With the NFL’s favorite college quarterback facing arguably the toughest task of his career, there was certainly not a lack of uncertainty entering Friday night’s matchup between the Big Ten and Pac 12 champs. As the game unfolded, there was little question as to which team deserved to come out on top. The Buckeyes played the same game of football they’ve exemplified throughout the season, falling back on an elite defense while the offense executed just enough to maintain a comfortable lead. Meanwhile, Southern California’s hype was blatantly exposed, as the significance of their run through the Pac 12 now feels all but meaningless after suffering this 24-7 defeat to the hands of Ohio State.
USC received the opening kick and, on a nice completion by Sam Darnold to his receiver Deontay Burnett for 21 yards, Burnett lost his handle and gave possession to the Buckeyes inside the Trojans’ redzone.
A steady march of 19 yards down the field was capped off by JT Barrett taking it in from one yard out to claim the early lead.
After three stalled drives between the two squads, Ohio State managed to put together some positive plays including two huge receptions by Austin Mack. However, Southern Cal’s defense stepped up and forced a fourth down, resulting in a Buckeye field goal and a 10-0 lead.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Darnold fired a pass intended for Burnett on a slant, and Damon Webb was in prime position to jump the route, and took the interception to the house to force a 17-point deficit.
Halfway through the second quarter, facing a third and five, Darnold tried to step up in the pocket, but was hit by Tyquan Lewis and lost the football for the Trojans’ third turnover of the first half.
Starting with favorable field position, it only took two plays for Ohio State to reach the end zone once more. Barrett avoided a sack and took off into the open field for a 28-yard scramble and his second rushing touchdown of the game. The Buckeyes reached a four possession lead over USC, 24-0.
After USC was forced to punt on their ensuing possession, OSU’s KJ Hill mismanaged the punt and allowed the Trojan to recover the ball off his hands on Ohio State’s 15.
Three plays later, Ronald Jones bursted across the goal line from one yard out to put the Trojans on the board, resulting in the eventual halftime tally of 24-7.
Little momentum was gained by either team in the start of the second half, as both defenses managed to halt any promising drives.
The Trojans had an opportunity to strike first after Darnold completed a 37-yard bomb to Tyler Vaughns down the sideline to set his team up in the redzone. The Silver Bullets prevented anymore damage on this drive after creating a fourth down, and USC’s Chase McGrath booted one from 28 yards off the upright.
In their attempts to pose a threat of their own, Barrett’s intermediate completion to his tight end Marcus Baugh marked the all-time record for total offensive yards in the Big Ten, as Barrett passed up the legendary Purdue Boilermaker Drew Brees. The drive itself, however, ended with yet another punt.
Darnold continued to add to his highlight tape full off head-turning throws as Vaughns hauled in yet another long ball to set USC up on Ohio State’s 27. Following a defensive pass interference, Jalyn Holmes knocked the football out of Darnold’s grasp before the star signal caller could sling his arm forward, causing the fourth Trojan turnover, and Darnold’s third of the game.
But, again, the Buckeyes were stopped short of a first down and were forced to punt once more. This was a common theme, as those third and short situations for the OSU offense constantly ended in the Trojans’ favor. The USC defense, the same unit that was overpowered by the Oh-State O-Line for as majority of the night, seemed to experience very little difficulty finding the backfield in those third and short scenarios.
By this point, the Trojans simply did not have enough time to mount any sort of comeback.
All in all, it was a dominant performance by the Buckeye defense, with four turnovers and a defensive touchdown, there’s no question that they were the strong suit of this Ohio State roster. Despite failed conversions and a special teams miscue, no unit showcased more poise and confidence than the Silver Bullets.
A Legacy For The History Books: JT Barrett may very well be considered the most controversial record-holder in the Buckeyes’ school history. Despite being considered an exceptional leader by his coaches and teammates, putting up remarkable numbers throughout his career, and pulling out some improbable victories, the criticism of Barrett never seemed to slow. Though he may not have lived up to his expected duties as a quarterback, the three-time captain found some more unorthodox ways to lead the Buckeyes, effectively managing the offense and running the ball like another one of the tailbacks. His stat line on Friday night speaks to this, finishing 11 of 17 on his passes for 114 yards, while also leading his team in carries with 16, and rushing yards with 66 – Both of his scores coming by way of the ground game.
Yes, Barrett will always have his naysayers, but the fact that this former three-star recruit from Texas came out of nowhere to accomplish what he did has clearly been taken for granted.
It will be interesting to see how this Buckeye squad will bounce back in the 2018 season with a new quarterback under center. Most likely Dwayne Haskins.
NEO Sports Insiders Newsletter
Sign up to receive our NEOSI newsletter, and keep up to date with all the latest Cleveland sports news.