Ohio State stuns No. 1 Alabama in Sugar Bowl, 42-35

Ezekiel Elliott rushes for 230 yards and two TDs to lead Ohio State to a 42-35 victory over No. 1 Alabama

So much for that maxim that Big Ten Conference teams are too slow to keep pace with the speed of the Southeastern Conference.

Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer won two national titles at Florida and knows a little bit about building something fast.

That was evident in the Buckeyes' resurrection since Meyer returned to Columbus, and it was apparent throughout Thursday night's Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

No more so than when Buckeyes' running back Ezekiel Elliott jetted through Alabama's vaunted defense for an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that provided the difference in Ohio State's 42-35 victory at the Superdome.

"Maybe the Big Ten's not that bad," Meyer said. "Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damn good."

Ohio State's victory in the College Football Playoff semifinal puts the Buckeyes in a matchup with another speedy outfit, this time from the Pac-12 Conference.

The Buckeyes will play Oregon, a 59-20 winner Thursday over Florida State, in the national championship game on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"This was a breakthrough win," Meyer said.

Three years after he came out of a short retirement to replace Jim Tressel, Meyer has the Buckeyes back playing for their first national title since the 2002 season.

And he and offensive coordinator Tom Herman did it with a third-string quarterback.

Braxton Miller went down with a shoulder injury during training camp and J.T. Barrett was lost in the final regular-season game.

So just as he did in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, Cardale Jones stepped up.

The third-year sophomore completed 18 of 35 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. He also rushed for 43 yards.

Jones helped the Buckeyes overcome a 21-6 first half deficit to score 28 unanswered points. And Elliott, who rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, was relentless.

Said Elliott, named the game's most valuable player: "Barry Sanders said before the game there were two great running backs that were going to play tonight, and they both were for Bama.

" I felt a little bit left out."

Ohio State outgained Alabama, 537-407, but did not have the game clinched until safety Tyvis Powell intercepted a Hail Mary pass in the end zone on the final play.

It was just one of many clutch plays by a tough, opportunistic and, yes, fast defense that intercepted three passes by Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and held off the Crimson Tide when it needed to most.

"We gave up far too many big plays," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "which has been a problem for us."

Alabama led, 21-20, at halftime and had history on its side: The Crimson Tide was 84-5 under Saban in games it led at halftime.

Make that 84-6.

"We're back," Ohio State linebacker Derron Lee said. "Those that thought we were gone, we're back. Be afraid, be very afraid."

Alabama's defense forced two early turnovers that the Crimson Tide turned into touchdowns for a 21-6 lead. But Ohio State came back in the last three minutes of the first half to score on Elliott's short touchdown run and a spectacular touchdown reception by receiver Michael Thomas.

The Buckeyes kept the momentum after halftime, Jones passing 47 yards to Devin Smith for a touchdown and a 27-21 lead.

Then the Buckeyes' defense stepped up. Lee and Michael Bennett sacked Sims on consecutive plays to end one drive and Steve Miller intercepted a pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to make it 34-21.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry turned a short pass into a 52-yard gain to set up Sims' touchdown run, cutting the Buckeyes' lead to 34-28.

But with Ohio State pinned at its own 15, Elliott took a handoff, ran left and then blazed through a seam on his way to the end zone, a dazzling exclamation point on a big Big Ten statement.


Twitter: @latimesklein

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