COLUMBUS – Coming into the 2021 National Championship game, head coach Ryan Day said Ohio State had the chance to write one of the greatest stories in college football history. An unprecedented season of challenges, trials and tribulations, and success. When Ohio State took the field to face Alabama on Monday night, it knew it only had one chapter of the story left to write.
Ohio State wrote its final chapter of the 2020-21 season on Monday in Miami, it just wasn’t the fairytale, storybook ending they had hoped for. Alabama showed exactly why it was the No. 1 team in the country as its top-ranked offense dominated Ohio State’s shorthanded defense in its 52-24 National Championship win.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones had all the time in the world in the pocket to make plays and Ohio State had absolutely no answers for Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
The Buckeyes struggled to put pressure on Jones who got the ball out quickly and exploited the Buckeye defense on the outside. Jones threw for 342 yards and completes 25-of-30 passes in the first half. He finished the game setting a college football playoff era record for passing yards in a National Championship, beating Joe Burrow’s 463 against Clemson last year. He completed 36-of-45 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns.
Smith got involved in the passing game early and finished the game with 12 receptions for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were in the first half of the game before he suffered a hand injury on the opening drive of the third quarter and did not return to the game.
The first half was back and forth, but Ohio State was unable to match Alabama’s success score-for-score. On five of Alabama’s first-half drives it completed four touchdowns. The other was a forced fumble by linebacker Baron Browning. Ohio State had six completions total in the first half.
On the opening possession, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields tried to scramble on third-and-8 and got tripped up. The Buckeyes were forced to punt and went three-and out.
Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris moved the ball down the field and solid tackling by cornerbacks Sevyn Banks and Shaun Wade put Alabama in a 3rd-and-four position. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle set Alabama up for 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line and Harris barreled it in for Alabama for the first score of the game.
In the second series, running back Master Teague came in for Trey Sermon who was injured on the first drive of the game and was taken to the hospital. Teague picked up six yards on his first carry. A 20-yard pass from Fields to receiver Chris Olave got Ohio State past midfield for the first time. A one-handed, 36-yard catch by tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the middle of the field set the Buckeyes up at first and goal. Teague runs it in for an 8-yard touchdown for Ohio State’s first touchdown and tied the game at 7-7.
Ohio State lost track of Heisman Trophy winner Smith in coverage who caught a 33-yard catch on the first play of the next drive. That was followed by another catch for 12 yards. Soft coverage on the outside was making it easy for Alabama to move the ball in the pass game and they moved quickly back to the red zone. Ohio State made a stop on 3rd-and-short but Alabama converted on 4th-and-1.
Linebacker Justin Hilliard had a huge tackle for loss to end the first quarter. Alabama faced a third-and-goal at the 5 and Smith with a toss to the outside scored for the Crimson Tide to open the second quarter.
The Ohio State offense stalled out on 3rd-and-10 and punter Drue Chrisman punted it away to the Alabama 12. The Buckeyes were down 14-7 with 12:32 left in the second quarter.
Browning’s sack knocked the ball away from Jones’ hands for a strip sack and recovery to give the Buckeyes the ball in red zone at the Alabama 18. Teague punched it in for a touchdown to event the score 14-14. The Buckeyes gained a lot of energy following Browning’s play.
Jones went to the sideline for Smith and Harris got in the end zone on a no-look, 26-yard pass to put Alabama ahead again.
A 28-yard run by Fields got Ohio State past midfield, then Teague followed it up with a 29-yard run to get Ohio State back in the red zone.
Jeremy Ruckert suffered a hard hit and dropped a pass on 3rd-and-11, and Alabama safety Jordan Battle was called for targeting and ejected. Two bad passes by Fields sent freshman kicker Jake Siebert to kick a 23-yard field goal. Ohio State stalled in the red zone and settles for three. Alabama led 21-17.
Smith ran by Wade to haul in perfect deep lob from Jones for 44 yards. Smith caught a short pass in the end zone to give Alabama the two-score lead with just over three minutes in the first half.
Ohio State had another three and out and DeVonta Smith scored on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Jones.
Ohio State ran the clock on its possession and gave Alabama the ball back with 0:46 remaining in the first half but they did not capitalize.
Coming out of the locker room at halftime, Ohio State got Alabama into a third down but Alabama converted and continued its drive. But for the first time in the game, Ohio State held Alabama to a field goal. The Crimson Tide led 38-17.
Ohio State quickly answered Alabama’s 7-minute field goal drive with a 1-minute touchdown drive of its own to cut the lead to 14. A Garrett Wilson 20-yard touchdown set up by a 33-yard run by Fields kept the Buckeyes in the game.
But just when Ohio State gained momentum, Alabama responded. Smith wasn’t in the game, Harris was on the sideline, Jones’ ankle was bothering him, and yet Ohio State’s defense struggled to make tackles on the first attempt and was slow getting to Jones’ targets. Alabama scored in almost four minutes to give Jones his fifth touchdown pass of the night. Alabama led 45-24 with under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
From that point on, it was all Alabama’s show.
Fields finished the game completing 17 of 33 attempts for 194 yards and one touchdown. Ohio State had 341 yards of total offense as compared to Alabama’s 621 yards, with over 400 in the air.
Though this was the end, the Buckeyes fought to have a season, dealt with a number of games being cancelled including against Michigan, played shorthanded due to COVID, made immeasurable sacrifices, became the first Ohio State team to beat Clemson and despite it all, they finished as the second-best team in the country.
[Photo via Alabama Football Twitter]