The #8 USC Trojans fell 24-7 to the #5 Ohio State Buckeyes Friday night in the 2017 Cotton Bowl in disappointing fashion. While Ohio State won comfortably, the Trojans trotted off the field kicking themselves knowing the game could have been well within their grasps had they finished drives and avoided turnovers. Here are six crucial areas that ultimately dictated the outcome of the game.
USC Receivers vs OSU Secondary
Putting aside the early Deontay Burnett fumble, the Trojans wide receivers really had their way last night. Specifically Burnett, Tyler Vaughns, and Michael Pittman Jr. This OSU secondary is known for trusting their DBs in mainly man coverage and was pointed to as a possible weakness SC could exploit. Trojan receivers were able to gain significant separation the entire game, especially on streaking routes down the sidelines. Sam Darnold faced pressure all night but was still able to find his guys, gaining over 350 yards through the air. Here are just a few examples:
notice how each time the SC WRs have at least one step on OSU DBs in coverage*
SC Gang Tackling
The Trojans defense received criticism early on in the season for poor tackling but looked like a completely different unit on Friday. They have really grown throughout the season and their gang tackling was on full display in the bowl game. As Ohio State became more conservative throughout the game, the Trojans defense became more and more aggressive, stuffing the Buckeyes run game in the second half. They made life miserable for JT Barrett and company towards the end of the game (although how miserable can one really be up 17 points, right?) both between and outside the tackles. Here are a few examples:
shutting down runs between and outside the tackles*
Third Down Defense
While the Trojans defense has had difficulty getting off the field at times this year, you wouldn’t be able to tell Friday night. They held an impressive Buckeyes offense, which ranked Top Ten in the nation heading into the matchup, 2 for 12 on third downs. This allowed the Trojans to stay in the game for as long as they could and limited Ohio State to under 280 yards on the night. This also allowed the Trojans to control majority of time of possession (10 more minutes than OSU). With their backs against the wall, this Trojan defense stepped up on key third downs, stifling the Buckeye attack and getting off the field. Here’s a few great third down stops:
It seems painfully obvious that this would be included, doesn’t it? Turnovers were the deciding factor in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. The OSU defense was able to force four of them, a season high for the USC Trojans. The first turnover of the day came from Deontay Burnett, a fumble setting up the OSU offense on the USC 19 yard line. With such a short field, they easily strolled in for a touchdown. Sam Darnold’s pick six resulted in another touchdown (hence the name pick-six), giving OSU 14 points off turnovers. Darnold proceeded to fumble twice deep in Buckeye territory that not only took away points from the Trojans, but set up short fields for the Buckeyes which resulted in another seven points. You can’t be sloppy with the football against elite competition, it’ll come back to bite you every single time. And it did for the Trojans, to the tune of 21 points. I’ll spare you and won’t make you watch mini clips of those brutal turnovers.
Trojans Offensive Line
Do I really have to go into much detail here? We all saw the game didn’t we. Even the most uneducated college football fans could tell Ohio State’s Dline looked like men amongst boys Friday night. Ohio State’s defensive front completely dominated, which I go into greater detail here. The run game was practically non existent while Darnold was busy scrambling for his life majority of the night. I’ll show just a couple of my least favorite clips so you get the picture:
only four and three men rush on those plays*
No PI Call
This no call seemed to have a significant impact on the game. Down 24-7 with just over five minutes left to play in the third quarter, the Trojans offense set up for a 2nd and nine on the Buckeye 33 yard line. Darnold had Steven Mitchell Jr down the right sideline for a touchdown. Mitchell, who had a step on a freshman corner, had his left arm yanked just before the arrival of the football. He was unable to complete the one handed catch in the end zone, resulting in an incompletion. The replay immediately sparked protest in Trojan coaches, players, and fans. Here’s the contact:
After this no call, USC was then sacked on third down forcing them out of field goal range. The spot of the call is complicated, it’s not entirely clear if the foul occurs in the endzone or the one yard line. Had they called it in the endzone, the ball would have been placed on the two yard line. If the one yard line, the ball would have been moved to the 16 yard line. Both would have drastically improved the Trojans scoring chances. Had USC put these seven points up, who knows what could have happened? It’s annoying playing the “what if?” game but this is definitely a missed call that could have swung the momentum for USC.