The Trojan season ends as it has gone all year—a relentless defensive attack alongside a pathetic Sam Darnold-led offense. In what will be one of the strangest bowl games this season, #5 Ohio State defeated #8 USC 24-7 as both teams were scoreless in the second half of the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic.
A strong defensive effort by the Buckeyes resulted in four turnovers and a forgetful game for Sam Darnold as he went 26-for-45 with 356 yards and one interception. Ronald Jones II had USC’s only touchdown but rushed for 64 yards on 19 carries.
The script of the first half was clear—turnovers equal touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Trojans, that went the other way for them as USC turned the ball over three times in the first two quarters.
The first came on USC’s opening drive of the game as normally reliable Deontay Burnett fumbled the football on a 22-yard reception on third down. Shortly thereafter, Ohio State’s JT Barrett easily punched it on the QB keeper to give the Buckeyes the first points of the game.
USC’s second drive looked promising as Darnold made early connections with Tyler Vaughns to push the ball upfield, however an overwhelming OSU pass rush would thwart any scoring hopes for the Trojans.
Designed QB runs killed the Trojan defense, much as they have all year. The OSU offensive line knocked the USC front-seven back to create ample running room for Barrett. Already down 10-0 heading into the second quarter, Darnold’s first throw of the quarter resulted in a Damon Webb pick-six to give the Buckeyes an early and commanding 17-0 lead.
As the second quarter reached the midway point, the Trojans once again turned the ball over in what was yet another promising drive. Darnold fumbled the football on a third down near OSU’s redzone and a few plays later, Barrett ran for a 28-yard touchdown giving the Buckeyes a 24-0 lead.
In the final minutes of the first half, OSU punt returner KJ Hill muffed the punt, allowing USC to recover and eventually turning into an easy one-yard touchdown run for Ronald Jones II—finally getting USC on the board and a 24-7 deficit heading into halftime.
Ohio State came out hot to start the second half, making their way into Trojan territory in a hurry. However, these efforts were thwarted when Rasheem Green stopped Barrett short on a 4th and 1. In almost typical Trojan fashion, the offense went three-and-out on the ensuing drive.
The third quarter was full of strong defensive play by the Trojans as the unit forced two punts and a turnover on downs on all of OSU’s offensive drives. Much like it has gone most of the season, the defense does more than its part while the offense struggles to get much going. Both teams failed to score in the third quarter, however USC had opportunities in the OSU territory that fell short.
The final quarter began near midfield on a 3rd and 5 where Darnold completed a 37-yard bomb to Vaughns to move the Trojans into the redzone. However, USC once again had trouble generating much offense thereafter and were forced to kick a field goal. A 28-yard field goal that was missed by Chase McGrath, effectively sinking USC’s hopes to win the game.
Seemingly ready to mount a comeback, the Trojan defense quickly got Barrett and the Buckeye offense off the field giving Darnold another shot. The hyped QB pushed the ball upfield, completing a 30-yard completion to Vaughns and then again forcing a pass interference call down the field on OSU to get the Trojans in the redzone.
Well, what happened after that?
The other Sam Darnold showed up and was stripped, turning the ball over yet again, giving him a total of three turnovers (two lost fumbles, one interception).
The remainder of the game dwindled into nothingness as the Ohio State Buckeyes won the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic in very unforgettable fashion as both teams failed to score in the final two quarters.
This Trojan team will have a lot to figure out this offseason, especially with key defensive players like Uchenna Nwosu, Rasheem Green and Cam Smith heading to the NFL Draft. We’ll await Darnold’s decision in the coming days but for whatever reason, it makes sense for the season to end this way. The second half itself is a microcosm for the Trojan season— a powerful defense who carries a lackluster offense throughout. This time, it ends in a Trojan loss.
At any rate, Fight On Trojan faithful!