In the early going, the Ohio State Buckeyes came out firing on all cylinders against the USC Trojans. A fumble on USC’s first drive led to OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett securing the first score of the game via a 2-yard rush. From there, the Buckeyes controlled the game, defeating the Trojans 24-7 in the 82nd edition of the Cotton Bowl Classic.
For the game, the three-time Buckeye captain passed for 114 yards on 11-of-17 passing. On the ground, Barrett picked up 66 yards on 16 carries; he also scored two touchdowns on the ground, too. In the fourth quarter, Barrett passed Drew Brees’ mark for total offense by a Big Ten player. He got the accolade in his 50th and final game as a Buckeye.
The other storyline for the night was the Buckeyes’ defense. USC quarterback Sam Darnold was pressured all night, and struggled to find receivers. Darnold was sacked eight times on the night, and went 26-of-44 for 356 yards. Darnold committed three turnovers that tipped the momentum towards Ohio State. He threw a Pick-6, and fumbled the ball in the second quarter; and fumbled the ball again deep in OSU’s territory in the fourth quarter.
By defeating the Trojans, the Scarlet and Gray broke a 7-game streak of losses to the Southern California program. Prior to the Cotton Bowl, the last time that Ohio State secured a win against USC was in 1975—when Archie Griffin was the running back.
With the win, OSU ends the season 12-2 and improves the Big Ten’s stock this postseason. USC falls to 11-3, and adds to the Pac-12’s struggles in this bowl season.
Here’s how this one went down.
The opening kickoff from Blake Haubeil soared 63 yards into the air, and was fielded by Velus Jones for 12 yards. The return put USC on their own 14—but disaster would strike on the third play of the game for the Men of Troy.
Deontay Burnett caught a slant route on third-and-6 and went 16 yards, however, Kendall Sheffield knocked the ball out. Damon Webb scooped up the ball and went 20 yards to the USC 19.
A Dobbins rush, followed by a third down completion from Barrett to Marcus Baugh set the Bucks up at the USC 2. Two plays later, Barrett dove to the end zone from a yard out.
The Texas native got the first score, and put the Buckeyes up 7-0.
USC would get the ball back with 12:19 left in the first quarter. Ronald Jones opened up the drive for six yards. Then Darnold used two big pass plays—including a 27-yard sideline pass to Tyler Vaughns—to get to the OSU 37. But, the Trojans’ drive would stall as a questionable defensive pass interference on cornerback Jeffrey Okudah wasn’t called, much to the dismay of the USC bench.
Reid Budrovich booted the ball on a punt to K.J. Hill, putting the starting point of OSU’s second drive at their own 10. Parris Campbell opened up drive #2 with a six yard run; Mike Weber then took a completion and a rush for seven yards and one yard, respectively. The drive then went stale as an incompletion, and a third-down sack forced Drue Chrisman to punt.
As the Trojans were still looking for their first points of the game, their third drive left more to be desired. Darnold hit 2-of-4 passes, but missed on a third-and-5 attwmpt. (Actually, his receiver, Burnett, caught the ball out of the air—but Sheffield pried it loose as they both hit the ground.)
With 5:01, the Scarlet and Gray were back on the attack. The subsequent OSU drive took 13 plays and marched 83 yards down the field. Short yard rushes and a big reception by Austin Mack for 33 yards at the start of the drive helped set up Sean Nuernberger for a 26-yard field goal. Barrett made two big plays on the drive: a 10-yard sweep to the left side of the field on a third-and-12, and a 16-yard play on the following snap—a fourth-and-2.
After the ensuing kickoff, the turnover bug struck the Trojans again. This time, Darnold telegraphed a pass right to Damon Webb, who sprinted 23 yards the other way for a touchdown. Ohio State was off to a commanding 17-0 lead with 14:42 left in the half.
USC opened up their next drive with a headful of steam. Jones darted for 17 yards, nearly getting to midfield. On the next play, a 4-yard rush put the Trojans at their own 49. But, things would cool off in a hurry. Jones surrendered those four yards back on the next play, and Darnold threw the ball away on third down. The punt unit came back on—and OSU went back on offense.
This would be one of Ohio State’s least productive drives of the first half, ending in a three-and-out. Dobbins opened up the drive with a seven-yard carry, then Baugh caught a 2-yard pass; Dobbins on third-and-1 was stopped—and pushed back a yard. Chrisman would be called on to punt, and sent the ball to the USC 12.
