The SEC flagship took the biggest hit it has in a very long time as Ohio State beat Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal of the College Football playoff, advancing to the final thanks to a solid performance from quarterback Cardale Jones, a huge display by running back Ezekiel Jones and Urban Meyer showing he doesn’t really have a problem with outcoaching Nick Saban.
Midway through the second quarter, it looked like all the pregame assumptions were coming true. Ohio State struggled slowing down the Alabama running game, Jones threw a bad interception early in the second quarter and Blake Sims was finding Amari Cooper without too much of a problem. But adjustments were made, Jones stopped making bonehead plays and the defense started matching the speed and strength of the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State came back from 21-6 down with an Elliott touchdown with 2:55 left in the quarter. Alabama couldn’t get out of its own 20 on the next drive and were forced to punt. An excellent drive led by Jones which included him rushing on one play for 27 yards put the Buckeyes only 13 yards away from the end zone without too much time left to execute. They ran a trick play which got wide receiver Evan Spencer to throw a pass barely caught by Michael Thomas, landing on one foot in the end zone. Barely, but enough to make it a one point game.
Ohio State scored 28 consecutive points by the end of their run on Alabama, opening a 34-21 lead, the first time anyone has gone on such a run against the Crimson Tide during the Saban era. The last score came on another terrible throw from Sims, his first interception of the game, carried by the big Steve Miller 41 yards for the touchdown. Then Alabama manged to slow down Ohio State’s offense, narrow the lead with a Sims run and see a punt go bad, giving them the ball on the Ohio State 23. Sims threw another awful interception to blow away the momentum.
A few drives later and it was almost over, as Ezekiell Elliott, finishing the game with 230 yards and a couple of touchdowns, moved laterally before getting a big block from a wide receiver and burst through the lines to score an 85-yard touchdown, the longest play Alabama have given up all season long. Giving Ohio State a 42-28 lead with 3:24 to go, Elliott sealed the game. Sims threw a touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to make things interesting but threw an interception on a hail mary to end the game, in a disappointing season finale for the senior after getting so much praise and faith from Saban this week.
Against all odds? That’s an understatement. Alabama were big Las Vegas favorites, not to mention picked by 43 of 44 ESPN experts to win the game. The only one who sided with the Buckeyes was their beat writer for the network, Austin Ward. And they played like favorites early on, until their offense had no answer to Ohio State’s coverage. Or the defense having no answer to the running game and excellent blocking. Or Blake Sims making bad decisions and even worse throws.
There’s a magical cycle that keeps teams like Alabama at number one without anyone thinking that maybe, just maybe, a different approach should be taken. But with Alabama falling early for the second straight year and the SEC getting exposed as a not-so-special conference, things might change next year. Ohio State, regardless of what happens in the national championship game, have changed people’s opinions about themselves and about the Big Ten. Better preseason hype means an easier road to the playoff in the future.