Sugar Bowl: Crimson Tide vs. Buckeyes
Ben Stockwell reviews the Sugar Bowl, noting Cooper, Elliot and other performances that stood out in Ohio State's win over Alabama.
Sugar Bowl: Crimson Tide vs. Buckeyes
There may have been some controversy over how the Ohio State Buckeyes were selected for the inaugural College Football Playoff but last night they showed that they belonged in a hard-fought victory over the No. 1 seed Alabama Crimson Tide. In the first half the old clichés of the Big Ten being shown up in New Year’s Day bowl games were being warmed up as the Tide raced into a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter before the Buckeyes turned the game with 28 unanswered points.
Some questionable clock management gave Alabama the chance for a last-minute drive to tie the game but ultimately the Buckeyes did enough with big plays on both sides of the ball to edge the game and setup a date with Oregon in Arlington for all the marbles.
Here’s the latest in our looks at highlight college games this season:
Alabama Crimson Tide – Performances of Note
Amari Cooper, WR: +1.4
Breakdown: The Heisman Trophy finalist got his catches and a couple of scores for the Tide last night but the Buckeyes were able to limit any big gains. All of his 14 targets came in the short-to-intermediate range and the Buckeyes did an excellent job of limiting his yardage after the catch. Of his 36 yards after the catch 33 came on four passes caught behind the line of scrimmage as Ohio State took away targets down the field and ensured he couldn’t convert short passes into longer gains.
Signature Play: On top of his two scores, Cooper’s impact could be seen on Derrick Henry’s touchdown at Q1 9.32; both Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell followed Cooper in field leaving Henry uncontested to the end zone once he got through the first wave.
Landon Collins, S: -0.1
Breakdown: Almost in parallel with his team, Collins made a strong start in this game before the Buckeyes (and in Collins’ case, injury, though he only missed four snaps) quieted him thereafter. All four of his stops came in the first quarter as an early thorn in the Buckeyes’ ground attack, also adding a tackle for no gain on Jalin Marshall on the opening punt of the game.
Signature Stat: Only Darron Lee of Ohio State registered more than Collins’ four defensive stops last night.
Blake Sims, QB: -2.6
Breakdown: More comfortable as a game manager, Sims and the rest of the Tide offense were unable to answer the big plays of the Buckeyes last night and his misread on Steve Miller’s pick-six was the last of the Buckeyes’ four unanswered touchdowns. Sims responded well leading a touchdown drive that he capped with a 5-yard run to bring the game back within a score, but ultimately the big plays that Ohio State found were lacking for Sims and Alabama.
Signature Stat: Sims completed only three of 10 passes aimed 10 or more yards down the field last night; one of them a touchdown to Cooper and among the misses were two of his three interceptions.
Ohio State Buckeyes – Performances of Note
Ezekiel Elliot, RB: +1.4
Breakdown: The Buckeyes’ bell cow had huge plays at either end of the game last night sparking the team’s first scoring drive with a multi-missed tackle run before turning the game into a track meet to clinch the game late on. In between that he set up the Tide’s first score with a fumble but that couldn’t take the gloss off of an excellent performance standing up to the pounding and giving more than as good as he got.
Signature Play: Seemingly strung out and bottled up to the sideline Elliot sparked the game to life at the 12:40 mark in the first evading three defenders to power up the right sideline, back plate flapping, to set the Buckeyes up at the 5.
Michael Bennett, DT: +3.7
Breakdown: The third quarter was the pivotal period for the Buckeyes on the scoreboard and Bennett had a big quarter on the defensive line for Ohio State. In the third stanza Bennett registered his sack, spinning off of Leon Brown, also adding a tackle for loss in the ground game with fellow defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and adding a couple of disruptive plays around that.
Signature Play: On that tackle for loss at Q3 4:19 Bennett & Washington knifed around the Alabama offensive line (Washington to the right of C Ryan Kelly, Bennett to the left of LT Cam Robinson) to converge Derrick Henry for a 1-yard loss.
Evan Spencer, WR: +0.8 and Corey Smith, ST: +2.5
Breakdown: Though they combined for only two catches for 12 yards on eight targets, these two wide receivers were key contributors to the Buckeyes’ victory. On special teams Smith led both teams with four tackles, three inside the 20 in kick coverage and one of them for no gain on a punt. Spencer meanwhile snagged that onside kick and got a key block on Elliot’s long touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Signature Play: On Elliot’s 85-yard score with 3:37 left, Spencer got two for the price of one, taking out both of Alabama’s inside linebackers to take away the Crimson Tide’s flow from the inside.
PFF Game Ball
Ezekiel Elliot stood up to the physicality of the Alabama defense coming up with the game’s decisive score when he was given the freedom of the Superdome on a straight line sprint.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.