DeShone Kizer

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No. 7 Ohio State closes star-crossed 2015 season with Fiesta Bowl win over No. 8 Notre Dame

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It would be tempting to view last night’s results and No. 7 Ohio State’s 44-28 defeat of No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and conclude the College Football Playoff selection committee got it wrong. That would be wrong. Michigan State earned its spot in the lowly-rated Cotton Bowl, just as Ohio State earned its Fiesta Bowl consolation prize.

But that won’t stop the Buckeyes from wondering what might have been.

Ohio State (12-1) flashed national championship ability from its first drive Friday afternoon in Glendale, scoring touchdowns on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-7 lead with 1:48 left in the first half. DeShone Kizer pushed in a one-yard run 29 ticks before the break to pull the Irish to within 28-14, creating a loop where Notre Dame was never really out of the game, but Ohio State was never really threatened, either.

Kizer found Chris Brown for a four-yard score to pull Notre Dame within 28-21 midway through the third quarter, but Ezekiel Elliott answered with a 47-yard bolt, his fourth touchdown of the day. Sean Nuernberger stretched the lead to 17 with a 37-yard field goal at the 12:10 mark of the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame climbed back in the game with an 81-yard catch-and-dash from Kizer (284 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) to Will Fuller.

Notre Dame could not muster any offense on either of its final two drives, though. The first ended in a three-and-out after the Irish lost eight yards, and the second in a Darron Lee strip of Kizer.

Two more Nuernberger field goals were enough to provide the final score.

The win pushed Urban Meyer to an incredible 50-4 in four seasons in Columbus with two undefeated regular seasons, a national championship, a Big Ten championship, two New Year’s Six wins and four top-10 finishes. The victory pushed Ohio State to 4-2 all-time in its infrequent but highly-visible series with Notre Dame; the Buckeyes have won the last four, with the last two coming in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes’ five victories trail only Penn State for the most in the 45-year history of the Fiesta Bowl.

J.T. Barrett and Elliott played throughout the game at a level accessible to few, if any, backfield batteries. Barrett hit 19-of-31 throws for 211 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing 23 times for 96 yards; Elliott carried 27 times for 149 yards and four touchdowns and caught a 30-yard reception. While it was likely the swan song for Elliott, Joey Bosa (ejected in the first half for a targeting hit on Kizer) and a host of others, there is enough talent remaining and arriving in Columbus to do what the 2015 could not.

Ohio State flashed the ability of a team that could have been at this moment preparing for a much larger game at University of Phoenix Stadium 10 days from now, making its 12th victory of the 2015 season a melancholy one. “It is what it is,” Meyer said when asked by ESPN’s Todd McShay to describe the season.

But take heed, Buckeye fans, there is potential for this story to come full-circle: the Fiesta Bowl is a College Football Playoff semifinal next season. If Ohio State plays like it did on Friday throughout next season, 2016 could end exactly the way it started.

Ohio State looking like its old self in Fiesta Bowl

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Ohio State is looking like its old self halfway through the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, and there’s not much Notre Dame — or, to be fair, about 125 other teams — can do about it.

The Buckeyes found the end zone on four of their five first-half possessions and take a 28-14 lead into the break.

J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott have been their peak selves so far. Barrett hit 10-of-15 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown while rushing 12 times for a game-high 57 yards, while Elliott rushed nine times for 55 yards and three scores, plus a 30-yard reception.

The key play of the half came when Joey Bosa was ejected for targeting for a hit on DeShone Kizer. Bosa led with his head but struck Kizer in his chest. He was ejected nonetheless, and the penalty negated what would have been an Ohio State interception. Notre Dame would later score on the drive.

Kizer added a one-yard run with 29 seconds left in the half to cut a 28-7 deficit to 28-14. He hit 13-of-20 passes for 122 yards and rushed 10 times for a team-high 31 yards and a touchdown in the half.

Notre Dame has seen its run of awful injury luck extend from 2015 to 2016; Jaylon Smith and his backup Te’Von Coney left the game with injuries.

Ohio State will receive to open the second half.

CFT Previews: Fiesta Bowl

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WHO: No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2)
WHAT: The 44th BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
WHEN: 1:00 PM ET, Jan. 1 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The defending national champions from Ohio State may have gone 11-1 this season and been left out of the College Football Playoff for a chance to defend their title, but playing in the Fiesta Bowl is something this program has come to embrace over the years. The Buckeyes have a strong history in the Fiesta Bowl. This will mark Ohio State’s seventh trip to the Fiesta Bowl, breaking a tie with Penn State, Arizona State and Nebraska for the most all-time appearances. Ohio State is 4-2 in the Fiesta Bowl, including a 34-20 victory over Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. The times have changed, but Ohio State still looks like a solid favorite over the Fighting Irish in this year’s Fiesta Bowl pairing.

