The Ohio State Buckeyes finished off their season with a great win in the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 44-28.
Ohio State got off to a great start in the New Year. After their defensive line had a great showing on Notre Dame's first offensive possession, the offense was clicking, as the Buckeyes drove straight down the field to make it a 7-0 Ohio State lead.
Another great Ohio State defensive stand led to another quick Ohio State offensive possession. The Buckeye drive lasted just three plays, and 45 seconds, capped off by a J.T. Barrett touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to make it 14-0, with just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The following Notre Dame possession, Tyvis Powell intercepted a DeShone Kizer pass, but it was overturned as Joey Bosa was called for targeting for a hit on Kizer, effectively ending his Ohio State career. The Irish would be forced to punt later in the drive after an unsuccessful 3rd and 18 conversion in Ohio State territory.
After getting a defensive stop, Notre Dame executed a 13-play, 70 yard drive that ended in a 3-yard run by freshman running back Josh Adams. But just when it seemed Notre Dame was slowing Ohio State's momentum, the Buckeyes struck back with an 11 play, 62-yard drive that took two and a half minutes, capped off by an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown. Zeke enjoyed it so much, he brought back the crop top.
A third Notre Dame three-and-out allowed the Buckeyes to continue their offensive flourish, as the Buckeyes didn't miss a beat. Another two minute Buckeye drive led to yet another Ezekiel Elliott touchdown, giving Ohio State a 28-7 lead late in the half.
Notre Dame would not be silenced, and would finish the half off strong, with a quick drive that lasted one minute and 19 seconds, with DeShone Kizer taking the quarterback sweep into the endzone to make it a 28-14 Notre Dame deficit going into the half.
Ohio State began the second half driving down just as they did in the first, until J.T. Barrett was picked off by Joe Schmidt in Notre Dame territory. It was just Notre Dame's 14th takeaway all season. The Irish would capitalize, driving down the field as DeShone Kizer hit Chris Brown for a touchdown in the corner of the endzone to cut the Ohio State lead to 28-21.
The Buckeyes would have an answer for the Irish. Ezekiel Elliott, as he has done so many times in his Ohio State career, broke off a 47-yard touchdown run right through the heart of the Notre Dame defense. Zeke topped off the touchdown with a shrug for Joey Bosa. The Buckeyes were back up 35-21 with over six minutes to go in the third quarter.
The following Notre Dame drive, Tyvis Powell got yet another interception of Kizer, and this one counted. But the Buckeyes weren't able to capitalize on the turnover, and were forced to punt after three plays.
Sean Nuernberger got the Buckeyes on the board early in the fourth quarter with a 37-yard field goal that just found its way inside the left upright, putting the Buckeyes up 38-21. The Ohio State defense would give it right back, as Kizer hit Will Fuller for an 81-yard touchdown pass right by Gareon Conley, cutting the lead to 38-28. It was the second longest touchdown pass in Fiesta Bowl history.
Ohio State was facing a 4th and 10, as J.T. Barrett threw a pass that was just outside of the reach of Jalin Marshall, which would have given Notre Dame the Ball around their own 30, but the Irish were called for a defensive holding, extending the Buckeye drive.
The Buckeyes weren't so lucky the next time around, as J.T. Barrett was stormed by a sea of Irish defenders, getting sacked. This led to another Nuernberger field goal, putting the Bucks up 41-28 with 6:09 left. Notre Dame's following possession resulted in a punt deep in their down end zone.
Sean Nurenberger had one of his busier games, knocking in another field goal on Ohio State's next possession, giving the Buckeyes a 44-28 lead with under three minutes remaining. Notre Dame would fumble on their ensuing possession, and the Buckeyes had it from there.
3 things we learned:
1. There's the offense we expected to see. The first Ohio State drive was essentially what people expected Ohio State's offense to be all season in a single drive. Zeke had a couple of decent gains on the drive. J.T. Barrett found Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas in the passing game. Braxton Miller not only had a reception, but he also had a nice 27-yard gain that really helped get Ohio State's momentum going. Along with a J.T. Barrett run and a Michael Thomas touchdown reception, that was everything we thought we would see this season out of this team that faced such extraordinarily high expectations.
The Buckeyes seemed to do it with ease at times too. The variety was so wide, even Marcus Baugh caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter. A third Buckeye touchdown drive featured mostly J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott runs, which we saw often last season, and were expecting in 2015. Ezekiel Elliott even busted out a 47-yard touchdown run right up the middle of the Notre Dame defense. To see everything come together for one last go around with this squad was great to watch.
2. Joey Bosa's absence was huge. The Buckeye defense got off to just as hot of a start in the game as the offense did, and it was truly spectacular to watch. Particularly, Ohio State's defensive line was all up in the Notre Dame backfield, and they made it seem extremely easy, as if the Buckeyes were playing a much lesser opponent. Joey Bosa kept muscling by defenders, and getting hands on DeShone Kizer, but when Bosa was ejected for a targeting call, that turned quickly, and the difference was clear to see.
Notre Dame's playcalling the rest of the game was different. The Ohio State pressure wasn't there every play, and DeShone Kizer was able to take more time in the pocket, and even found the edge at times when nothing was there in the secondary for the Irish. The lack of pressure enabled Kizer to find Will Fuller on an 81-yard hesitation route in the fourth quarter, as he had plenty of time in the pocket, and help from poor coverage by Gareon Conley. That's one of the signs of a great player, is that his impact is felt just by his presence on the field, and when he's off of it, the other team can breathe a heavy sigh of relief. If Joey Bosa is on the field, this game is probably much uglier for the Irish.
3. Even without the playoff, this was a great team. The season really was a roller coaster ride from start to finish. We had a quarterback controversy early on, we saw Braxton Miller switch positions, and endured some games that were closer than a lot of people had expected. Expectations were unreasonably high for this group, considering it appeared that 20 and 30-point wins weren't enough for fans out there. Of course, there was the Michigan State loss, which ended the Buckeyes chances at a repeat. But that doesn't necessarily mean this season was a failure. This team was similar to last year's in the way that they got hot towards the end of the season when it mattered, they were just one game off.
To make a New Year's Six bowl, and go in and look as good as Ohio State did is a great accomplishment, as some teams weren't as fortunate to do so in their opportunities. We lost Joey Bosa before the clock could hit zero, but we saw a lot of good out of guys we expected great things from all year. We saw flashes from J.T. Barrett, Michael Thomas, and Ezekiel Elliott. Braxton Miller had his shine early in the game. Curtis Samuel provided us with one of the best kickoff returns we have had all season, and had a reception late in the third quarter. It even looked like at times Jalin Marshall might make some noise. But in totality, it was a great last game for this group to watch, and the 2015 Buckeyes will most certainly be missed.