Ohio State wins 24-7 over USC in Cot­ton Bowl

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By Stephen Hawkins

AR­LING­TON, Texas (AP) — Play­off-snubbed Ohio State got to raise another tro­phy in the build­ing where the Buck­eyes won a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

While the stream­ing con­fetti this time was for a Cot­ton Bowl vic­tory in­stead of a ti­tle cel­e­bra­tion like three sea­sons ago, coach Ur­ban Meyer still got a spe­cial feel­ing from the fifth-ranked Buck­eyes’ de­fen­sively dom­i­nant 24-7 win over No. 8 South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“The mind­set was ob­vi­ous. We wanted to go down as one of the great teams at Ohio State, Big Ten cham­pi­ons, ob­vi­ously a top five fin­ish,” said Meyer, 73-8 in six sea­sons at Colum­bus. “This will go down as one of the best teams I’ve ever coached and one of the best groups of young peo­ple I’ve ever been around.”

With Buck­eyes All-Amer­ica ju­nior cor­ner­back Den­zel Ward sit­ting out af­ter de­cid­ing to go into the NFL draft, fel­low de­fen­sive back Da­mon Webb re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down af­ter re­cov­er­ing a fum­ble to set up an early score.

The Big Ten and Pac- 12 cham­pi­ons would usu­ally play New Year’s Day in Pasadena in­stead of deep in the heart of Texas, but the Rose Bowl is a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off semi­fi­nal game this sea­son.

Ohio State ( 12- 2) in­stead quickly set­tled in at the NFL sta­dium where it won the first na­tional cham­pi­onship in the four- team CFP for­mat. The Buck­eyes — with that bad loss at Iowa af­ter an early set­back to play­off team Ok­la­homa — were the first team left out this sea­son.

USC (11-3), the Rose Bowl cham­pion last sea­son, lost for only the third time in its last 23 games. The Tro­jans had four turnovers that led to 21 Ohio State points in what could have been third-year sopho­more quar­ter­back Sam Darnold’s fi­nal game.

“We kind of shot our­selves in the foot­ball in this game,” USC coach Clay Hel­ton said. “You’re putting a hurt on your de­fense, and it led to points early in the game, and sep­a­ra­tion early in the game.”

Ward was on the side­line in his No. 12 jersey over street clothes while Webb had a fum­ble re­cov­ery on the third play of the game. That led to J.T. Bar­rett’s 1-yard keeper for a score that put the Buck­eyes ahead to stay.

Webb’s 23-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a TD put Ohio State up 17-0 less than a minute into the sec­ond quar­ter. It was the first pick-six this sea­son for the Buck­eyes, and the team­lead­ing fifth in­ter­cep­tion for Webb. Ohio State was up 24-0 when Bar­rett ran 28 yards for another touch­down af­ter the first of Darnold’s two fum­bles when stripped while be­ing sacked. Darnold was sacked eight times over­all.

“The strip fum­bles, when I’m in the pocket, those are though,” Darnold said.

“That de­fen­sive line took a quar­ter­back that we have a tremen­dous amount of re­spect for and he didn’t set his feet all night,” Meyer said. “That’s the way we won that game.”

Ohio State: Bar­rett, play­ing his fi­nal col­lege game only about a two-hour drive from his home­town of Wi­chita Falls, Texas, broke Drew Brees’ Big Ten ca­reer record for to­tal of­fense with 12,697 yards. Bar­rett played 50 games and was 38-6 as a starter. His 147 touch­downs (104 pass­ing, 43 rush­ing) are also a Big Ten record, 41 more than Brees at Pur­due.

“It’s pretty crazy. I mean, since I was lit­tle I looked up to Drew Brees,” Bar­rett said. “To pass a record like that, just very grate­ful to the peo­ple that were around me.”

USC: Darnold, who be­came the first Tro­jans quar­ter­back ever with more than 4,000 yards pass­ing in a sea­son, has un­til Jan. 15 to de­cide if he will head to the NFL or re­turn to USC for another sea­son.

“I’m re­ally just fo­cused on just hang­ing out with my team­mates for the next cou­ple of days,” Darnold said. “But it’s tough. I’ll look at ev­ery­thing and make my de­ci­sion af­ter that.”

Darnold was 26 of 45 for 356 yards pass­ing, but his turnovers were costly.

Not for the roses

This was the eighth time Ohio State and USC met in a bowl game. The first seven were in the Rose Bowl. The Tro­jans had won seven straight in the matchup of pow­er­house pro­grams, in­clud­ing four reg­u­lar-sea­son matchups since their last meet­ing in Pasadena 33 years ago.

There was a bit of a scuf­fle in the fi­nal two min­utes af­ter Buck­eyes line­backer Ma­lik Har­ri­son de­liv­ered a late hit on Darnold, who was get­ting out of bounds along the USC side­line af­ter scram­bling for 7 yards. Sev­eral Tro­jans went to Darnold’s de­fense, in­clud­ing one ejected for com­ing off the bench. Har­ri­son was as­sessed a per­sonal foul penalty.

Mo­men­tum swing

Utah State had the game’s best chance for the game’s first of­fen­sive touch­down early in the third quar­ter, when Jor­dan Love com­pleted a 41-yard pass to Ron’qua­vion Tarver to New Mex­ico State’s 1. On the next play, New Mex­ico State’s Ter­rill Hanks knocked down Love’s pitch to Hunt and re­cov­ered the ball him­self at the 12-yard line, end­ing Utah State’s hopes.

Third-down woes

Both teams strug­gled on third downs, con­vert­ing a com­bined 5 of 40. Utah State was 1 for 18 and New Mex­ico State was 4 for 22. The teams had a com­bined 20 punts

LM Otero / AP

Ohio State quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett (16) is chased by South­ern Cal­i­for­nia de­fen­sive tackle Rasheem Green (94) dur­ing the first half of the Cot­ton Bowl.

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