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Thursday, January 1, 2015


By Richie Weaver for the Allstate Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS - Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott set an Allstate Sugar Bowl record with 230 rushing yards as the Buckeyes punched their ticket to the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game with a 42-35 victory over Alabama on Thursday evening in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Elliott ran 20 times and reached the endzone twice, including a game-clinching 85-yard scoring jaunt with 3:24 left to play, to earn the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player trophy. His yardage total surpassed the former mark of 204 by West Virginia’s Steve Slaton against Georgia in 2006. Buckeyes’ strong-side linebacker Darron Lee was tabbed Defensive MVP after posting seven solo stops, including a pair of sacks among three tackles for loss.
With the win, Ohio State improved to 13-1 on the year and will take on Rose Bowl Champion Oregon in the title game on Monday, Jan. 12, in Irving, Texas. Alabama, meanwhile, concludes the 2014 campaign with a 12-2 mark.
The Buckeyes trailed 21-6 after a two-yard touchdown run by Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon with 8:07 left to play in the second quarter. From there, Ohio State closed out the first half with touchdown drives of 71 and 77 yards to make it a one-point contest at the break, and added a 47-yard scoring toss from Cardale Jones to Devin Smith on the opening drive of the third quarter to take a 27-21 lead they would not relinquish.
Defensive end Steve Miller added to the scoring onslaught with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:21 to play in the third, but Alabama refused to go away quietly as quarterback Blake Sims scored on a five-yard keeper to make it 34-28 with 1:01 remaining in the period.
The Crimson Tide pinned Ohio State deep in its own territory on three consecutive, fourth-quarter drives but could not take advantage of prime field position to cut into the Buckeyes’ advantage. One Alabama drive was thwarted on an interception by Vonn Bell and the OSU defense forced punts on the other two possessions. Elliott’s long scoring run gave the Buckeyes some breathing room and Jones connected with Michael Thomas for a two-point conversion to stake Ohio State to a 14-point lead.
As they had done before, the Crimson Tide answered as Sims capped a six-play, 65-yard drive with a six-yard scoring strike to Amari Cooper for what proved to be the final score. The ensuing on-side kick attempt was recovered by the Buckeyes and Tyvis Powell capped the victory with an interception in the endzone as the game clock expired.
Jones finished the day 18-of-35 for 243 yards and a touchdown and added 43 yards on the ground on 17 carries. Thomas was his favorite receiver on the day, catching seven passes for 66 yards and a score. Curtis Grant paced the Ohio State defense with 10 tackles (5 solo, 5 assists) and Vonn Bell was next with eight solo stops to go with an interception.
Ohio State got off to a good start as the defense held Alabama to three-and-outs on each of the Crimson Tides’ first two drives while the offense drove 80 yards the first time the Buckeyes touched the ball to set up a 22-yard field goal by Sean Nuernberger.
Alabama shifted momentum back to its sideline when Eddie Jackson ripped the ball away from Elliott and Landon Collins returned the fumble to the Buckeyes’ 33-yard line. Two plays later, Derrick Henry broke free from 25 yards out to give the Crimson Tide a 7-3 lead with 9:25 left to play in the opening period.
Ohio State added a 21-yard Nuernberger field goal 4:14 later to make it a one-point contest, but the Alabama answered with an eight-play, 79-yard drive which Sims capped with a 15-yard touchdown to Cooper to make it 14-6 with 2:06 to play in the first quarter. Running back T.J. Yeldon plunged in from two yards out two drives later to give the Tide a seemingly comfortable 15-point lead with 8:07 to play in the first half only to see the Buckeyes catch fire.
Elliott scored OSU’s first touchdown of the contest with a three-yard run with 2:55 to play in the second quarter, and after the defense forced a three-and-out, the Buckeyes used a bit of trickery to close the gap even more as Jones handed off to Evan Spencer for an apparent end-around, but the Ohio State wideout pulled the ball to his ear and Thomas pulled in a toe-tapping catch in the endzone to make it 21-20 at the break and set up the second-half dramatics.
Henry led the Alabama ground game with 97 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries while Yeldon ran 10 times for 47 yards and a score. Sims completed 22-of-36 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted three times in the second half. Cooper led all players with nine catches and a pair of scoring receptions while finishing with 71 yards through the air. Collins paced the Crimson Tide defense with a game-high 12 tackles (9 solo, 3 assists).