Rapid Reaction: Buckeyes' national title dream denied by Alabama in CFP final
Ohio State overcame so many obstacles unique to the 2020 season just to get to Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship game: A Big Ten season that was canceled then revived in truncated form, COVID-19 cases, canceled games, national criticism for playing too few games.
One obstacle was too much to overcome, and it was entirely predictable: Alabama.
The Buckeyes just could not keep up with one of the greatest offenses in college football history, led by a trio of trophy winners on the Crimson Tide offense. Thus, Ohio State was denied in its national title bid, losing to No. 1 Alabama 52-24 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The Buckeyes came into the game ranked 41st in the nation in total defense and 116th in pass defense. That was a bad omen against an Alabama offense averaging nearly 50 points a game.
The Crimson Tide rolled up 389 total yards. Mac Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 342 yards — including 12 catches for 215 yards and 3 TDs by Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. And Najee Harris tacked on one rushing touchdown and a receiving score.
Oh, all that was just in the first half.
No. 1 Alabama (13-0) led No. 3 Ohio State 35-17 at halftime, 11 days after the Buckeyes (7-1) dismantled Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide wound up surpassing 600 yards in offense and Jones broke a CFP title game record with 464 passing yards; he also had 5 TD passes.
Buckeyes junior quarterback Justin Fields again showed his toughness, playing through the pain of injured ribs suffered from a hit in that Clemson game. The quarterback had extra padding around the injury but winced in pain at a few points during Monday’s game. Fields, who threw for 6 touchdowns against the Tigers, helped put together a few strong touchdown drives but he and the OSU offense could not win a track meet against the Crimson Tide.
Fields, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, scampered 33 yards to the Alabama 20-yard line on the first OSU drive of the second half. On the next play, Fields hit Garrett Wilson for a 20-yard touchdown to bring the Buckeyes within 38-24. But Slade Bolden’s 5-yard TD catch put the Crimson Tide ahead 45-24 late in the third quarter.
One play that appeared at the time to be a key event came in the second quarter when Crimson Tide sophomore defensive back Jordan Battle was ejected for targeting — on a 3rd-and-11 pass that fell incomplete, no less. Battle lowered the boom (and his helmet) on a pass intended for OSU tight end Jeremy Ruckert. The call gave the Buckeyes 1st-and-goal but they settled for a 23-yard field goal by backup kicker Jake Seibert.
On the drive before, Harris caught a short pass and weaved his way for a 26-yard touchdown catch for Bama, vaulting a Buckeyes defender to leap into the end zone.
OSU’s defense came up with a turnover deep in Bama territory in the second quarter. Linebacker Baron Browning stripped Jones of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Tide’s 19-yard line. Two plays later, Master Teague’s 4-yard touchdown run tied it at 14.
The Crimson Tide took a 14-7 lead with the first play of the second quarter as Jones hit Smith for a 5-yard score. It was Smith’s 21st TD catch this season, setting an SEC single-season record.
On the first Bama drive, Jaylen Waddle, who had missed 8 games with an ankle injury, caught a 15-yard flip pass on 3rd-and-4 to give the Tide a first down at the OSU 7-yard line. Harris, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top running back, punched it in from 1 yard for a 7-0 lead 8:07 into the game.
On the ensuing Buckeyes drive, Ruckert’s one-handed catch for 36 yards moved OSU to the Bama 8, setting up Teague’s touchdown run on the next play to tie it at 7.
Trey Sermon, who rushed for 524 yards in the previous 2 games combined including a school-record 331 against Northwestern in the B1G Championship Game, left injured on OSU’s first drive. ESPN’s Maria Taylor reported that Sermon headed to the hospital for treatment after getting an X-ray on his collarbone in the locker room.
The bad news on the injury front kept coming for the Buckeyes when All-B1G guard Wyatt Davis limped off with a leg injury in the second quarter.
Jones, who won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback, led the nation in completion percentage at 77% coming into Monday.
OSU came in ranked No. 2 in the nation against the run. But that wasn’t the big problem for OSU, even with a runner as dangerous as Harris. The problem was that the Buckeyes had no answer for Smith, with a thin secondary catching up to OSU. Smith’s 3rd TD catch of the first half was a primary example, with OSU linebacker Tuf Borland trying in vain to chase down Smith as the senior receiver romped 42 yards for the score. That gave Bama a 35-17 lead. Smith left in the third quarter with a right hand injury; he finished with that 12-215-3 stat line that he complied in the first half.
Ohio State was without backup running back Miyan Williams, starting defensive linemen Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith as well as kicker Blake Haubeil.
Monday was a matchup of two blueblood programs with long, proud traditions. OSU was seeking its 7th consensus national championships — along with those earned in 1942, 1954, 1957, 1968, 2002 and 2014 — plus a couple of other years where OSU historians (but perhaps few others) claim shares of “mythical” titles. Instead, Alabama earned its 13th national title since the advent of the AP poll in 1936 (6 of them under coach Nick Saban); the school also claims at least 3 mythical pre-poll championships.