Alabama gave up 28 consecutive points as part of a defense that couldn’t make stops and the Crimson Tide offense was part of the giveaway program as Ohio State took a 42-35 win over previously top-ranked Bama in the Louisiana Superdome.
Alabama thus finishes a season that was full of ups and downs – mostly ups to be sure – on a second consecutive Sugar Bowl down. Bama completes its season at 12-2 and continues a disastrous week for the Southeastern Conference.
Ohio State, ranked fourth in the nation an questioned by some as not qualified to be one of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff, goes to the title game with a 13-1 record.
Bama’s defense had been leading the nation in rushing defense,
Although technically Alabama came within a play of having a chance to win the game, that play was about what might have been expected of the Crimson Tide on this night. A desperation pass on the final play of the game to the end zone was intercepted by Ohio State.
Also typical was how the Buckeyes iced the game. Alabama had Ohio State backed up to its 15, as had been the case much of the fourth quarter, when tailback Ezekial Elliott broke off his second huge run of the night, an 85-yard touchdown scamper in which he was not touched by a Bama defender. Ohio State elected to go for two points and had no problem completing a pass to Michael Thomas to make it a 14-point lead at 42-28.
Alabama made a game comeback try.
Christion Jones had his best kickoff return of the night to start Bama at its 35 with 3:16 to play. On second-and-10, Blake Sims connected with DeAndrew White for 51 yards and a first down at the Ohio 14. On fourth-and-2 with 1:59 to play, Sims completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to cut the lead to a touchdown.
Bama came close to getting the onsides kick, but used an unexpected Ohio State pass attempt – broken up by Cyrus Jones – and two timouts to force a punt.
The Tide offense had one unlikely chance, 82 yards to go and only 1:33 to do it. It wasn’t to be.
Sims had a couple of pass completions around a nice 12-yard scramble, but with eight seconds to play from the Ohio State 42, his pass into a crowd in the end zone was batted into the hands of OSU’s Tyvis Powell.
Alabama’s first half defense was Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. Without it Bama would have had a hard time scoring since a fumble recovery and a pass interception set up two of the Tide’s three first half touchdowns. And the defense twice held the Buckeyes to field goals after first-and-goal opportunities for Ohio State.
On the other hand, the Alabama defense gave up those chances inside the 10. And Bama also allowed Ohio State two long touchdown drives, including one in the last two minutes that enabled the Buckeyes to pull within a point at 21-10 at intermission.
Ohio State drew first blood on its first possession with a 22-yard field goal from Sean Nuernberger. Bucs quarterback Cardale Jones got the drive started with a 12-yard scramble and a 13-yard designed run, and then Ezekiel Elliott went down the sidelines, leaping over Landon Collins en route, for 54 yards to the Tide 5. A Collins tackle for no gain and two incomplete passes forced the field goal.
After Bama’s second three-and-out, JK Scott launched a field-changing punt to Ohio State back at its 20. On first down, Elliott was hit by Trey DePriest and Eddie Jackson and fumbled. It was scooped up by Collins, who returned it to the Ohio State 33.
Blake Sims went eight yards on a quarterback draw and then Derrick Henry, who started the game at tailback, went 25 yards at left end for a go-ahead touchdown with 9:25 to play. Adam Griffith kicked the Tide to a 7-3 lead.
Ohio State then went through the Tide with ease, including another quarterback scramble, this one for 20 yards. On a third-and-9 from the Alabama 41, Jones hit Devin Smith on a 40-yard-gain to the Alabama 1.
The Buckeyes helped the Bama defensive cause when Jones mishandled a snap and lost eight yards. A pass completion gained only to the four and an incompletion forced a second field goal, this one 21 yards. Bama’s lead was 7-6.
Bama’s offense finally got in gear after starting at its 21. Henry gained 11 yards and a 15-yard personal foul was tacked on. Henry got 8, then T.J. Yeldon 9. Back to Henry for runs of 7 and 4 to the 25. A pass to Jalston Fowler made it first down at the 15. Sims then had a play-action bootleg and passed to Amari Cooper in the end zone for a 14-6 first quarter lead.
The Tide made it 21-6 early in the second quarter. Ohio State faced second and 8 from its 31. Cyrus Jones intercepted Cardale Jones at the 47 and returned it 32 yards to the 15.
Two passes to Brian Vogler gained 9 yards and then after coming up a little short, Yeldon got the first down at the 2. On first down, Yeldon went over right end for the TD and a 21-6 lead with 8:07 remaining until halftime.
Ohio State made good use of that half a quarter. The Buckeyes got a couple of completions to wide open receivers and drove to the Tide 5 for a first and goal. This time the defense couldn’t limit the damage. A pass interference against Alabama helped the Buckeyes, but on third-and-goal Elliott went in from four yards out, cutting the Tide lead to 21-13.
Christion Jones returned the kickoff only 7 yards, to the 10, and then Bama missed a first down opportunity when DeAndrew White dropped a pass. Scott’s punt was 59 yards to the OSU 23 and only 1:32 remained until halftime. Ordinarily, not a problem, but this was not ordinary.
A missed tackle allowed a short pass to gain 14, another pass gained 19, and Jones scrambled for 13. With 19 seconds until intermission, the Buckeyes pulled out a trick play, a double reverse with wide receiver Evan Spencer throwing to Michael Thomas. Thomas got his foot down inbounds for the touchdown with 12 seconds remaining and the extra point pulled the Buckeyes to within a point at 21-20. Ohio State had gone 72 yards in 6 plays and taken only 1:20.
One concern about giving up a score just before halftime was that Ohio State was going to get the ball to start the second half. The Buckeyes started up right where they left off in the second quarter. Starting at their 25, OSU drove to the Alabama 47, facing a third-and-8. On a pass down the sidelines, Tide cornerback Eddie Jackson fell down, making it an easy touchdown play to Devin Smith and giving the Buckeyes the lead for good at 27-21.
Alabama turned an advantage into a horrible possession. The Tide had second-and-1 at midfield and tried two pass plays, both of which ended up as sacks and brought in the punting team.
That was not near as poor as the next possession, though.
On a third-and-7 at the Tide’s 36, Sims was intercepted by defensive end Steve Miller, who returned the pick 41 yards for a touchdown and a 34-21 lead.
Alabama had gone from a 21-6 lead to a 34-21 deficit, giving up 28 consecutive points.
To its credit, the Tide responded.
After a poor kickoff return, the Tide started at its 11. A Sims to Cooper connection gained 15 and then an inside screen pass to Henry went for 52 yards to the Ohio State 17. Yeldon ran twice for a first down at the five and two plays later Sims took it in for a touchdown to make it a six-point game, Ohio State 34, Bama 28.
That’s how it went to the fourth quarter.
There was one particular offensive disaster with about 10 minutes to play.
Bama would have one more ineffective offensive possession and one more terrible defensive possession (the long Elliott TD) before its last gasp drive.
One Alabama player deserves mention for excellent play. Punter JK Scott averaged 55 yards per punt on seven kicks with five kicks going inside the 20 and four inside the 10.