Ohio State Handles USC in a Surprisingly Defensive-Minded Cotton Bowl

Despite both teams featuring high-profile quarterbacks, the Cotton Bowl was about defense. And that meant another frustrating, up-and-down night for USC signal-caller Sam Darnold.
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DALLAS — Here are three thoughts from Ohio State’s 24–7 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl.

1. Despite the 24–7 final, it wasn’t as big of a mismatch as the scoreboard would suggest. But USC’s offense put the team in a hole early with backbreaking turnovers, a hole that the Trojans couldn’t dig out of. All three of Ohio State’s touchdowns came after takeaways, including Damon Webb’s 23-yard pick-six off Sam Darnold early in the second quarter. The Buckeyes also cashed in after recovering Deontay Burnett’s fumble and returning it to the USC 19-yard line. Ohio State’s third and final touchdown started on its own 41-yard line after Darnold lost a fumble. The Trojans’ only points were also gift-wrapped, converting a muffed Ohio State punt into a 15-yard scoring drive. This was a game where the defenses dominated the offenses, a surprise since the teams are led by such high-profile quarterbacks.

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2. Darnold’s maddening inconsistency was on full display. On one hand, he made several jaw-dropping throws that not many quarterbacks on Sunday can make. Then there were other plays where he missed wide-open receivers or displayed a lack of ball security. Here are two below; it’s hard to believe that these two balls were thrown by the same guy.

Darnold committed three turnovers against Ohio State, raising his total on the season to 22. That number is higher than 101 FBS teams. Facing Ohio State’s relentless pressure against an overmatched USC offensive line didn’t help, but the Buckeyes also provided a snapshot of what the next level will be like.

In a perfect world, Darnold should stay another year in school to improve his consistency. However, it’s fair to argue that USC’s coaching staff isn’t the right one to help him maximize his potential and help him grow as a quarterback.

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3. The nightmare bowl season for the Pac-12 continues. The conference has now dropped to 1–7, with six of those losses coming with the opposition scoring at least 35 points. Per ESPN, the Big Ten’s 1–6 record is the worst bowl performance by a Power 5 conference with a minimum of five games played. The Pac-12’s final hope from ignominy is Washington facing off against Penn State on Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl.

It’s one thing to get shut out from the College Football Playoff. Yet, the Big Ten has shown its muster by moving to 5–0 in this year’s bowls after Ohio State’s win. The Pac-12, however, has laid a giant egg and it’s certainly fair to wonder if it has fallen significantly behind the other Power 5 conferences in college football.