Buckeyes make Trojans feel the heat

Ohio State sack USC quarterback Sam Darnold eight times and hold Trojans to single points to come away with a 24-7 win in Cotton Bowl

Ohio State defensive back Kendall Sheffield (8) lay down the hammer on USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett (80) during the 82nd Annual Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Photo by Michael Lark for News4usonline

Jerry’s World has turned out to be a not-so-nice place to play for the USC Trojans. In 2016, Alabama laid hands on the Trojans in just about every which way during a 52-6 win at AT&T Stadium. Fast forward to the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic. The opponent was different for the Trojans. The result was the same: another blowout loss rebuke in front of a nationally-televised audience. J. T. Barrett and the Ohio State defense did the honors this time around.

The final score reads 24-7 in favor of Ohio State. But the game wasn’t really that close. The scorecard now reads: The House that Jerry Built 2, USC 0. All season long, Sam Darnold and the USC offense, outside of that nasty defeat to Notre Dame, pretty much had their way with the other team defenses. Not this time. The Buckeyes amped up the pressure and Darnold and the USC offensive line collapsed from under it.

USC cornerback Isaiah Langley (24) feels the pain of a stiff arm executed by Ohio State running back Mike Weber (25) during the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic. Photo by Michael Lark for News4usonline

What went wrong for the Trojans offensively, went wrong just about the entire night. Had it not been for a muffed punt return by Ohio State’s K.J. Hill, who tried to make like Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, only without the football, the Trojans would not have even sniffed the endzone. That’s just how dominant Ohio State’s defense was. Urban Meyer’s defensive game plan to keep Darnold in check looked pretty simple. And effective.

The Buckeyes’ philosophy was all about pressure, pressure and more pressure. That pressure got to Darnold eight times in the form of the number of sacks that Ohio State recorded in the game. What the Ohio State win proved was that Darnold is not ready to take on NFL defenses now. For the first time all season, Darnold started dancing in the pocket like he was engaged in doing the tango. Happy feet became his best friend when Ohio State defenders began closing in on him.

USC wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (21) hauls in a pass from Sam Darnold during the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. Photo by Michael Lark for News4usonline

The Buckeyes didn’t just show up in the Trojans’ backfield to invite Darnold to Starbucks for a cup of coffee. They were bringing along mean intentions to go with those sacks.

Sometimes, great numbers don’t always equate to something great. Stat keepers may suggest otherwise if you point to Darnold’s numbers against Ohio State. Darnold passed for 356 yards on 45 pass attempts against the Buckeyes. But he completed only 26 passes. The Buckeyes defense made Darnold look completely out of his league in going up against a superior defense.

Two fumbles, a pick six for a touchdown to go along with eight sacks doesn’t sound like Darnold was taking a trip to Disneyland. All of the hype building up to the game had made the Cotton Bowl Classic as an official going away party for Darnold as talks in the media has heated up about him declaring himself eligible for the NFL Draft. There are a lot of things that Darnold brings to the table as a quarterback. Ohio State wasn’t having any of it, though.

USC defensive back Marvell Tell (7) upends Ohio State quarterback J. T. Barrett (16) in the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic. The Buckeyes defeated the Trojans by the score of 24-7. Photo by Michael Lark for News4usonline

Against the two stout defenses that he had to face this season, Darnold blinked. Notre Dame blitzed USC 49-14 with a smothering defense earlier this season. The Buckeyes are the second team to execute that kind of defensive pain to Darnold and the Trojans. It is the first time all season the USC was held to single digits in scoring for a game. On the flip side, the game’s other starting quarterback was looking to avenge Ohio State’s 31-0 letdown to national champion Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal game last year.

Barrett took cues from that contest and did just enough to guide Ohio State to the lopsided win, including running for a 28-yard score. Yes, his 114 yards passing and 66 yard rushing doesn’t exactly make you all warm and fuzzy. But he broke Drew Brees’ Big Ten all-time mark in passing yards during the game. Barrett also got a career closeout win in a top notch bowl game. That’s  a whole lot more than what the Trojans came away with.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1379 Articles
Dennis is a news and sports photojournalist. Dennis has covered and written on issues such as civil rights, education, politics, and social justice. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze, Daily Press, Los Angeles Wave, Los Angeles Sentinel, and other media outlets. Dennis is currently the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. Dennis is an alum and graduate of Howard University.