After bitter loss to Michigan, Buckeyes look for Rose Bowl win over Utah to end season

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State and Utah have played only once, a 64-6 Ohio State blowout in 1986. Utah was then in the Western Athletic Conference before moving to the Mountain West and ultimately the Pac-12. The Utes were no match for OSU at the time. Ohio State scored a touchdown on its opening drive, recovered a Utah fumble on the ensuing kickoff, scored again, and the rout was on. Ohio State gained 715 yards and a Chris Spielman-led defense allowed only two field goals.

How quarterback C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes bounce back from the loss at Michigan will be a big factor in the Rose Bowl.

State of the Buckeyes

Very good question. Are the Buckeyes still reeling from the Michigan loss and unable to be at peak motivation for a non-College Football Playoff bowl game? Or are they hungry to make amends and finish the 2021 season with a victory in a prestigious bowl? This will be a test of the Buckeyes’ pride because Utah is good enough and certainly tough enough to make Ohio State look bad.

Dec 3, 2021; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrates after the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks at Allegiant Stadium.Utah defeated Oregon 38-10.  Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

State of the Utes

Pretty euphoric. Utah has been in the Pac-12 for only a decade and is thrilled to be making its first Rose Bowl appearance. The Utes have overcome a slow start to this season and the tragedy of having two players die in the past year. But two lopsided victories over Oregon propelled Utah to the Pac-12 title. Kyle Whittingham, who succeeded Urban Meyer as Utes coach in 2005, has built the program into a consistent winner. A victory over Ohio State would rank among Utah’s best wins.

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11)  tries to get past Michigan State Spartans cornerback Marqui Lowery (29) after a catch in the second quarter during their NCAA College football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 20, 2021.

When the Buckeyes have the ball

Ohio State offense: The Buckeyes have relied mostly on their passing game, and it has dazzled behind C.J. Stroud. Ohio State wants to re-establish its run game after it was stuffed against Michigan. This is a chance for the offensive line to get redemption.

Utah defense: The Utes rank 11th  in total defense, yielding only 315.4 yards per game. Against the run, Utah allows only 3.56 yards per carry. The Utes also have a knack for getting to the quarterback. They have 42 sacks this year, led by defensive end Mike Tafua’s 9½. The biggest strength of the Utah is at linebacker. Devin Lloyd is a stat-sheet stuffer and Nephi Sewell is a stout middle linebacker. Former Buckeye commit Clark Phillips was second-team All-Pac-12.

Utah running back Tavion Thomas (9) runs into the end zone during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

When the Utes have the ball

Ohio State defense: The progress that had been made since the Tulsa game was proved by Michigan to be at least partly a mirage. The Wolverines manhandled the Buckeyes in the trenches, and OSU wants to show that was an aberration against a Utah offense that will want to do what Michigan did.

Utah offense: The Utes will want to pound Ohio State on the ground. Utah ranks second nationally in yards per carry at 5.61. Tavion Thomas, a Cincinnati transfer, leads the way with 1,041 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. T.J. Pledger has added 671 yards and averages 6.9 per run. Quarterback Cameron Rising has thrown for 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Britain Covey (49 catches, 480 yards) and Brant Kuithe (44 catches, 534 yards and six TDs) lead a balanced receiving corps.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) carries the ball past Michigan State Spartans cornerback Ronald Williams (9) in the second quarter during their NCAA College football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 20, 2021.

OSU player to watch

TreVeyon Henderson. The Ohio State freshman running back was mostly contained by Michigan. Henderson is an explosive runner who’s particularly gifted once he gets to the second level. Getting him there consistently became a challenge late in the season. If he has a big game, the Buckeyes should roll.

Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) reacts after sacking Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah player to watch

Devin Lloyd. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker is expected to enter the NFL draft and is projected as a first-round pick. Lloyd is a force in both the run game and the pass game. Lloyd leads Utah with 62 tackles. That includes 22 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He also has four interceptions.

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @brdispatch.

Get more Ohio State football news by listening to our podcasts