The Buckeyes (13-1) clinched a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game Jan. 12 vs. No. 2 Oregon, who blasted third-ranked Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl. Alabama, the SEC champion, finished its season 12-2. "We're back. We're back," said OSU redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee, who had seven tackles with two sacks and three stops for loss. "Those that thought we were gone, we're back. Be afraid, be very afraid."
It was not an easy victory by any means. Ohio State overcame a 21-6 second quarter deficit by scoring 28 unanswered points to take a 34-21 lead. The lead was extended to 42-28 on an Ezekiel Elliott 85-yard touchdown with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Alabama did not quit. The Tide scored with 1:59 remaining and had one final possession to try to tie the game, but the OSU defense stood tall to seal the victory.
Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott had a stellar performance in leading the Buckeyes. He rushed for a pair of touchdowns and gained 230 yards against an Alabama defense that came into the game averaging 88.6 yards on the ground per game. Third-year sophomore Cardale Jones, making just his second career start, overcame a slow start and threw for 243 yards on 18-of-35 passing with a touchdown and in interception.
Seven receivers caught passes for the Buckeyes, led sophomore Mike Thomas, who caught seven passes for 66 yards and an highlight reel-worthy TD grab that gave the Buckeyes momentum heading into halftime.
The Buckeyes outgained Alabama 537-407 and got several big performances from their defenders. Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant led OSU with 10 tackles. Fellow redshirt freshman Eli Apple broke up two passes and combined with senior Doran Grant in holding Heisman finalist Amari Cooper to 71 yards receiving on nine catches.
Alabama was led by quarterback Blake Sims, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Derrick Henry led the Tide rushing attack with 95 yards and a score on 13 carries. Cooper's nine catches led the team, and he scored two of his team's touchdowns.
"We're very disappointed in the outcome of the game, but you have to congratulate Ohio State, who played a really, really good game," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "And we probably didn't play our best game."
Ohio State won the toss and deferred, allowing the Crimson Tide to begin the game on offense. The Buckeyes forced a three-and-out, however, and got the ball on offense for the first time at the OSU 15-yard-line. Jones led the Buckeyes on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard field goal by freshman Sean Nuernberger.
While Jones misfired on all three of his pass attempts, Ohio State found success on the ground – thanks in large part to a 54-yard run by Elliott. On a second-and-13 at the OSU 41, Elliott rushed right, stiff-armed an Alabama defender, hurdled another and raced down the sideline all the way to the UA 5. The Tide stood tall from there, holding Jones to no gain on first and goal and forcing a pair of incompletions prior to the field goal.
The Nuernberger boot gave the Buckeyes a 3-0 lead with 11:32 left in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes forced another three-and-out after the score, but from there Alabama took momentum thanks to the game’s first turnover. Ohio State took over at its 20, and on first down, Elliott took a handoff. He gained 17 yards to the 37 before Springfield, Ohio, native Trey DePriest slapped the ball out of Elliott’s hands. Landon Collins recovered it and returned it 4 yards to the OSU 33.
It took Alabama just two plays to turn the miscue into points. On second-and-2, Henry rushed over left tackle 25 yards for a touchdown. Adam Griffith added the extra point, giving the Tide a 7-3 lead with 9:25 left in the opening quarter.
Jones played a starring role on the next OSU possession, making two big plays on third downs. The first came on a third-and-8 at the OSU 38 when he scrambled 20 yards for a first down to the UA 42. Not long after that, this time on a third-and-9 at the 41, Jones completed his first pass of the game on a 40-yard bomb to Devin Smith. The senior found space between two Alabama defenders and hauled in the ball at the UA 1.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the drive ended with another field goal instead of a touchdown. Jones lost 8 yards on first-and-goal when he fumbled a shotgun snap. He completed a 5-yard pass to junior tight end Nick Vannett on second down but had his third-down pass attempt to Jalin Marshall fall incomplete.
That brought Nuernberger on for a 21-yard field goal attempt, which he made to cut the OSU deficit to 7-6 with 5:17 on the clock.
While the Buckeyes settled for a second field goal at the end of a promising drive, the Tide had little trouble reaching the end zone on their next possession. Alabama needed just 3:05 to march 79 yards over eight plays. Henry rushed four times for 30 yards, but it was Cooper who gave Alabama its second score. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sims that, following a Griffith PAT, gave the Tide a 14-6 lead with 2:02 left in the opening quarter.
Ohio State committed its second turnover of the game early in the second quarter, giving the Tide another short field. Miscommunication between Jones and Smith, who never looked back for the pass that was picked off by Cyrus Jones, led to an interception that was caught at the OSU 47 and returned to the 15. The OSU defense forced a fourth-and-1 at the OSU 6, but the Tide converted on a 4-yard rush by T.J. Yeldon, who found the end zone on the next play.
Griffith’s PAT made it 21-6 with 8:07 remaining before halftime.
The Buckeyes got back in the game on their next possession. Ohio State scored a critical touchdown with 2:55 left before the break at the end of a 12-play, 71-yard drive that lasted 5:07. The Buckeyes converted three third downs en route to the score. On third-and-10 at the OSU 29, Jones was able to hang in the pocket and find Marshall downfield on a deep crossing route. The completion went for 26 yards. Later, on a third-and-9 at the UA 44, Jones again found Marshall in the middle of the field for another 26-yard gain to the 18.
Again, Ohio State found trouble in a goal-to-go situation but eventually cashed in on a 3-yard TD run up the middle by Elliott. The PAT by Nuernberger made it 21-13.
