When Ohio State was voted the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the country, it was because folks expected performances like the one the Buckeyes turned in Friday.
Obviously the season didn't go like many expected — the expectations were almost repeat as national champions or bust — but there the Buckeyes were on New Year's Day, putting a hurting on Notre Dame, a College Football Playoff caliber team, in a 44-28 Fiesta Bowl victory.
This season's big win on New Year's Day won't punch a ticket to the national championship game. But like last year's January efforts, the Buckeyes emerged looking like one of college football's best.
Ezekiel Elliott wrapped his collegiate career with a huge game, rushing for 149 yards and scoring four touchdowns. J.T. Barrett made it look like there never should have been a quarterback controversy, passing for 211 yards and a touchdown and rushing for an additional 96 yards. Ohio State finished with nearly 500 yards of total offense, including 285 on the ground.
Urban Meyer won his 50th game as Ohio State's head football coach and got the Gatorade bath. It didn't end with another national championship, but it was a still an ending to a season worth celebrating.
Ohio State’s offense was explosive from the very start. The Buckeyes went 80 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a big 27-yard rush by Braxton Miller and capped by an Elliott scoring rush from three yards out.
The next drive saw the Buckeyes in the end zone in just four plays. Barrett completed a pass to Marcus Baugh for a 27-yard gain before hitting Michael Thomas for a 14-yard touchdown.
The game’s most controversial play came on the ensuing drive, as Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer threw an interception to Tyvis Powell. But the interception was negated when star defensive end Joey Bosa was flagged for targeting and ejected from the game, the final play of his Ohio State career, as he’s expected to declare for the NFL Draft.
Things slowed from there as the mood was obviously altered by Bosa’s ejection, and Notre Dame halved the Ohio State lead on a second-quarter touchdown rush by Josh Adams. Barrett and Elliott teamed for an answer, though, Barrett marching the Buckeyes into Irish territory before a 16-yard rush by Elliott, a nine-yard rush by Barrett and a 14-yard rush by Elliott, which set Ohio State up at the Notre Dame one-yard line. Elliott punched it in on the next play for his second touchdown run to give the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead.
After the Ohio State defense forced another three and out, a Barrett pass to Elliott went for 30 yards downfield, followed by a 15-yard Jalin Marshall rush to the three-yard line. Elliott again punched it in from a yard out for touchdown No. 3 to make it a 28-7 game.
Notre Dame responded with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a Kizer touchdown run to make it 28-14 right before halftime.
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Ohio State’s first drive of the third quarter ended in a Barrett interception, and Kizer turned it into a touchdown pass to Chris Brown to bring the Irish within a score at 28-21. But Elliott punched right back, going 47 yards just a few plays later to extend the Buckeyes’ lead to 35-21 with his fourth scoring run of the game.
Sean Nuernberger kicked a trio of fourth-quarter field goals, making sure that even an electrifying 81-yard touchdown catch and run by Notre Dame's Will Fuller didn't get the Irish any closer than 10.
It was a stellar day for Elliott, who has made it known that he'll declare for the NFL Draft. The same is known of Bosa, though he didn't get a similar ending, walking off the field for the final time as a student-athlete after not even a full quarter of play and making just three tackles.
The Buckeyes finished the season at 12-1, their only loss coming against Big Ten champion Michigan State, which was pounded Thursday night in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama. Meyer is now 50-4 in four seasons as the head man in Columbus.