The Ohio State Buckeyes began 2015 in the most dramatic fashion imaginable by felling the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, 42-35. If you didn't know that already, welcome to the internet, and we're glad to have you here.
It was a roller coaster of a performance that is already being dissected all over the place, and we've done some of that ourselves! But games like this are a fantastic reminder that football is a game played by human beings, just like us, who happen to have superhuman abilities to showcase from time to time. The human element, the wacky interpersonal levels on which we associate with football and the people who play it, always comes to the forefront when a group accomplishes something so ostensibly Sisyphean on such a big stage. The people are what make college football entertaining as hell, year-in and year-out, and Ohio State has no shortage of entertainers on its roster.
Let's take a look at some of those humans and what they brought to the table on Thursday night.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: It's hard to put into words just how much Elliott means to Ohio State's offense. Cardale Jones has been the story, but it's been Elliott's legs that have truly carried the Buckeyes in the absence of J.T. Barrett. In his last two games, Elliott has amassed an absurd 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. It was Elliott's 85-yard scamper in the 4th quarter that put Ohio State ahead for good, and there's no overstating just how huge that single play was. But the man with the smallest shirt in college football is far from a one-play wonder: Zeke averaged 7.6 yards/carry before his backbreaker. The Buckeyes will need him to be his excellent self against Oregon. His offensive line deserves a huge h/t as well.
S/o to the slobs !!! @TDeck68 @elflein65 They paved the way !!— EzekielElliott#⃣1⃣5⃣ (@EzekielElliott) January 2, 2015
Devin Smith, WR: There might be better deep threats in college football than Smith, but none are playing like it right now. The senior wideout only grabbed two balls in Thursday's game, but he made the most of them. Those catches went for 41 and 47 yards, respectively, including a Jedi mind trick touchdown in which Smith seemed to will his defender to fall down with the ball still up for grabs. And not only does Smith have Jedi powers, he's got voodoo ones, too: The Buckeyes are now a perfect 22-0 in games in which Smith catches a touchdown pass.
Darron Lee, LB: Lee was easily the defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl. The redshirt freshman linebacker (and regularly featured star of this column) was everywhere, racking up tackles when the Buckeyes needed them most. His sack of Blake Sims early in the 4th quarter helped stifle Alabama's offensive momentum, in particular. I unabashedly love watching this man play football, and it is beyond exciting that we still have a few years of the Darron Lee experience left.
Evan Spencer, WR:
Cardale Jones, QB: Next man up! In just his second career start, Cardale Jones was as good as the Buckeyes needed him to be. Jones finished with 243 passing yards, a touchdown, and an (ugly) interception. As the game wore on, it was clear that the young QB was getting more and more comfortable directing the offense -- see his wonder-strike to Devin Smith as evidence. There are still some decision-making issues to be worked out, as Jones narrowly avoided getting safety-sacked twice on Thursday and took several other bad sacks in the open field. But there's a lot of good to take away from this performance, and Jones is one game older and wiser. His rushing abilities can mask some of the deficiencies in his passing game, and he'll need to keep his legs moving against a dynamic Oregon team.
How far could Cardale throw a whistling Vortex ball? To the Moon? To Mars? Farther than Uncle Rico?— Russ Stein (@Only1Russ_Stein) January 2, 2015
Tyvis Powell, DB: The Buckeyes picked off Blake Sims three times on Thursday night. Powell continued to demonstrate his penchant for late-game heroics, by pulling in one of them. The Ohio State secondary was far from perfect in the Sugar Bowl, allowing destroyer-of-worlds Amari Cooper to reel in two touchdown grabs, but they were good enough. Powell was a big part of that. His pick, coming on the heels of a disastrous non-call on obvious pass interference coupled with the worst punt of Cam Johnston's career, pulled the Buckeyes' fat from the fire.
Corey Smith, WR: Smith, who has struggled to crack the lineup in his time at Ohio State, seems to have found his niche: Special teams! Smith had some of the best punt return and kick return tackles of the season, repeatedly bringing down Bama's return men with sound tackles on negligible returns. Smith might find himself switching positions soon if he keeps this up -- could he crack the lineup as a DB? Either way, dude is beyond entertaining and interesting to watch when the Buckeyes are kicking the ball away.
Clock management: We can't walk away from this one without at least addressing the most problematic play of the day: that Hail Mary heave on 2nd down when the Buckeyes should have been killing clock. What in the world was that? Did Tom Herman want to just roll the dice one more time before leaving town? I watched that play unfold with my mouth agape in horror. I get that it would have been an absolute dagger, had it been completed, but that is just not the kind of play you should ever run in that situation. Yikes. Also worth calling out Tyvis Powell. for trying to run that buzzer-beater INT back to the house instead of just hitting the deck, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
BUY: The Next Man Up. At this point you could probably convince me that if Cardale Jones got hurt between now and Jan. 12, the Buckeyes could drop Adolphus Washington into the starting QB spot and bring home a championship. There's some crazy wizardry going on in Columbus, and I don't know if we'll ever see a run of team play like this again. We've got a third-string QB leading his team into a national title game after dispatching a heavily-favored opponent, and college football is proving in 2014 that it's the best thing on earth.
SELL: Returning punts, ever again. Talk about the kind of thing that will induce a heart attack. Buckeyes should just send 11 guys after the punter from here on out, because watching returns has become literally the worst.
BUY: Urban Meyer. Can't even formulate a coherent thought for this. I love this man, something I would not have thought possible four or five years ago. We are truly #blessed to have him leading this team.
BUY: Ohio State vs. Heisman Trophy finalists. Melvin Gordon? See ya. Amari Cooper? Yawn. Marcus Mariota? Bring it on.
Lost in all this: Ohio State will now have to face its third consecutive Heisman finalist, which I'm not sure has ever happened before— Chuck McKeever (@McKChuck) January 2, 2015