Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel spent Thursday night at the Superdome in New Orleans, watching as Ohio State stunned Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl.
Wetzel then dropped by CBS Sports Radio to describe the back-and-forth tug of war between two national heavyweights.
“It was really, really tense,” Wetzel said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It was a great atmosphere (with a) 50-50 split of fans or something close. There’s so many momentum swings in this game. Ohio State looked great on the opening drive, Alabama takes this lead, then Ohio State rattled off 28 straight, then Bama stiffens and looks like they’re going to have a couple different shots to take the lead, and then Ohio State fires back. So it was a pendulum swing and just an incredible atmosphere here in New Orleans.”
Ohio State trailed 21-6 midway through the second quarter before scoring four unanswered touchdowns: a 3-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott, a 13-yard reception by Michael Thomas (on a pass from fellow wideout Evan Spencer), a 47-yard reception from Devin Smith and a 41-yard pick-six by Steve Miller.
What changed for the Buckeyes?
“Ohio State stopped making mistakes,” Wetzel said. “I think Ohio State really had a lot of success the entire game, particularly the first half. They stalled twice in the red zone and they had two turnovers – a fumble and an interception – that really aided Alabama’s scores.
“But Ohio State was moving the ball,” Wetzel continued. “They forced four three-and-outs against Alabama in the first half alone. I don’t know if anything changed other than Ohio State just didn’t make mistakes. Cardale Jones threw the pick, but then he just kept playing.”
Jones finished 18-of-35 for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 43 tough yards, many of which extended drives on key downs. Yes, the third-string quarterback making his second career start showed no fear of Alabama – and neither did any of this teammates.
Ohio State players said afterward that Urban Meyer’s message all week was simple and direct: We’re good enough to hang with Bama; we’re good enough to beat Bama.
“There was just no fear,” Wetzel said. “They knew they could match up all over the field with them, and I think Jones really helped that team in this kind of odd way. I don’t know if he’s better than J.T. Barrett, but Saban talked about this: his ability to throw the big pass, you have to cover almost every blade of turf out there. It opens up running lanes and it allows Ohio State’s really good skill players to shine (who weren’t) shining when J.T. Barrett was QB because he doesn’t have the same arm that Jones has.”
Indeed, Smith had two catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, Thomas had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown and Jalin Marshall had five catches for 55 yards, including a long of 26. Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, ran wild. He finished with 20 carries for 230 yards – 11.5 yards per carry – and two touchdowns, including an 85-yard burst that essentially iced the game with just over three minutes to go.
“So maybe (Jones is) not as good (as Barrett) overall,” Wetzel said, “but in certain facets, he’s differently better and it changes some of the things Ohio State can do.”