There’s just something about Urban Meyer, Ohio State, AT&T Stadium and a Pac-12 team.
Proving that a Texas-flavored Rose Bowl matchup isn’t a terrible consolation prize for missing out on the College Football Playoff, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes returned to the scene of their last national title and jumped on No. 8 USC early before coasting to a 24-7 win in the Cotton Bowl.
It appeared initially that the game might be a rout for the Big Ten champions after they forced three first half turnovers to jump out to a 24 point lead just prior to halftime. That included a fumble recovery that setup a touchdown and a Damon Webb pick-six less than a minute into the second quarter. Those scores would have been enough to win the game given how well the defense was playing but really put the outing in perspective as things slowed down on the scoreboard after emerging from the JerryWorld locker room.
The second half offensive shutout put a bit of a damper on what was a career night for OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett. The senior, who celebrated that championship on the same turf in a boot back in 2014, threw for only 114 yards and ran for another 66 on the ground to lead the team in both yards and carries. Those marks allowed him to set a new school record for most total touchdowns in a season as well as pass former Purdue star Drew Brees on the all-time Big Ten list for career total offense. Though he leaves a bit of a mixed legacy on the grand stage of the College Football Playoff, there’s little question that he’s one of the best to ever suit up at the position for the scarlet and gray under center and has all the records to prove it.
Barrett’s opposite number wasn’t too shabby overall either and largely outplayed him in front of dozens of pro scouts and executives. USC signal-caller Sam Darnold (356 yards passing) had numerous throws that wowed those in attendance and looked like they were coming from the player that some think is the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft but his flaws also popped up at inopportune times. In addition to tossing the pick-six on a bad read, he fumbled twice — including once in the red zone to keep points off the board — and was generally under pressure all game long from that nasty Ohio State defensive line that recorded eight sacks.
Returning to the Dallas area not far from where he played high school football, Trojans tailback Ronald ‘Texas Tesla’ Jones had 64 yards and the team’s lone touchdown of the game in what could be his final appearance in the cardinal and gold. It wasn’t enough in the end to jump-start a comeback down the stretch though.
That’s because the night belonged to the other sideline as the tone was set early by the Buckeyes and they never seemed to let up. The offense as a whole for Meyer and company didn’t exactly state the team’s case that they should have gotten into the Playoff ahead of No. 4 Alabama but it was one of the best defensive efforts of the season all things considered to capture a marquee Cotton Bowl victory to cap off the 2017 campaign.