When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was being compared to Alabama coach Nick Saban leading up to Thursday night’s College Football Playoff game at the Sugar Bowl, Meyer was clearly respected but Saban was considered the master. And for many, there was no chance that Meyer’s Buckeyes would defeat Saban’s Crimson Tide. This was Alabama’s year. Ohio State was still a year or two away.
There was no way that a third-string quarterback named Cardale Jones could lead the Buckeyes to victory over an Alabama defense that had almost a month to prepare. And there was no way that the best of the SEC could be defeated by the best of the Big Ten.
But that’s why they play the game.
Jones, in only his second start at quarterback, used both his powerful arm and legs to turn in an impressive performance while Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a Sugar Bowl record 230 yards in Ohio State’s 42-35 upset over top-ranked Alabama.
And once the confetti starting pouring out over the field, one thing was clear — Meyer had just badly out-coached Saban.
Now it’s off to the National Championship game on Jan. 12 against Oregon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
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After the game, Saban completely agreed that No. 4 Ohio State (13-1) could beat No. 2 Oregon (13-1) who blew-out defending champion Florida State 59-20 earlier in the day in the first playoff game at the Rose Bowl.
“They’re capable of playing with any team in the country,” he said.
“We’re good enough” he said.
It will be the first time in nine years where the SEC won’t participate in the championship game. And Meyer took time to praise the Big Ten which is always under scrutiny for not being as competitive as the vaunted SEC.
“Maybe the Big Ten is not that bad,” said Meyer. “Maybe it’s pretty damn good.”
The game seemed to be in control by Alabama once they went up 21-6 on a T.J. Yeldon two-yard touchdown run with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter.
But after that, the Buckeyes scored 28 unanswered to take a 34-21 lead after a Steve Miller 41yard interception return with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter.
But Alabama (12-2) wasn’t done.
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, who had an up and down game, led the Tide on a seven-play 84-yard which resulted in Sims scoring a five-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 34-28.
But Elliott sealed the games for the Buckeyes with an electric 85-yard run with 3:24 remaining. Alabama scored on the ensuing drive but failed to score again.
Elliott finished the game with 20 carries for 230 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first 100-yard rusher allowed by Alabama this year.
“He’s probably the most underrated back in the United States,” Meyer said of Elliott.
Jones finished 18-for-35 passing for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Sims finished 22-for-36 for 237 yards with two touchdowns but three interceptions. And Tide Heisman trophy candidate Amari Cooper was held to 9 catches for 71 yards but did catch two touchdowns.
Despite being up 21-6 early, Saban felt that his team never really had control of the game.
“We really weren’t stopping them. We had the momentum of the game because of the turnovers,” Saban said. “We did not control the football game like we usually do.”
Now Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes turn their attention immediately to Oregon.
“We’ve got to go get ready for that one,” Meyer said.