The OSU defense forced a three-and-out after the touchdown, giving Jones and the offense one more possession before halftime. The Buckeyes took momentum into the break thanks to an impressive drive – and an unbelievable touchdown throw-and-catch. Jones helped the cause with a key 27-yard scramble to the UA 13, and after an incompletion, the Buckeyes used a trick play to reach the end zone.
With 19 seconds on the clock and the Buckeyes facing a second-and-10, Jones took a shotgun snap and handed the ball off to Marshall, who was running right. He then pitched the ball to Spencer, who was going left. Instead of rushing around the end, Spencer threw the ball. His throw to the end zone was grabbed by Thomas, who made an acrobatic catch and got his left foot down in the end zone before falling out of bounds.
Nuernberger added the extra point with 12 seconds left on the clock, cutting the Alabama lead to 21-20 at halftime.
The momentum Ohio State took into the break continued into the third quarter. Ohio State took its first lead of the game on its first possession. Again, a third-down play loomed large. Facing a third-and-8 at the UA 47, Jones hauled a deep pass down the right sideline toward Smith. Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson fell as the ball reached Smith, allowing the senior from Massillon, Ohio, to walk into the end zone with a 47-yard touchdown strike – Smith’s 30th as a Buckeye.
Nuernberger’s PAT gave Ohio State a 27-21 lead with 12:44 on the third quarter clock.
The teams traded punts after the go-ahead OSU score, but the Buckeyes were able to flip field position when a Cameron Johnston punt was downed inside the UA 1. The Tide were able to move the ball to the 36, but that is where Alabama committed its turnover of the game. On a second-and-6, Sims dropped back to pass. His throw up the middle was picked off by fifth-year senior defensive lineman Steve Miller, who dropping into coverage and nabbed the ball ahead of intended receiver Cooper. Miller returned the pick 41 yards for a touchdown – sending the OSU supporters at the Superdome into a frenzy.
Ohio State’s lead grew to 34-21 after the Nuernberger PAT with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
Alabama answered when the Tide went back on offense. Sims led a seven-play, 84-yard drive that lasted just 2:15. A 52-yard gain on a screen pass to Henry put the Tide in the red zone, and Sims called his own number on a 5-yard rush up the middle for a touchdown. A Griffith PAT made it 34-28 with 1:01 remaining before the fourth quarter.
Alabama had a prime opportunity to retake in the early portion of the fourth quarter. Ohio State was forced to punt from the back of its own end zone, and Johnston's boot took an inopportune bounce back toward the OSU end zone and was downed at the OSU 23. But the Tide quickly squandered the opportunity when Sims' first-down pass was picked off by sophomore safety Vonn Bell at the OSU 1. Bell returned the pick to the 8 with 9:44 left on the clock.
Ohio State was forced to punt after a sack, which narrowly avoided a safety, and two incompletions. But again Alabama let the Buckeyes off the hook. The Tide came after Johnston's punt and hit the sophomore. Much to the dismay of Meyer, who chucked his headset when he learned of the call, the penalty was just a 5-yard running into the kicker violation instead of a 15-yard roughing the kicker call.
That meant Alabama would keep the ball, taking over at its 45-yard line with 8:46 remaining. The Tide advanced to the OSU 43 but were held to a punt, which was downed at the 5 with 5:24 on the clock.
The Buckeyes went to the run game, gaining 4 on an Elliott carry on first down and 5 more on a Jones keeper. On third-and-1, Jones kept on a read-option and barely gained the yard necessary for a much-needed first down.
Then, on the ensuing first down play, Elliott took a handoff, got a crucial block from Spencer that allowed Elliott to race for an 85-yard touchdown. Elliott broke a tackle attempt by Xzavier Dickson near the line of scrimmage and went the rest of the way untouched.
Jones completed a two-point conversion pass to Thomas to make it 42-28 with 3:24 on the clock.
Alabama did not quit, however, marching down the field thanks in large part to a 51-yard pass from Sims to DeAndrew White, who broke wide open on a double move. The Tide advanced to the OSU 6 before facing a fourth-and-2. With OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell trying in vain to call a timeout, Sims found Cooper for a touchdown pass on a crossing pattern to cap a quick-strike drive that lasted just 1:17. Griffith's PAT cut the OSU lead to 42-35 with 1:59 remaining.
Alabama attempted an on-side kick after the TD, and for a brief second, everyone held their breath as Spencer out-jumped Ardarius Stewart for the bouncing ball. Ohio State took over with 1:57 on the clock at the OSU 49. Jones threw on first down, with the pass falling incomplete near the goal line. Samuel gained 1 yard to midfield on second down, forcing Alabama to use its second timeout with 105 seconds remaining.
Jones rushed on third down and lost 11 yards, falling at the OSU 39. Alabama again called timeout, stopping the clock with it reading 1:39.
Johnston trotted on the field and punted to Christion Jones, who fair caught the ball at the UA 18 with 1:33 on the clock.
The Tide converted on third down on a 12-yard pass to White to the UA 38. Sims then scrambled to the 50, stopping the clock momentarily again because of a gained first down. Sims connect with Howard on an 8-yard gain, and Howard got out of bounds. Sims took a shot deep on the next play, but it was incomplete with 8 seconds on the clock.
Sims had one final shot on a Hail Mary throw into the end zone, but OSU sophomore Tyvis Powell pulled it down. He returned the ball to the OSU 29, but it was unnecessary as the Buckeyes had already punched their ticket to the national championship game in Texas.
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