Fiesta Bowl Grades: Barrett and Elliott own the turf in win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Ohio State’s 44-28 win over Notre Dame.
-Ohio State gashed Notre Dame on the ground throughout this game, finishing with 296 rushing yards at 5.7 yards per carry. Notre Dame earned a -8.0 team run defense grade, and seven players earned red grades in that category. Things only got worse for the Fighting Irish after losing star LB Jaylon Smith to injury. LB Jarrett Grace (-3.8) struggled as Smith’s replacement, missing a pair of tackles and earning red grades for both pass coverage and run defense.
-QB DeShone Kizer (-1.6) was productive with a clean pocket (19-28 for 183 yards, 1 TD, +1.5 grade), but struggled under pressure (2-8 for 87 yards, 1 INT, 4 sacks, -2.5 grade). Kizer was unable to connect on any of his deep passes, finishing 0-5 on throws of 20+ yards. He did add 43 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts, breaking a pair of tackles along the way. WR Will Fuller (+1.6) was the main receiving threat for the Irish, catching 6 of 9 targets for 114 yards and a touchdown.
-Notre Dame seniors DE Sheldon Day and LT Ronnie Stanley were impressive in their final collegiate game. Day earned a game-best +8.6 overall grade, and was the only Notre Dame defender to earn a green grade in run defense. Day earned green grades in 11 of his 13 games in 2015, and finishes the year ranked second among 462 NCAA interior defensive linemen with a +59.0 cumulative grade. Stanley (+1.1) was perfect in pass protection for the fifth time in 2015, and end the season ranked 10th of 309 NCAA offensive tackles with a +10.6 pass blocking grade.
DE Sheldon Day (+8.6)
WR Torii Hunter Jr. (+2.2)
WR Will Fuller (+1.6)
LG Quentin Nelson (+1.4)
LT Ronnie Stanley (+1.1)
The Ohio State University
-The Buckeyes dominated on the ground, with HB Ezekiel Elliott (+2.9) and QB J.T. Barrett (+1.8) combining for 50 of the team’s 54 rushing attempts. Each player forced four missed tackles and ran for more than 100 yards. Elliott finished the 2015 season with a +36.7 overall grade, the third-best mark of any NCAA running back. An underrated aspect of Elliott’s game is his blocking ability; he earned positive grades for pass blocking, run blocking, and screen blocking this season, and his +12.9 overall blocking grade led all NCAA running backs. He earned a +2.1 blocking grade in this game, to go along with his four rushing touchdowns. TE Nick Vannett led the team with a +4.9 run blocking grade, and LT Taylor Decker was also a major factor in the run game (+2.3 run blocking grade).
-J.T. Barrett was not asked to do too much as a passer in this game, as just six of his 31 passing attempts traveled more than 10 yards. He added 106 rushing yards, 67 of which came after contact. Most of his attempts were designed QB runs or option runs with Elliott, as he scrambled just four times. Barrett earned a +7.3 rushing grade in 2015, and a -1.5 passing grade.
-Ohio State’s roster also features several players that project as high picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. DE Joey Bosa has been our highest-graded edge defender in the NCAA in each of the past two seasons, and looked like he was on his way to another dominant performance (+2.5 run defense grade in just five snaps against the run) before he was ejected for targeting early in the game. LB Darron Lee (+4.2) was the highest-graded defensive player for the Buckeyes, recording two sacks and a QB hit on just 10 pass rushes, and three run stops. Lee and LB Joshua Perry (-2.1) have each earned positive grades for pass rushing, run defense and pass coverage this season, making them intriguing NFL prospects.
TE Nick Vannett (+5.1)
LB Darron Lee (+4.2)
HB Ezekiel Elliott (+2.9)
CB Eli Apple (+2.8)
LT Taylor Decker (+2.8)