As was the case most of the season, the passing game was the story as C.J. Stroud completed 37 of his 46 throws for a Big Ten-record 573 yards and tied his own school record with six touchdown passes.
The Buckeyes chose to do most of their damage through the air because of Stroud’s talent — and that of his receivers.
Even with two of his top targets out, Stroud said he had confidence in the players who were available — and they showed why.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a game for the ages, catching a school-record-tying 15 passes for a school and all-bowls record of 347 yards, but he was far from alone.
True freshman Marvin Harrison Jr. caught six passes for 67 yards and three touchdowns, and classmate Emeka Egbuka had 46 yards on three grabs.
“We have a lot of work to do in the offseason, but we found out a little bit about our team in the second half here,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said.
Stroud and the young receivers give Ohio State plenty to build on for 2022.
The majority of starters return on the offensive line, and so does star freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson. In the case of both Henderson and the blockers, more consistency will be a goal for next season, but there is plenty of potential.
On the other side of the ball, there are more questions than answers at this point.
That starts with the coaching staff.
Jim Knowles is set to begin as the defensive coordinator, but who will work for him remains to be seen.
Late Saturday night, Yahoo Sports reported Matt Barnes, who was a member of the staff for the last three seasons and called the defensive signals most of this year, had accepted the job as defensive coordinator at Memphis.
More changes could also be in the offing, but the departure of Barnes at least makes a spot for Knowles on the 10-man staff.
Next will be the question of who else returns and who departs.
Regardless of the staff, there are many personnel questions.
Defensive end Zach Harrison has not announced whether or not he will enter the NFL Draft or come back for his senior season, but he also would have the goal of being more consistent if he dons the Scarlet and Gray again.
The majority of players return in the secondary — along with some intriguing young talent — but that is a unit that must play better collectively, so changes could be made.
The linebackers began and ended the season as a question mark, and that will also carry until at least the opener against Notre Dame. Adding talents such as Alter standout C.J. Hicks to the room should help.
But as much as talent determines who wins most college football games, the Rose Bowl was another reminder of the importance of maturity. And tenacity. And toughness.
Those are all things Day talked about frequently throughout last year, and there were times they were lacking.
That was again the case in the first half against Utah, but he liked how the team responded to adversity in the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes may have melted in the snow against Michigan in Ann Arbor in November, but they blossomed in the sun in Pasadena.
“That Utah team is a very, very good team,” Day said. “They’re well-coached, very good players. Tremendous amount of respect for them. They played their tails off tonight in an unbelievable game — but couldn’t be prouder of our guys. For our seniors, some of the guys who played in this game, I can’t say enough about what they’ve left for a legacy behind, especially winning this game the way we did. Then for our younger guys, a couple of them sitting right here, the momentum that we have right now moving forward is tremendous.”
Day was especially happy to see the players take the lead in motivating each other at halftime of the Rose Bowl, a necessary step for any team to reach its potential.
“When you have that type of leadership from within, that’s when you can do whatever you want,” Day said. “I think as we springboard into this offseason, that’s the part that we’re really going to go back upon in this game is the leadership that drove us in the second half. That we weren’t going to be denied.”