Ohio State will be looking to send its seniors and a handful of juniors out with a win. Defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott will be playing their final game in a Buckeyes uniform, as well as quarterback Cardale Jones. All three could have an impact on the game, although Jones will be backing up J.T. Barrett. One other player that tends to get overshadowed is Braxton Miller, the quarterback turned wide receiver. It would be fitting if Miller could get a chance to shine for Ohio State one last time considering his history with the program. All that remains to be seen is if Ohio State can put it all together and play to its abilities and potential in the final game of the season, and also avoid a letdown of not playing in the playoff.

On the other side of the field will be a Notre Dame team that has become more athletic in recent years and one that has become faster. This is not the same Notre Dame team Brian Kelly coached to the BCS National Championship before being obliterated by Alabama. This Notre Dame team has grown and evolved from that team. This Irish team has also been one to overcome injury issues and diminishing depth time and time again. Because of all of the injuries to key players on offense and defense this fall, you can argue Kelly had one of his best seasons as a head coach, because Notre Dame pushed both Clemson and Stanford to the limit on the road this season. Those were the only losses Note Dame experienced. No matter how much Notre Dame has been weakened, they seem to battle back.

Freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer will be tested and should be under pressure at times, but Will Fuller should be able to make some big plays down the field. Notre Dame’s big plays may come too few and far between though to beat Ohio State.

THE PREDICTION: Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 23

Stanford keeps faint playoff hopes alive, extinguishes Irish’s in last-second win

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For both Notre Dame and Stanford, tonight’s game down on The Farm was one that each needed to keep any playoff hopes that they entertained alive.  In the end, it’s the latter that holds the lone remaining hope for the rivalry.

With both teams throwing punches on either side of the ball, it was the Cardinal that was able to withstand the body blows and leave Foster Field with a thrilling 38-36 win.  It wasn’t looking that way, though, after DeShone Kizer led the Irish on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown run with :30 left and gave the visitors a 36-35 lead.

Kevin Hogan, playing his last home game as a member of the Cardinal, proceeded to ensure he left one more indelible mark in the program’s history books.  Taking over at their own 28-yard line, a face-mask penalty on the Irish moved the ball out to the 43-yard line with :15 left.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by the play of the game, a 27-yard Hogan-to-Devon Cajuste that put the Cardinal in field goal range; a Christian McCaffrey two-yard run positioned the Cardinal for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Conrad Ukropina absolutely piped with no time left for the 36-35 win.

Hogan was superb throughout the night, finishing with 269 yards and four touchdown passes on 17-of-21 passing in a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change six times.  The Irish had a pair of 100-yard runners, with Josh Adams leading the way with 168 and Kizer contributing 128.

The win improves Stanford to 10-2, and sends them into the Pac-12 championship game against USC with hopes of a playoff berth still intact, however faint they may be.  Even if the Cardinal can take down the Trojans, they would still need significant upheaval ahead of them — think Clemson, Iowa and Alabama losing their title games — in order to even begin any type of realistic playoff talk.

But still…

For Notre Dame, it’s their second loss of the season and, with no championship game to leave another impression on the committee, it appears their playoff hopes have been officially dashed.  Still, given the myriad injuries with which the Domers have had to deal, it’s a minor miracle that they were even in the playoff discussion this late in the season, and a testament to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.

Cardinal, Irish trade late offensive punches in tight first half

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In a contest that’s essentially a play-in game for a continuing chance at the College Football Playoff, both Notre Dame and Stanford are slugging it out like they’re aware of exactly what’s on the line.

Through a quarter and a half of play, the defensive talent was evident on both sides of the ball; the last half-quarter, though, both offenses awoke as the Cardinal has taken a 21-20 lead on the Irish heading into the halftime locker room.  Trailing 14-13 and having seen a pair of drives stall inside the Cardinal 10-yard line, the Irish eschewed another red zone opportunity to squander as DeShone Kizer hit Will Fuller on a pretty 73-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 left in the second quarter to give them a 20-14 lead.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, scored on its first two possessions of the game, with both touchdowns coming off the arm of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan.  While those first two drives netted 153 yards of offense, the next two totaled all of 24 yards and ended with a pair of punts.  The Cardinal’s possession after the late Irish touchdown began at their own 25 and ended with the third Hogan touchdown pass of the half, accounting for the 21-20 halftime score.

The Domers actually had the opportunity to add at least three more points after that, but a Kizer fumble near the Cardinal 20-yard line that was recovered by Stanford wasted another scoring opportunity for the Irish.

C.J. Sanders‘ 93-yard kick return was the Irish’s first score of the game.  Justin Yoon kicked a pair of field goals at the end of the drives that petered out in the red zone.

In addition to the three touchdowns, Hogan has thrown for a game-high 180 yards.  Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey totaled 137 all-purpose yards — 55 rushing, 23 receiving, 59 on kick returns.