it. The Trojans fell on the ball, and scored their only touchdown of the game three plays later.
To be fair to Hill, this is the first muffed punt he's ever lost and it was a difficult catch, though he probably shouldn't have even attempted it with his team up 24 points.
Regardless, he's sorry.
My bad— KMFJ (@KayJayHill) December 30, 2017
As I am sure you are aware, Denzel Ward did not play in Friday's game. What you may not be aware of, however, is that his jersey did.
Marcus Williamson, who normally wears No. 21, presumably needed another number in order to play on the punt team with Parris Campbell, the team's other No. 21.
Instead of finding him a blank jersey, Ward removed his jersey on the sideline – he wasn't using it, after all – and gave it to Williamson to wear for a play.
One More Year!
While we wait on the NFL decisions of a few players, we already got some incredible news – we get an extra year of Demario McCall.
Demario McCall said he will be a sophomore next year, meaning he has likely been granted a medical redshirt.— James Grega Jr. (@JGrega11) December 30, 2017
His GOATness played in three games this season, actually rushing for over 100 yards against UNLV, but was hampered with injuries early on and thus will take this season as a medical redshirt.
It Was Over When...
A USC field goal clanked off the uprights early in the fourth quarter. The Trojans had a chance to cut it to a two-score game, but when the short field goal didn't go through it was clear it just wasn't their night.
Biggest Question Going Forward
What does next season have in store? Who returns, and which players emerge to fill the shoes of those leaving?