NEW ORLEANS — With 8:07 left in the first half of the 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl, it appeared the Southeastern Conference would once again reign supreme in college football.
Then the Ohio State offense came to life.
Overcoming a fumble and an interception, the Buckeye offense exploded for 28 unanswered points on the way to a 42-35 upset win over No. 1 Alabama on Thursday night.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game that he took the the advice of one of his mentors, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, when it came to taking control of the game.
“When I worked for him, when he first hired me at Notre Dame, 1996, he said: The momentum and I’ve always believed this too — the momentum, especially for a young team, which we’re still a very young team, is worth at least seven to 14 points during the course of a game,” Meyer said.
The momentum was good for more than 14, as OSU overcame a 15-point deficit, extending its lead to 34-21 before an Alabama score cut the Buckeye advantage down to six points.
The win came just hours after Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl and No. 8 Michigan State came back from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to upset No. 5 Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
Meyer said he made a point to let his players know how well the Big Ten fared on the national stage prior to kicking off against the Crimson Tide.
“We beat, to go in East Lansing and beat a team that beat Baylor…to play the way we did against Wisconsin, a team that just beat Auburn, that’s the psychological approach to getting 18, 19, 20 to believe,” Meyer said.
OSU senior wide receiver Devin Smith, who hauled in a 47-yard score from redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones to open the second half, said after the game that he believes he, along with his position unit can play with anyone in the country.
“I really feel like I am just as fast as anyone in the SEC and tonight showed,” Smith said after the game. “We felt like we was the best wide receiver group in the country.”
The Buckeye wide receivers combined for 256 yards receiving and two touchdown receptions, and even a touchdown pass, as senior Evan Spencer found redshirt-sophomore Michael Thomas in the corner of the end zone on a reverse-pass to ultimately cut the Alabama lead to one.
After the game, Jones said jokingly that he wasn’t too happy with the play call.
“I am kinda mad about that. Nah, I’m just playing,” Jones said. “That was our game plan. Evan can throw the ball, Jalin can throw the ball so I am glad they are on our team.”
Ultimately, it was sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott who took home the offensive Most Valuable Player award, as the St. Louis native rushed for 230 yards and two scores, the latter an 85-yard burst to put the Buckeyes up 40-28 with 3:24 left in the game. Jones found Thomas on the following play for a two-point conversion to put OSU up by two touchdowns.
Elliott said after the game that he, along with the entire Big Ten, made a statement on New Year’s Day.
“I think today, all of the Big Ten made a great statement showing that our conference is one of the top conferences in the nation. Michigan State got a big win, Wisconsin came up with a big win,” Elliott said. “It is undescribable. The past two games it seemed like no one really believed in us after losing (redshirt-freshman quarterback) J.T. (Barrett) in the team up north game. It feels good to go out there and prove people wrong.”
The 200-yard game by Elliott is the first of its kind surrendered by a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team and a Sugar Bowl record.
Saban said after the game that is was a lack of attention to detail that led to Elliott’s big night.
“I mean he’s obviously a very, very good player, and we didn’t do a very good job of executing what we needed to do to be able to control him in the game,” Saban said. “And consequently he made lots of good plays.”
Elliott also had a run of 54 yards on OSU’s first possession which led to just a field goal, something OSU junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker said hurt the Buckeyes early.
“We knew it was our fault we were down 21-6. It was not something they did, it was our own mistakes. We got in the red zone twice and couldn’t score,” Decker said after the game. “We didn’t play a complete game. The offense put the defense in a lot of bad situations. There is going to be plenty to fix.”
With the win, the Buckeyes are now set to play the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
The Ducks defeated the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl semifinal just before the Buckeyes kicked off against Alabama.
Hearing the final score of that game after defeating Alabama was something that got Meyer’s attention.
“I gotta go,” he said. “We gotta go get ready for that one.”
The title game is set for an 8:30 kick off from AT&T Stadium.