NEW ORLEANS — This was one folks will talk about forever, if not longer. This was the night Urban Meyer reintroduced himself to Nick Saban and Ohio State announced to the college football world: We’re back, jack.
This 42-35 Sugar Bowl victory for the Buckeyes over No. 1 Alabama was so hard to see coming — both beforehand and then as the Crimson Tide got out to a 21-6 start — that it might take until the Jan. 12 national title game against Oregon for the shock to wear off.
Ohio State’s Meyer called it a “sledgehammer game.” After it was over, he praised his 13-1 team as being the closest one he has ever coached. Is it the best team? Meyer’s two title teams at Florida were better from start to finish, but the Buckeyes have come on late with monstrous authority.
It was a banner night, capping a banner day, for the Big Ten. It was the biggest victory for the conference’s flagship program since the 2002 Buckeyes upset No. 1 Miami for the BCS crown. It turned the first College Football Playoff on its ear, with defending champion Florida State and then the “Roll Tide” machine going down only hours apart.
For a while, none of it seemed possible. That was familiar territory for a team that lost its star senior quarterback, Braxton Miller, to a season-ending injury during training camp and lost an early-September home game against Virginia Tech. It was par for the course for a team that lost its brilliant No. 2 QB, J.T. Barrett, in the regular-season finale against Michigan. The Buckeyes weren’t even a legitimate part of the playoff picture until they blasted Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game. Who would’ve pegged this squad for the big one in Arlington, Texas?
This game wasn’t over when, two plays after a first-quarter fumble by Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott, Alabama scored the game’s initial touchdown on a 25-yard Derrick Henry rumble. It wasn’t over when, with a short field following Cyrus Jones’ interception of Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones, Alabama scored on a 2-yard run from T.J. Yeldon for a 21-6 second-quarter lead.
Did it seem over? To many, it had to. The No. 1 Crimson Tide had the pedal to the metal as we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing them do. And No. 4 Ohio State was falling victim to an elite team from the Southeastern Conference — again.
Only, the Buckeyes weren’t doing that at all. Maybe they were sandbagging Alabama — and us — which might begin to explain how so many of us didn’t see this team coming.
“This is one of the great team wins we’ve been a part of,” Meyer said, “because we didn’t play well at times, but we found a way to win.”
From down 21-6, OSU scored 36 of the game’s next 43 points, a brilliant display of defense — defensive end Steve Miller must still be running with that pick-six — and a gritty job of hanging in there by Jones, who finished with 286 total yards and avoided the avalanche of mistakes many expected from someone so inexperienced.
And the game’s biggest star: sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 230 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 20 carries, overshadowing Alabama’s famously good tandem of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon.
“I was ready coming into the game,” Elliott said.
He’s ready for more, too.
“We’ve got to go back out there, grind and finish this how we want to.”
It wasn’t until Elliott’s 85-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter made it 42-28 that it really sunk in:
The Buckeyes are back, jack. Everybody better look the heck out.