One thing was certain: With it being OSU QB J.T Barrett’s last collegiate game, he was going to give Buckeye nation one heck of a performance. After an early fumble from USC WR Deontay Burnett on the first drive, the Buckeyes recovered the ball and scored their first touchdown of the game on a one-yard run by Barrett. As the game continued, the Trojans’ defense seemed to keep pace with the Buckeye’s offense, containing them to seven points for the rest of the quarter.
The Buckeyes began the next quarter of play with kicker Sean Nuernberger converting a field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. On the first play of the ensuing possession for USC, QB Sam Darnold threw a pick-six that was returned by Buckeyes safety Damon Webb for 23 yards. With the crowd on their feet, rocking AT&T Stadium with a sensational roar, it became clear that Ohio State was ready to run away with the game as the score was now 17-0 with 14 minutes still left to play in the first half. A few possessions later and J.T Barrett solidified that it was his game to win, as he broke off for a 28-yard touchdown run to give his team a 24-0 lead.
The Trojans were looking very shaky at this point.
Darnold wasn’t looking too bad to start things off. He was moving very well in the pocket early and executing some difficult throws with the Buckeyes pouncing on him early. Darnold started off 5-for-9 with 81 yards up until he threw that costly interception.. Their playmaker at running back Ronald Jones II was unable to add any burst to this stagnant offense. He finished the first half with only 42 rushing yards on 12 carries but accounted for the only touchdown on a one-yard run with 1:59 left in the second quarter but only because of a muffed punt from the Buckeyes. With the Trojans recovering near the end zone, it was their duty to put some points on the board and try and build some momentum. The Trojans went into the locker room down 24-7 and looked no different on their way back out for the second half. Darnold was 12-for--22 at that point for 170 yards and accounted for most of the Trojans 201 yards. USC was visibly struggling against a Buckeye team that ranks 8th nationally in total defense.
In the second half, nothing changed. Ohio State failed to put up any more points as USC stepped it up defensively, but the Trojans offense just couldn’t capitalize.
“It's tough. As an offense, we try to create drives. And we had the ball, like Coach said, three times in the red zone. And we didn't put up points. Those are tough. It's going to be hard to win ball games like that. So sometimes that's just how the game goes. And we'll look at the film and get better,” Darnold reiterated.
What’s unusual is that Ohio State at this point had converted one less first down than the Trojans and were also losing in the total yardage battle. Still leading by 17 points, they proved that a few big plays can change the landscape of any game. USC was also ahead of the Buckeyes in terms of time possession, as this was one night Darnold and Co. surely want to forget. Darnold finished the game 21-37 for 301 yards and no touchdowns. He was responsible for losing two fumbles, but still had a quarterback rating of 119.8. He really didn’t play too bad, but was unable to make the necessary throws when needed which instead became a turnover or a lost possession.
Jones finished with 64 yards on 19 carries and the lone score, as he too wasn’t able to contribute how he has been doing all year. With Jones rushing for nearly 1,500 yards along with 18 touchdowns on the year, Ohio State has made a knack of stopping great runners in their tracks. WR Deontay Burnett who was responsible for the first fumble of the game finished with 11 catches for 139 yards. He rebounded pretty well for the rest of the night, but that one turnover will forever sit with him as that led to an easy Buckeye touchdown.
Barrett, a Texas native, won the offensive MVP award as he finished the game 11-for-17 with 114 yards passing. In the fourth quarter, Barrett passed Drew Brees as the Big Ten’s total offense leader. He finishes his career with 12,697 yards and a college record of 38-6 as a starting quarterback. Wide receiver Austin Mack, who made some crucial catches throughout the night, led the receiving corps with three catches for 56 yards. Barrett did his best work on the ground as the leading rusher, attaining 64 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. It was also a great way to end a magnificent college career in his home state, as he will most likely become an NFL Draft prospect.
“It's been a blessing. I'm very grateful for everybody. That's been a part of my dream here at Ohio State. I can't say thank you enough as far as the mentors, the family members, people from church. I mean, everybody's been a part of my life to help me through this journey, coaches, my teammates that were here tonight and then people I played in the past. There's so many people to thank. Just very grateful for those people. They made me who I am,” Barrett stated when reflecting on his career at Ohio State.
Ohio State was outgained by 136 total yards against USC and also converted 10 less first downs than the Trojans. On the other hand, they outrushed the Trojans by 106 yards, keeping the chains moving and the clock ticking. An interception, two fumble recoveries and eight sacks on Darnold, this Buckeye defense was all over the place tonight and played the most important role in the victory. Ranking in the top-30 nationally in almost every major defensive category, Ohio State has made a case for the argument that defense wins championships. Defensive end Sam Hubbard was credited with two and a half sacks and safety Damon Webb finished as the defensive MVP. Webb, who was responsible for the pick-six, also had five tackles and one fumble recovery.
When explaining his defense’s success tonight, head coach Urban Meyer explained, “yeah, dominating and relentless against an excellent quarterback. We had eight sacks. Eight sacks and I believe we had four turnovers caused, I believe. And an interception. And was it three fumbles? Yeah, our defense was dominant. Offense didn't play very well, but our defense was dominant and controlled the line of scrimmage. And we knew going into the game, obviously, he's going to be a top-five pick, the quarterback we just faced. He's every bit of it. I was watching him warm up and going "whoa." If you let that young man with those receivers just stand back and throw, you're not going to stop them. Our defensive line and Larry Johnson and his group was phenomenal.”
After getting ranked 5th after the regular season while Alabama gained the final playoff spot, Meyer says this victory tonight is still sweet. “I don’t use it very often, but I love this team. I love the leaders on this team. To send them out Cotton Bowl champions, arguably maybe a Top 5 finish, that’s a heck of a year.”