“They’re good enough,” OMeyer said. “That was a sledgehammer game. That was a classic. So we are good enough.”
Ohio State’s victory capped a big day for the Big Ten. No. 8 Michigan State beat No. 5 Baylor 42-41. No. 18 Wisconsin beat No. 19 Auburn.
Ohio State (13-1) advances to play No. 2 Oregon (13-1) in the national championship game Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Oregon routed No. 3 Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl on Thursday.
For now, the Buckeyes can bask in a rare victory against the SEC. They were 0-9 against the conference until they beat Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. That victory was later vacated.
“There’s a perception out here,” Meyer said. “I’ll tell you I think the tide turned a little bit when Wisconsin beat Auburn. Everybody on our team knew that. I made sure they knew that.
“When Michigan State came back and beat an excellent Baylor team. Maybe the Big Ten’s not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty darn good. And it’s certainly getting better.”
Ezekiel Elliott’s 85-yard touchdown with 3:24 to play proved to be the game-winning touchdown. He rushed for 230 yards on 20 carries, breaking the Sugar Bowl record for rushing yards.
“I knew going through the game that the Alabama defense front was going to be very tough, very big, very physical,” Elliott said. “It was going to be a little bit hard for our O line to get some movement off the ball. But they did a great job. I knew I would have to hit those holes hard and break a couple of arm tackles to break a couple.”
The Buckeyes scored 28 unanswered points after facing the early deficit. They took a 27-21 lead on their first drive of the third quarter. Cardale Jones threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith.
Making his second career start, Jones completed 18-of-35 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Later in the third quarter, Sims threw an interception that Ohio State defensive lineman Steve Miller returned 41 yards for a score. Ohio State led 34-21 with 6:31 left in the third.
Alabama responded with an 84-yard drive capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run by Sims. They trailed 34-28 until Elliott ripped off his long run in the fourth.
The Buckeyes almost lost the game in the first half. They got back into the game with two touchdowns in the final minutes of the second quarter to trim the deficit to 21-20 at halftime.
The Buckeyes drove 80 yards in 10 plays on their first drive but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Sean Nuernberger.
The Buckeyes’ second drive ended with a fumble by Elliott after a 17-yard run. Alabama converted the turnover into quick points. The Crimson Tide needed just two plays to take a 7-6 lead on a 25-yard run by Derrick Henry.
Ohio State bounced back on its next drive. Again Jones marched them down the field: 71 yards in 11 plays. Again the drive stalled. This time, the Buckeyes had first down at the 1, but Jones lost eight yards on first down, and they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Nuernberger.
At that point, the game turned for Alabama.
Sims threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Amari Cooper to give the Crimson Tide a 14-6 lead with 2:06 left in the first quarter. Then the Tide turned Ohio State’s second turnover, an interception thrown by Jones, into a 2-yard touchdown run by T.J. Yeldon.
“Well, really, we were up 21-6 because of two turnovers and two stops in the red area,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “So we really weren’t stopping them. We kind of had the momentum of the game because of the turnovers that we got and converted those into scores.
“But we weren’t really playing and executing the way we needed to even then. I didn’t like the feel of the game even then. So we just stopped them in the red zone and we got two turnovers and that was the difference.”
Needing something, anything on offense, the Buckeyes got another big drive: 71 yards in 12 plays. Elliott punctuated the drive with Ohio State’s first touchdown, scoring on a three-yard run.
Alabama went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, punting the ball back to the Buckeyes with 1:32 to go in the half.
The Buckeyes used some trickery to get in the end zone just before halftime. Jones handed off to wide receiver Jalin Marshall, who handed off to Evan Spencer, who threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, who somehow got one foot down in the end zone.
That momentum carried over to the second half as the Buckeyes continued their march to Sugar Bowl glory.
“The most important momentum of any game is the last five minutes of the first half, first five minutes of the second half,” Meyer said. “We came out smoking in the second half, too, because I could hear it as we were walking in: ‘We get the ball. We get the ball.’”