Ohio State’s defense dominates in 24-7 win over USC

When the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes opened as a six-point favorite over the No. 8 USC Trojans in the Cotton Bowl, there were some that questioned if the Buckeyes would cover. When the spread grew to 10, people were not only surprised that the spread somehow increased, but almost guaranteed that Ohio State wouldn’t be able to cover as 10-point favorites.

Just a friendly reminder that Vegas knows.

The Buckeyes were disappointed they missed out on the College Football Playoff, but USC was too. Although Ohio State had a much better chance, both teams were conference champions who each had arguments that they should make the Final Four over Alabama. With that said, although they weren’t in the Playoff, there was still plenty to play for. Favorites in the game, the scarlet and gray took advantage of their dominant defensive line and early scoring to notch a 24-7 victory over USC, their first win over the Trojans in 44 years.1

Without All-American cornerback Denzel Ward, who decided to sit out the game after declaring for the NFL Draft, Ohio State’s secondary was expected to be tested against USC quarterback Sam Darnold, especially without their top playmaker in the defensive backfield. They were tested, but the “bend but don’t break” mentality would be a perfect way to describe their performance Friday night.

Just three plays into the game, the Buckeyes proved that they would be just fine even without Ward. On the third play of the game, cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who took over the No. 1 cornerback role in Ward’s absence, forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Damon Webb.

Just five plays later, quarterback J.T. Barrett ran for an easy one-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes the early lead. On their next possession, the scarlet and gray took a 10-0 lead following a 26-yard field goal by Sean Nuernberger.

On USC’s first play following the field goal, Darnold threw a pick-six to Damon Webb, in what turned into a very good first 16 minutes of the game for the senior safety.

The offenses then stalled, including two more turnovers by the Trojans’ offense. Mixed in between the two turnovers, Ohio State scored their third touchdown of the game, an impressive 28-yard scramble by Barrett for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 24-0 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first half.

With just two minutes remaining in the second quarter, USC was able to get on the scoreboard. Following a botched punt return by Ohio State’s K.J. Hill, the Trojans’ Ronald Jones ran for a one-yard touchdown just three plays later to score their first (and only) points of the game just before heading to the locker room.

The second half was filled with plenty of punts, a couple turnovers, and even a missed field goal, but not a single point. That’s right, there were zero (0!) total points scored in the second half.

Plenty of questions can be made about Ohio State’s offense. They were outgained by a wide margin, 413-277, Barrett passed for just 114 yards on 11 completions, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for just 57 yards on 18 carries, and the Buckeyes converted just 2-of-12 third-down opportunities. Luckily for the offense, the Silver Bullets were just as good.

Ohio State’s defense forced four turnovers, held USC to convert just 6-of-19 third-down opportunities, and held the Trojans to just 57 rushing yards. To say the defensive line dominated would be an understatement. With eight sacks, Ohio State’s defensive line was consistently in the backfield, forcing Darnold to make decisions he didn’t want to. Even without Ward, the secondary kept Darnold and company in check for much of the night.

Top performers:

J.T. Barrett: 11-of-17, 114 yards; 16 carries, 66 yards, two touchdowns

Austin Mack: three catches, 56 yards

Drue Chrisman: seven punts, 45.9 yards per punt, three inside the 20

  1. The Buckeyes last beat USC in the 1974 Rose Bowl. []