Ohio State came into Monday night’s National Championship game feeling good after their big win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. They knew the challenge ahead of them — an Alabama team with one of the greatest offensive skill players the game has ever seen in DeVonta Smith and a bunch of pieces around him that made the Crimson Tide the favorite to win the whole thing since early in the season. Would the Buckeyes be up to the task against the nation’s No. 1 team?
The answer was a resounding no, as Ohio State was throughly dominated by Alabama in Miami. On offense, Trey Sermon went down immediately, and it clearly took a toll on Ryan Day’s game plan with all the pressure thrust onto Justin Fields’ shoulders. Smith ran wild against the Buckeyes’ defense as they continued to leave him wide open or in one-on-one coverage with linebackers — both of which being a losing proposition — and Mac Jones was able to sling it around the yard. The OSU defensive line was unable to get any pressure on Jones all night, and all of it culminated in a 52-24 rout by the Crimson Tide.
Man down — again.
You didn’t think the year 2020 was just going to fade into the distance without leaving us a parting gift, did you? This college football season has been tough for a number of reasons, no more so than the struggles of playing through a pandemic that has affected millions of Americans. Positive COVID-19 tests were bound to happen across the sport, and they have caused Ohio State issues in the form of cancelled games and missing players right down to the very last night.
The Buckeyes could not escape the virus ahead of the National Championship game, and after missing a handful of players last week against Clemson, it was a different group of guys on the shelf against Alabama. The biggest losses against the Crimson Tide were Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith — arguably two of Ohio State’s best defensive lineman this season, especially down the stretch. In addition to the incredibly important pair up front, the Buckeyes were also missing starter kicker Blake Haubeil, backup kicker Dominic DiMaccio, RB Miyan Williams, and OL Dawand Jones.
While that is obviously awful news, the team did get some reinforcements back from last week, as Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday and Master Teague all returned for Monday night’s contest. The return of Harrison offsets the absence of Smith a little bit, but Togiai being out is a huge blow for an Ohio D-line that has been phenomenal up the middle this year. Freshman Jake Seibert was thrust into action as the team’s starting kicker as well, having made all 13 extra point tries when Haubeil was previously out with injury.
Multiple things went wrong for Ohio State right out of the gate. After losing the coin toss, the Buckeyes got the ball first on offense. After managing only three yards on three plays, OSU was forced to punt, but the worst part of the possession is that Trey Sermon was banged up after taking a hit to his shoulder. You could see he wasn’t right heading back to the sideline, and Master Teague came into the game as Sermon was taken into the locker room.
A good punt by Drue Chrisman started Alabama’s offense on their on own 22, but it wasn’t long before Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith were going to work. Smith’s very first catch went for 22 yards, and already the Crimson Tide were near midfield. A couple nice pickups by Najee Harris moved the ball into Ohio State territory, and after Jaylen Waddle picked up 15 yards on a 3rd-and-3 play, the Tide were in the red zone. The Buckeyes were able to force Alabama into a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Harris punched it through to give Nick Saban’s team an early 7-0 lead.
Obviously the biggest concern after all of that was the injury to Sermon. The transfer RB has been so crucial to Ohio State’s offense this postseason, and losing him was a monumental blow. It was later announced he was taken to a nearby hospital, and his night was over before it even began.
Jeremy Ruckert has had a propensity to make some big time catches in Ohio State’s biggest games. Coming into tonight’s matchup with Alabama, we knew there was a chance the Buckeyes could look to attack the Tide defense with its tight ends, as they have struggled with some of the better players at the position they’ve faced this year. OSU hasn’t exactly featured its tight ends in the offense this season, but we saw what they are capable of against Clemson when Ruckert and Luke Farrell combined for three TDs in the Sugar Bowl.
It was another huge early play for the junior out of Long Island. After the Buckeyes had crossed midfield on their second drive of the game, Ruckert hauled in an impressive one-handed grab for 36 yards to set Ohio State up inside the red zone at the Alabama 8-yard line. The catch was reminiscent of his impressive TD snag in last year’s Big Ten title game. One play later, Master Teague was scampering off the edge into the end zone to tie that game up at 7-7.
