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4 things we learned from Ohio State’s Cotton Bowl dismantling of USC

In his swan song, Barrett guides the Buckeyes to one more bowl win.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It may not have been a College Football Playoff win, but the Ohio State Buckeyes got the job done against the USC Trojans, 24-7, in the 82nd edition of the Cotton Bowl Classic.

In J.T. Barrett’s swan song, he quarterbacked the Scarlet and Gray to a win inside AT&T Stadium—the place where he would’ve QB’d had he not been injured en route to OSU’s 2014 national championship.

For both Ohio State and USC, the focus shifts to next season. But, before we ride off into the offseason sunset, let’s take a look back and see what we learned from Friday night’s Cotton Bowl.

Defense Turnovers Wins Championships

Trojans’ QB Sam Darnold threw for 356 yards on 26-of-45 passing. That’s a pretty decent chunk of yardage against one of the best defenses in college football. USC also outgained OSU 413-277 on offense. However, Darnold threw a Pick-6 in the second quarter to eventual outstanding defensive player of the game Damon Webb, and fumbled the ball twice deep in OSU territory. Those turnovers led to 21 of Ohio State’s 24 points.

There were a few more near interceptions from Darnold, too. Ohio State’s defense, who played without defensive back Denzel Ward, were ready for the bowl game—and it showed.

On the Buckeye side, one of their turnovers gave the Trojans life. K.J. Hill muffed a punt in the second quarter at the OSU 14. That costly turnover was converted into the only points for USC.

In total, a combined five turnovers were committed in the Cotton Bowl. Of the total 31 points both teams put up on the scoreboard, 28 of them came following a turnover. Holding onto the football is pretty important; let the Cotton Bowl be “Exhibit A” for how games can swing off of costly turnovers.

A successful homecoming

Not only did Barrett played in his final game as an Ohio State Buckeye, but he also got to do it in his home state in one of the biggest bowl games on the season against a traditional Rose Bowl rival for OSU.

While the Buckeyes weren’t a high-flying team in the final 30 minutes, the 24 first half points were enough to seal the deal. Barrett was responsible for both Buckeye rushing touchdowns, and threw three chunk passes in the first half. On one of the longest drives of the night, Barrett led the Buckeyes from their own eight yardline all the way down to the USC 9. The Wichita Falls, Texas native hit two big passes to wide out Austin Mack; one of those plays, a 33-yard completion, came off a third-and-8 from the OSU 10. Granted, the drive only netted three points, but Barrett meticulously moved the team across the field.

The second half didn’t feature drives (and points) as seen in the first 30 minutes of play, but the let down didn’t happen. Urban Meyer may have employed “Treeselball” tactics, but everything went without a hitch, and OSU walked away from Jerry World with their second Cotton Bowl trophy.

On top of that, Barrett broke Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for total offense. Barrett eclipsed the mark of 12,692 and put himself atop another all-time list. Arguably Ohio State’s most prolific quarterback, Barrett ends his career with 12,697 yards and another offensive MVP award in a bowl game—he was awarded the Sanford Trophy (outstanding offensive player of the Cotton Bowl). Back at the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, Barrett was the offensive player of the game in the Buckeyes’ 44-28 win against Notre Dame.

The streak is over (and others begin)

USC has been a bugaboo for Ohio State, with the Bucks losing their previous seven encounters with the Trojans. Jim Tressel dropped both his meetings to the Trojans, as did John Cooper. Earl Bruce lost both meetings to John McKay’s Trojans in 1979 and 1985 by a combined four points in Rose Bowl contests. Woody Hayes lost 18-17 in the Rose Bowl to USC in 1975.

Hayes secured the last win against USC in 1974, a 42-21 win.

It’s been such a long time since the Buckeyes claimed a victory against the Men of Troy, but, alas, it happened on Friday night. The win snaps a 7-game losing streak, and lifts the Big Ten a little higher this postseason.

So far, the first five bowl games that the Big Ten has played in have all been victories. Purdue won the Foster Farms Bowl in a thriller with Arizona, Michigan State rolled to a Holiday Bowl win, Northwestern hung on against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, and Iowa fended off Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Like beating USC, it’s a weird feeling to see the Big Ten winning in the postseason. I’m not complaining about that—I think it’s muy bueno that the Big Ten is laying waste to the opposition so far.

While we’re on the topic of winning, the Buckeyes now improve to 2-0 all-time at AT&T Stadium. The last time that they were there, they defeated Oregon for the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship. Also, the Bucks are 2-0 in Cotton Bowls. They took down Texas A&M in 1987—a win that was fueled behind two(!) Pick-6s.

Ohio State’s 24-7 lead at the break was the ninth time they headed into halftime with the lead this season. In all nine games, they won.

And one last oddity: Since the Cotton Bowl moved from its namesake venue in Dallas to AT&T Stadium in Arlington in 2009, the nine winners have all been different. Three of them have come from the Big Ten. Michigan State beat Baylor in 2015, Wisconsin beat Western Michigan last season, and Ohio State won this season.

Tyquan Lewis is a good guy

In the waning moments of the game, drama ensued. Darnold rushed out of bounds but was hit by Malik Harrison. The play appeared to be a late hit, which then ignited pushing, shoving, and instigating from the USC bench—one of their players was eventually ejected from the game because of this kerfuffle.

On the initial hit, though, an ESPN parabolic microphone operator was clipped by Darnold as he was pushed by Harrison. As the pushing and shoving began, Buckeye defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis made sure to go over and check to make sure she was okay.

Lewis practically shielded the operator from the extracurricular activities. Personally, that is worthy of player of the game honorable mention.

What did you learn from the Cotton Bowl? Let us know in the comment section.