Buckeye Breakdown: On To The Final

Ohio State is on to the College Football Playoff semifinal. How did they do in the Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama and what did we learn about the Buckeyes in their first official postseason win since 2009? The BuckeyeSports.com crew figures it all out.

Ohio State run offense: A lot of things went right for Ohio State against Alabama, but when trying to isolate one area of the game that sealed the victory for the Buckeyes the run offense would be a good place to start. Ezekiel Elliott put together his second consecutive game with more than 200 yards on the ground, broke the Sugar Bowl rushing record and was a deserved offensive MVP. The sophomore started strong, gaining 4 yards on the Buckeyes first offensive snap before adding a 54-yard scamper down the Alabama sideline on a play that showed nice patience. He ended strong, scoring Ohio State’s final points with an 85-yard score with less than four minutes left in the game. In all, Elliott rushed 20 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 11.5 yards per carry behind an Ohio State offensive line that executed well all night. While Elliott was certainly the Buckeyes bell cow Thursday night, quarterback Cardale Jones was effective scrambling when he had to and finished with 43 hard-earned yards. If there was any negative in the Buckeyes run game it was attempting to run with players aside from Jones and Elliott. Jalin Marshall had just three rushes for 11 yards and Noah Brown lost four on his only carry. Still, Elliott’s day was enough to give the Buckeyes an excellent grade in the run game. -- Blake Williams

Ohio State pass offense: Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones threw incompletions on each of his first five passes, and you had to wonder if the Alabama defense had found something that Wisconsin hadn’t. That wasn’t the case, obviously. Jones slaughtered the Crimson Tide defense over the rest of the night, allowing OSU fans to breathe a big sigh of relief when his first pass was completed for 40 yards to Devin Smith. His final line – 18 for 35 for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception – wasn’t overly impressive, but it was still more than enough to get the job done. Ohio State actually had two touchdown passes on the night, and the one that didn’t feature Jones might have been the most impressive play of the game. That distinction would belong to Mike Thomas’ amazing touchdown catch with 12 seconds in the first half, which came on a pass from Evan Spencer. It was that kind of charmed night for OSU. -- Ryan Ginn

Ohio State run defense: I will give the Buckeyes a passing grade but certainly not an A here. The Buckeyes allowed 170 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry, which is pretty similar to what Alabama did during the regular season. Of course, the Tide has a pair of standout backs in Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, and Henry averaged 7.3 yards per tote and seemed to consistently find his way to the second level of the OSU defense. One good thing the Buckeyes did was keep the dual-threat Blake Sims largely in check with 29 total rushing yards. Ohio State's linebackers were like the rest of the unit in that they didn't necessarily have a great game on a play-to-play basis but they stepped up and got things done when they needed to. This battle basically ended up even. -- Jeff Svoboda

Ohio State pass defense: If told prior to the game Amari Cooper would have nine catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns, the Ohio State coaching staff probably would have taken it gladly. The immensely talented Alabama wide receiver was noticeable, but his 15-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was his longest grab of the night. Cornerbacks Doran Grant and Eli Apple did an admirable job making his life difficult, and Ohio State held him in check without appearing to alter its usual game plan. Sims spread the ball around to seven different receivers, but he also threw three costly interceptions. -- Marcus Hartman

What We Learned…

Ryan Ginn: Urban Meyer is good at his job. He may not be as talented as Big Ten Coach of the Year Jerry Kill, who led the Gophers to a 33-17 loss to Missouri that was the conference’s only defeat today, but he has rallied this team time and time again from unfortunate circumstances. He dedicated himself this offseason to changing the culture around this program, and it appears to have paid dividends in the most impressive way possible. The Buckeyes have stopped two Heisman finalists in back-to-back games and will get a chance to take down the Heisman winner now.

Marcus Hartman: Old narratives die hard, but they die all the same. I think everyone but the Ohio State players thought Alabama was tightening the noose in the first half as missed opportunities and mistakes turned an early lead into a 15-point deficit. The Buckeyes remained resilient, though, as they have all season, and they showed they had more than enough talent and resolve to take down the big bullies from the SEC. Next week brings an entirely new challenge, but there will be time to worry about that later. For tonight the Buckeyes are Sugar Bowl champions, and they have written a new chapter in the program’s history.

Jeff Svoboda: First of all, never to doubt Austin Ward, the ESPN.com writer who was the only of ESPN's 43 online experts to pick the Buckeyes. But I didn't really learn anything tonight; I already knew this was a special team, capable of uncommon resilience and fill of a spirit that simply can't be extinguished. I hope Ohio State fans are enjoying this run because in some ways it feels like nothing short of a miracle. The Superdome is one of the toughest environments in the game -- every contest I've ever covered here includes massive momentum swings, and it feels like the roof is caving in once it starts rolling -- but the Buckeyes took a shot to the chin from Alabama (seriously, 21-6) and didn't flinch. Cardale Jones showed that he's capable of handling that kind of cauldron of craziness with a great performance, and he was picked up by the guys around him as well. As crazy as it sounds, this team is a walking movie script right now. One more win and you'll see these guys on TV for years to come.

Blake Williams: Cardale Jones is more than a one-hit wonder. Despite his strong Big Ten Championship Game performance, I was skeptical that Jones could replicate that against Alabama. While he struggled at times, notably making some bad situations worse with big sacks and a bad interception, he responded to his first-ever in-game adversity well. That was the one area of the game I felt least comfortable with for the Buckeyes and why I picked Alabama to win. Now I know not to doubt Jones.


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