Dramatic Comeback Gets Buckeyes a 48-45 Win in The Rose Bowl

PASADENA, Calif. — A game that started like a nightmare ended up like California dreamin’  as No. 6 Ohio State (11-2) survived a miserable first half and came back to win the Rose Bowl 48-45 over Utah with a gritty and determined second half performance.

It was exciting, but it wasn’t easy.

In their first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl No. 11 Utah (10-4) put up 35 points in the first half to take a 35-21 lead at the intermission. The Utes put up 21 points with their power offense, another seven on a 97-yard kickoff return, and got seven gift points from the OSU defense when they simply failed to tackle Ute quarterback Cameron Rising after it looked like he was hemmed in and a dead duck. Instead Rising kept playing, and the OSU defense didn’t, and he raced all the way to the endzone for a score. The play came after OSU had scored a touchdown to cut Utah’s lead to just seven at 28-21. The goofy play put Utah up by two scores again and allowed them to take a 35-21 lead at the break.

The first half played out very similarly to OSU’s last regular-season outing against Michigan.  Like Michigan, Utah’s running game was consistently effective against the OSU defense.  Also as in the Michigan game, Ohio State’s running game was anemic. The one difference between the Michigan game and the Utah game was the OSU passing game. Without it the game would have been a blowout, but the Buckeyes put three scores of their own on the board in the first half to stay within striking range, all of those touchdowns coming via the passing game. Stroud hit Marvin Harrison from 26 yards out to cut Utah’s lead to 14-7. Stroud then found Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a 50-yard strike to make the score 21-14.  Stroud hit another big play, again to Smith-Njigba from 52 yards out to make the score 28-21.

Stroud’s heroics in the passing game kept it close, but the Buckeyes really had no chance to win if they couldn’t get stops defensively. Their first-half defensive futility didn’t even hint that could be possible, but sometime impressions can be mistaken. Led by linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who registered a game-high 17 tackles, the Buckeyes effectively shut down the Utah offense for the majority of the second half.  Utah’s first possession of the second half was a three-and-out. To make matters worse for the Utes, their punter muffed the snap and gave OSU the ball on the Utah 11-yard line. It took just two plays for Stroud to find Harrison for a score for the second time in the game, this time from eight yards out, and suddenly the Buckeyes were within one score at 35-28.

Utah’s offense answered with a 65 yard drive that stalled at the OSU six-yard line. The Utes moved the ball but the OSU defense stiffened in the red zone forcing Utah to settled for a field goal to make the score 38-28. The Buckeyes answered that drive with 74 yard drive of their own. On that drive OSU finally got some production from the running game and continued to get effective passing from Stroud to drive to their own field goal to make the score 38-31.  OSU’s defense got yet another stop, this time holding Utah on a fourth and four conversion attempt at the OSU 29-yard line. It took Stroud and company just six plays to go 71 yards, the final six coming on a six-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Harrison to tie the game at 38.

On Utah’s ensuing possession the OSU defense rose up again to force a three-and out and give the ball back to the offense with 8:19 left on the game clock.  It took nine plays for the Buckeyes to cover 85 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Stroud’s toss to Smith-Njigba from 30 yards out gave OSU their first lead of the game at 45-38 with 4:24 left to play.

The Buckeyes had finally come all the way back to take a lead, but the drama wasn’t over. Utah took over with just 4:24 remaining to play, and they were now without starting quarterback Cameron Rising who had been injured on their last possession. It didn’t matter, because backup Bryson Barnes guided them to a tying score when he tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 45 with 1:47 remaining.

On the ensuing kickoff the Buckeyes got a strong kickoff return from Ebuka and began on the 42-yard line. Behind a mix of rushing by Henderson and passing by Stroud they marched down the field and arrived at the two-yard line with just 12 seconds on the game clock. OSU head coach Ryan Day called on placekicker Noah Ruggles to come on for the winning field goal, and the senior delivered with a kick right down the middle to give OSU the win.

OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud was 37 of 46 passing for 573 yards and six touchdowns.  His yardage total and touchdown count are Rose Bowl records.

As good as Stroud was, he was not named the Rose Bowl MVP. That honor went to OSU receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba who had 15 catches for 373 receiving yards and three touchdowns. His 373 yards are the most ever in any bowl game in the FBS era. He had six catches of 30 yards or more.

OSU’s Tommy Eichenberg was named the defensive player of the game with 17 tackles.

OSU’s defensive woes in the first half were especially troublesome on the heels of the Michigan game in which they were unable to control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball and were physically outmanned. Like Michigan, Utah is a very physical team, and OSU’s first half performance left you wondering if there was any hope for them. But OSU found something at the half, and it wasn’t a technical adjustment. It was the grit it takes to come back against a tough team like the PAC-12 champ Utes and be tough enough to get the stops they needed. That discovery, as well as the addition of a new defensive coordinator that begins work next week, bodes well for the future of OSU football.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State football.

2 Responses

  1. About giving an old man a heart attach the whole game. However, they finally put it all together to make OHIO proud.

  2. Proud of the Buckeyes,they never gave up,they played to the whistle,defense stepped up in second half,if Buckeyes get good defense next season,look out world Buckeyes will not be stopped! GO BUCKS!

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