The USC Trojans are nicknamed for a group of people who were duped by a brilliant plan to slip untouched past their formidable defenses and be largely pillaged and ransacked. Friday night in the 2017 Cotton Bowl, the Ohio State Buckeyes repeated that Trojan history on nearly every snap.
The OSU defensive line spent most of the night racing through, around, and over the USC offensive line and conquered their opponents without much of a fight. No wooden horse needed.
The Buckeyes racked up a Cotton Bowl record eight sacks, including a game-high 2.5 from DE Sam Hubbard, to frustrate and stifle a powerful USC offense. That pressure forced Trojan QB Sam Darnold to rush throws, and led to four turnovers.
“I mean, they’re, obviously, a really good defensive line. They’re probably the best I’ve played,” Darnold said after the game.
On the opening drive of the game, Darnold completed a pass to WR Deonta Burnett for a first down, but CB Kendall Sheffield forced a fumble. The Buckeyes recovered, setting up a short OSU touchdown drive and setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
The second turnover came early in the second quarter with USC already down 10-0. Darnold dropped back and tried to hit Burnett again, but S Damon Webb jumped the route, intercepted the pass and ran it back 23 yards to make it 17-0.
“I made a bad read on the pick six. I shouldn’t have thrown it, obviously,” Darnold said. “He jumped inside of the receiver right after the ball was snapped, and I didn’t see him. And it was a bad play on my part.”
The Buckeye defense forced its third turnover of the half two drives later. DE Tyquan Lewis drilled Darnold, forcing a fumble. LB Jerome Baker scooped it up and ran it back to the OSU 41, setting the offense up with great field position again. Two plays later, it was 24-0 and the game was effectively over.
“Any time that you turn the ball over three times, especially two in the negative yardage area, you’re putting a hurt on your defense and it led to points early in the game and a separation early in the game,” said USC head coach Clay Helton.
It was 24-7 Buckeyes after two quarters. The Trojans spent much of the second half marching up and down the field and compiling yardage without ever actually cutting into Ohio State’s lead.
Four straight second half drives reached OSU territory, but the Buckeye defense stiffened every time to keep the Trojans off the scoreboard.
The first got to the OSU 33 before Hubbard sacked Darnold on a 3rd-and-9 play to kill the scoring chance.
The next marched down to the Buckeye 10, but ended with a field goal attempt clanging off the right upright.
The third reached the OSU 12 before DE Jalyn Holmes sacked Darnold, forcing yet another fumble that DT Robert Landers grabbed.
The fourth and final opportunity came on a 1st-and-goal from the 9, but Lewis stuffed a rushing attempt for a 2-yard loss, and Hubbard picked up another sack on second down. Two incomplete passes later, the Trojans walked off the field with a 17-play, zero point drive.
“Their defensive front is so talented. And you watch them you see their stats on paper, you watch it on film, but until you see it in person blown away by not only their talent but how well-coached they are,” said Helton.
The game was a tale of two halves for the Trojans, but the end result of both was pretty much the same.
“In the first half, we had turnovers. Didn’t really get our run game started,” said Helton. “And the second half we get it down in the red zone three times and don’t come away with any points. And that’s the difference in the game.”
[Editor’s note: Tom’s historical analogy at the beginning of this piece has been corrected to reflect the proper history. This is what happens when you are trying to be clever at 4 in the morning. Be assured, this will never happen again.]
[Editor’s note: Tom says we shouldn’t make this guarantee.]