Buckeyes' defense no match for high-powered Crimson Tide in title game loss
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Ohio State's defensive strategy was the same as usual.
The Buckeyes' philosophy always starts with clamping down on their opponent's run game and then putting pressure on the quarterback when its approach becomes one-dimensional.
What works against most teams, however, proved futile Monday night against an Alabama offense that will rank among the most potent in college football history.
The Buckeyes allowed 621 yards in their 52-24 College Football Playoff championship game loss at Hard Rock Stadium. Alabama scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions to take a commanding 35-17 lead that wasn't threatened.
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith played like the Heisman Trophy winner he is. All of his damage came in the first half because of an injury on Alabama's first possession of the second half, but his 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes was a full night's work.
“Really, they just gave him the ball in open space and he made plays,” Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade said. “He's a great player and they had a great scheme. They just outplayed us today.”
Quarterback Mac Jones was the conductor and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian the maestro with his play-calling. Of course, it helps to have the country's best offensive line and probably its best running back in Najee Harris.
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Ohio State's defense simply had no answer.
“We wanted to make sure we didn't change what we do fundamentally, but we also had to have some change-ups because if you just sit there, they're going to pick you apart,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But it's one thing to have some ideas. It's another thing to execute them. We didn't do that well enough. There was just obviously way too many big plays.”
It didn't help that the Buckeyes were without defensive linemen Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith because of COVID-19 protocols. Togiai has been a force at nose guard, particularly against the run. Smith has emerged as perhaps the team's top pass rusher.
The Buckeyes seldom put pressure on Jones, who completed 36 of 45 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Harris didn't run wild on handoffs, finishing with 79 yards on 22 carries. But he used his quick feet and power to get some key first downs and hurt the Buckeyes as a pass-catcher, including a 26-yard score.
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Alabama was 6 for 11 on third down and converted both of its fourth-down attempts. The only big play the Buckeyes defense made was a strip sack of Jones by linebacker Baron Browning, who recovered the fumble. Ohio State capitalized with a touchdown that made it 14-all early in the second quarter.
After that, the Buckeyes couldn't get stops when they needed them.
“A lot of credit to Alabama,” defensive end Jonathon Cooper said. “They're a great team. We knew that coming in. They're coached very well and they have good players.
“We felt like we did a good job preparing all week. I feel like we didn't execute and didn't tackle as well as we should have, as a whole defense. (We) just had to be better. Unfortunately, we were not. They took advantage of that.”