For Ohio State, going into this game was more of a question of what could have been rather than a reflection on the season itself. One spot out of the College Football Playoff (despite a Big Ten Championship Trophy) made this game feel a bit hollow, but also somewhat of a consolation prize. With nothing but pride to play for, the Buckeye defense demolished the University of Southern California, while the offense mostly watched.
The Buckeyes showed flashes of the team that, at times, could beat anyone, and flashes of a team not deserving of a playoff spot with a turnover-filled extravaganza that included a scoreless second-half. While they did struggle mightily on offense, to their opposite was USC, who may have struggled more, including dismal offensive line play which gave up 8 sacks to the vaunted OSU defense, and 3 turnovers from their star quarterback, Sam Darnold.
At the end of the day, the Buckeyes locked up another likely top-5 finish, another 12-win season, another New Year’s Six bowl win, and a capstone on the long and storied career of signal-caller J.T. Barrett. J.T. may not have had the best game of his career but he still managed two touchdown runs and broke the record for offense accounted for in the Big Ten and touchdowns accounted for in a season. It was a game for the record books and a somewhat fitting end for one of the best to ever do it for Ohio State.
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Damon Webb, Saf: Playing in his last game, and with OSU star CB Denzel Ward sitting out, the Buckeye secondary needed something from one of its veterans and Webb delivered. Webb came up with an early fumble recovery off USC’s Deontay Burnett who was stripped of the ball after running and catching for what would have been a first down. Webb was not done yet as he read a second-quarter Darnold pass and stepped in front of it, and taking it untouched into the end-zone for a 23-yard touchdown. All that on top of 5 solo tackles made this a night to remember for Webb, and was a big part of the defensive shutdown that ensued.
Sam Hubbard, DE: Hubbard has been a defensive line standout his entire career and playing in his likely last game, the Junior continued to make his mark with the D-Line. Almost certainly leaving early for the NFL Draft, and a likely early-round draft pick, Hubbard dominated the line and recorded one of his best career games statistically. He finished with 2.5 sacks with another tackle-for-loss on top of that and was consistently wreaking havoc in the backfield. This defensive-line for Ohio State’s is undoubtedly one of the best assembled for the school, and this performance was yet another mark in their storied legacy, led by Hubbard.
Drue Chrisman, P: Chrisman has proven himself to be a very solid punter and he further solidified that, flipping the field when needed and booting some excellent punts. He finished with 7 punts and a 45.9 yard average, with three of those landing inside of the 20-yard line. The harrowing part was how often USC defenders seemed to come unblocked towards him during punts, but he managed to successfully get each one off and played a significant part of the consistent bad field position that USC maintained throughout the game.
Billy Price, C: Throughout his Ohio State career Billy Price had a remarkable achievement, he never missed a game. The senior-center started every single game of his career, and performed remarkably well throughout. This trend didn’t stop yesterday as the Rimmington Trophy Award Winner (best center in the country) continued to be a consistent anchor of the offensive-line, and continued the tradition of Pat Elflein before him. The line will no doubt be different next year without him as he embarks on what should be a very long and successful NFL career. In his last game, he continued his tradition of being consistent and protecting J.T. Barrett, in a position that isn’t the flashiest but one of the most important. Hats off to Price for a fantastic Buckeye career and 4 years of consistent and solid O-Line play.
The Running Game: For some reason the running backs just could not get it going this game, and J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber both struggled mightily at times. This could be for a variety of reasons including offensive-line play, but the most consistent running-back was Parris Cambell who ran off a few excellent shovel pass speed runs. If the game had been closer, the backs play could have proved costly, but in the end, it was just another game to move on from. With both Weber and Campbell having decisions to make about returning this could be the last time we see all three on the same field.
BUY: The Secondary. This was a question mark coming into the game with Denzel Ward, a likely first-round NFL draft pick, sitting out to protect his health. This forced Kendall Sheffield, Jeffrey Okudah, and Damon Arnette to step up and stop the likely second-best quarterback they had faced all year. Despite giving up 356 yards of passing by Darnold, the secondary would consistently bend but did not break, and allowed no truly big plays for USC. They forced Darnold to have pinpoint accuracy, which he largely did, and for the most part, they held strong and seem to be still getting better, a good sign heading into next season.
SELL: The Offense. Coming into this game many expected the high-powered OSU offense to feast on the 23rd ranked nationally Trojan defense. The Trojans had looked weak against the run and were expected to overcommit stopping it, thus freeing up passing lanes. Instead the Buckeyes couldn’t get anything going on offense, passing or running, and managed just a dismal 3 points off drives they didn’t start coming off turnovers. Without 4 USC turnovers, this game easily could have ended differently due to the ineptitude of the offense. The saving grace was most likely J.T. Barrett, who in his last game had enough left in the tank, and in his legs, to propel the team to victory with his 2 rushing touchdowns.