Needing a score, USC had to get points on this drive. A big third-and-5 completion to Michael Pittman for 20 yards propelled USC to their own 42. Darnold then took off for 14 yards, then followed that play up with a 14-yard completion. Working their way down to the OSU 23, Darnold rushed to get a third-and-5 snap off. This proved to be costly, as the pocket collapsed—enabling him to be sacked. That wasn’t the only thing that happened; Darnold had the ball poked loose by Tyquan Lewis. Jerome Baker picked the ball up and raced down the field for 13 yards.
At their own 41, Barrett hit Mike Weber for a 16-yard screen pass. USC compounded their woes by committing a face mask penalty, giving OSU 15 free yards. On the next play, Barrett went around his left tackle and took off for the remaining 28 yards for a touchdown.
Ohio State had a commanding 24-0 lead with 5:27 left in the second quarter.
USC didn’t materialize any points on their next drive. Once again, a pass heavy drive centered around Darnold had one chunk play (a 32-yard snag by Pittman) but nothing outside of that. Reid Budrovich’s 52-yard punt placed OSU on their own 14, however, Hill was running back for the ball with outstretched arms. This caused him to fumble it, and USC recovered. Hill was shaken up on the play—he took a helmet to the left shoulder as he dove for the ball.
The Buckeyes’ misfortune was turned into the Trojans first points of the game, courtesy of a three play, 15-yard march.
Both teams traded scoreless drives in the remaining two minutes of the half, bringing us to halftime with Ohio State leading 24-7.
Here’s what the first half stats looked like.
Coming off the break, Ohio State would get the ball first. Parris Campbell took a reverse sweep for 21 yards to the far side of the field. A no-gain by Dobbins, followed by an 8-yard catch by Austin Mack brought OSU to a third-and-2 situation. Barrett took the ball on a sweep, but came up a yard short. On fourth-and-1, Urban Meyer elected to go for it; Barrett took the ball up the middle, but was stopped just inches short of the first down line. The play was reviewed, but the play stood. For the first time, the spot was not good.
With the ball on their own 42, USC had a chance to get back in the game. This would not be the drive that would spark the feared comeback. Darnold went 1-for-3 for two yards on the drive—leading to another three-and-out.
OSU got the ball on their own 25 following the USC punt. On their first drive of the second half, the Buckeyes followed a similar fate as their Trojan counterparts. After Barrett’s 16-yard rush, the Scarlet and Gray failed to gain anything on their following three plays. Chrisman came back on to punt; this time, he kicked it 54 yards into the end zone for a touchback.
A potent rushing attack moved USC on this drive. Aca’Cedric Ware and Jones were the go-tos on the first three plays of this series. Darnold would then atone for an incompletion with an 18-yard pass completion on a third-and-17. Jones had two more 1-yard rushes before Darnold took a heave down field. From the OSU 33, Darnold missed Steve Mitchell for a near TD. (Fans in the arena, though, thought there was a clear defensive pass interference call that didn’t get noticed). On the next play, Darnold took a sack that put USC out of field goal range. A punt was incoming, again.
USC’s punt pinned the Buckeyes on their own 15. Dobbins had two rushes that combined for six yards, and a pass on third-and-5 fell incomplete to a well guarded Mack.
However, the referees thought Mack was a little too well guarded. Pass interference was called on USC, giving OSU a fresh set of downs. They couldn’t take advantage of the gift, though. Campbell lost three yards, and Barrett hit Baugh for nine yards over the middle; the third down pass fell short to the receiver. Chrisman nearly got the punt blocked, but managed to kick it 34 yards to the USC 24.
Darnold made two big passes in the early going on the next drive. A 17-yard pass to Pittman and a 37-yard sideline one-foot-in-bound snag by Vaughns put the Trojans on the OSU 16. But, a misfire by Darnold and rushes that were stuffed forced Chase McGrath to kick a 28-yard field goal.
McGrath’s kick would hit the far right upright—and continued the tough night for USC.
After another uneventful drive for OSU (that included another Barrett sack), USC went back on offense. The Buckeye defense gave up another big pass play (a 30-yard completion to Vaughns) but came up big when they had to. Down inside the Buckeye red zone after an Okudah pass interference, Darnold was bouncing around in the pocket looking to throw, and when he finally decided on a target, Jalyn Holmes hit his hand—causing the ball to come loose. Robert Landers picked up the ball and OSU’s fourth turnover recovery of the night at the 8:04 mark of the fourth quarter.
From there, the Buckeyes were all roses and had the Cotton Bowl victory sealed up.