Ohio State runs past Alabama in Sugar Bowl; Buckeyes bound for title game – USA TODAY
NEW ORLEANS — Analyzing No. 4 Ohio State’s 42-35 victory Thursday against No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl:
THE FALLOUT: As it turns out, Ohio State has speed, too. And size. And a more than formidable quarterback in third-stringer Cardale Jones. He went 18-for-35 for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Buckeyes came back from an early 15-point deficit to stun No. 1 Alabama in the second national semifinal game, at the Sugar Bowl.
Thursday’s game wasn’t always pretty — the teams combined for five turnovers — but it was entertaining. Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, in just his second career start, stumbled slightly out of the gate but otherwise performed exactly as well as the Buckeyes needed him to. Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 230 yards, including an 85-yard scamper in the game’s final minutes that essentially sealed the victory, despite a late score from Alabama.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Two things. One, that the Big Ten has fixed its perception problem. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said this week the way to change the perception is not to talk about it, but to “play very well.” He said his Buckeyes needed to do that in the big stage they’d be on, but that other Big Ten teams needed to do the same. Wisconsin beat Auburn, Michigan State came back to stun Baylor and Ohio State upset Alabama — all on Thursday. Thanks to that one fell swoop, the nation regained respect for the league and also its players. No longer were they too slow or too small to compete with the big boys, particularly those in the SEC.
The flip side of that, of course, is that the SEC’s perception has shifted, too. In the last few days, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and now Alabama suffered losses to teams in supposedly lesser leagues. As it turns out, the SEC is not infallible, and not light-years ahead of the rest of college football. The SEC West did not deserve two or three Playoff spots. Its best team — and the one that got the No. 1 seed from the selection committee — couldn’t even beat the Buckeyes and their third-string quarterback. For the first time in nine years, an SEC team will not play for a national title.
Surely next season will come and fans will get excited about the SEC. But there ought to be some hesitation before automatically anointing its teams among the sport’s best — which had been obvious before.
THE TURNING POINT: With 12 seconds left in the first half, Urban Meyer called a trick play. There was a double-reverse, as quarterback Cardale Jones gave the ball to Jalin Marshall, who pitched it to wide receiver Evan Spencer. Spencer lofted the ball up to Michael Thomas in the end zone, and Thomas made a spectacular catch while making sure to get one foot down. Not only did the touchdown bring the Buckeyes within one – after trailing by as much as 15 – but it gave them crucial momentum heading into the second half.
KEY STAT I: Entering Thursday’s game, the Alabama defense was only allowing 88.7 rushing yards per game. Ohio State nearly topped that on its opening drive, and slashed the Tide for 292 yards on the ground. The Buckeyes finished with 548 total yards.
KEY STAT II: Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw a pick-six in the third quarter. It was the first pick-six thrown by a Crimson Tide quarterback since 2007.
GALLERY: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SUGAR BOWL