The Ohio State Buckeyes bid farewell to senior quarterback J.T. Barrett and a number of other cornerstones of the program and also soothed some of the pain associated with their last bowl game, beating Southern California 24-7 on Friday in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
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A year after losing 31-0 to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes took advantage of three first-half turnovers to build a 24-7 halftime lead against the Trojans, a program they had not defeated since 1974. That was all they would need as both defenses dominated the second half.
“It was a great win for Ohio State,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We'll be a top five team, Big Ten champs. We just had every senior say a few words. And I can't get enough of those guys. They're everything that you want in a young person. They lead the team. They live right off the field. And, obviously, they're winners. Won a lot of games here, and they're champions.”
Ohio State closed the season with a 12-2 mark. It’s the fifth season with at least 12 victories in Meyer’s six seasons. The Buckeyes improved to 2-0 in the Cotton Bowl and won a bowl game for the first time since the 2016 Fiesta Bowl when they beat Notre Dame 44-28.
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In his final game, Barrett didn’t put up big numbers, but he avoided the mistakes that plagued USC quarterback Sam Darnold. Barrett completed 11 of 17 passes for 114 yards and rushed 16 times for 66 yards.
The Buckeyes won despite getting only 57 combined yards from running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber.
Barrett, who finished his career with a 38-6 record as a starter, rushed for two scores in the half. Damon Webb returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown. Sean Nuernberger provided the other score with a 26-yard field goal.
USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett lost a fumble on the third play of the game. The Buckeyes had to go just 19 yards for their first score, a 1-yard run by Barrett.
The Trojans punted on their next two possessions. Then on the first play of their fourth drive, Darnold threw a pick six to Webb. It was a big play by an Ohio State secondary missing one of its stars.
Ohio State announced just before the game junior cornerback Denzel Ward had decided to enter the NFL Draft and not to play in the game for fear of suffering an injury that would hurt his draft stock. Ward decided on the day of the game not to play, according to an Ohio State press release. Ward explained his decision on Twitter.
“At the end of the day, I feel this is the best decision for my family and I,” Ward wrote.
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Later in the second quarter, Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis hit Darnold and forced a fumble. Jerome Baker recovered it. Two plays later, J.T. Barrett ran 28 yards for a touchdown.
USC got on the board in the final minutes of the half, capitalizing on a fumbled punt by K.J. Hill. Ronald Jones scored on a 1-yard run.
Each team punted twice in the third quarter as the Buckeyes maintained their lead. Chase McGrath’s 28-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter hit the right upright as the Trojans failed to cut into the deficit.
The Trojans had one last chance to get into the game midway through the fourth quarter. Jalyn Holmes sacked Darnold and forced a fumble. Wayne grad Robert Landers recovered it.
Darnold completed 26 of 45 passes for 356 yards. The Buckeyes shut down USC’s run game. The Trojans gained 57 yards on 36 carries.
“Whenever you turn over the ball that much, it's hard to win games,” Darnold said. “I made a bad read on the pick six. I shouldn't have thrown it, obviously. He jumped inside of the receiver right after the ball was snapped, and I didn't see him. And it was a bad play on my part.”
Ohio State will return to AT&T Stadium in 2018, playing Texas Christian on Sept. 15 in the third game of the season. The Buckeyes open the season Sept. 1 against Oregon State at Ohio Stadium and host Rutgers at home on Sept. 8.