Keeping it interesting
There was a point early in the second quarter where it looked as though Alabama may start to run away with things. After the Crimson Tide took a 14-7 lead, it was back on Ohio State’s offense to answer. They were able to pick up a few first downs to move the ball just past midfield, but a false start penalty stalled out the drive and forced a punt back to Bama. With how well Jones and the offense were dicing up the Buckeye defense, another quick score for the guys in Crimson could make things real difficult for Ryan Day and the gang.
That’s when Baron Browning came up with an absolutely massive play on defense. On first down, Browning came unblocked off the edge with a straight line to Jones. The QB had no time to react, and was forced to just brace for impact for the incoming linebacker. Browning not only got the sack, but he knocked the ball free and recovered it himself to set up the Ohio State offense deep in Alabama territory. A few plays later, Teague was barreling his way into the end zone for a TD as the game was now tied up at 14-14.
Unable to capitalize
With a shootout brewing in Miami and Ohio State once again trailing by seven, you could feel the pressure fall on Justin Fields’ shoulders as he looked to once again lead his offense down the field without his star running back. The run game still looked pretty good, however, as a 28-yard by Fields was followed up by a 29-yard run by Master Teague to work the ball down just outside the red zone. The Buckeyes stalled out after a negative run by Teague on a poorly designed play, but then a flag came in.
As we’ve seen in now three-straight playoff games for Ohio State, a player was called for targeting — this time it was Alabama safety Jordan Battle for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jeremy Ruckert. It gave the Buckeyes new life after what would have been a failure to convert on 3rd-and-11, but OSU was unable to make the most of it. After Fields missed a wide open Garrett Wilson in the corner of the end zone on first down, Ohio State would wind up having to settle for a field goal as they cut the deficit to 21-17. With how well the Tide were rolling on offense, it felt like a huge loss even to get those three points.
Out-manned and out-classed
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it — Ohio State got thoroughly dominated by Alabama in the first half. I have no idea what Kerry Coombs thought he was doing on defense, but whatever it was did not even remotely get the job done against the best offense in college football. It was almost as if the Buckeyes had looked across the field at the wide receiver who quite literally won the Heisman Trophy and just said “we are not going to guard that man, and we will see how it goes!”
Spoiler alert: it did not go well.
In the first half alone, DeVonta Smith caught 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. On most occasions Smith was simply wide open without a defender anywhere in the area — which you would think is important against the best player in the sport — but even on plays where Ohio State attempted to guard the star wide receiver, they were dominated. Shaun Wade was burnt repeatedly, and on Smith’s 42-yard TD to close out the half he was in one-on-one coverage against Tuf Borland. Let me repeat that: the best wide receiver in college football was matched up against the Buckeyes’ slowest player — on purpose!
Alabama’s offense rolled against an undermanned and poorly schemed Ohio State defense, out-gaining OSU 389-190 overall heading into the locker room. Justin Fields completed just six passes for 90 yards in the first half without throwing a touchdown. Through the game’s first 30 minutes, pretty much anything that could go wrong did go wrong for Ryan Day’s group.
At least we got the Fetty Wap score in this game. 1738!
Ohio State held Alabama to a field goal on their first drive of the second quarter, thanks in large part to Smith being in the injury tent for most of the series. The Buckeyes bent but did not break, however the Tide were able to run 7:08 of clock as they picked up an additional three points. The clock was no longer their friend, as OSU was now trailing by 21 points with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes were able to parlay that ‘stop’ into some positive momentum as Justin Fields went back to work. They put together a really impressive offensive drive on their first series of the half, with a little pitch and catch from Fields to Wilson for 17 yards followed by a 33-yard scamper by Fields to get Ohio State just outside the red zone. One play later, Fields found Wilson again — this time on a looping ball in the corner of the end zone for a TD as they cut the deficit to 38-24. The drive took just over a minute, but it meant the defense would have to find some way to get the ball back without letting up anymore points.
Would it matter? No, because Ohio State’s defensive players were out of position, missing tackles even without Smith or Harris on the field, and just playing terrible football overall. Coombs apparently saw no need to adjust the horrible schemes we saw from the first half, and Wade and Borland continued to struggle mightily. Alabama marched right back down the field to put up another seven points as the Tide now led 45-24 as the third quarter neared a close.
The rest of the way
Sucked just as much. On to 2021!