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Sugar Bowl final score: Ohio State stuns Alabama, 42-35, in instant classic

Remember when the Big Ten was dead? Not so fast, my friend.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Guide

The Ohio State Buckeyes, a double-digit underdog in Thursday's Sugar Bowl, shocked the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff Championship Game with a 42-35 victory. A run of 28 unanswered points in the second and third quarters gave the Buckeyes a lead that they never relinquished. Ohio State piled up 537 yards of total offense against the stout Crimson Tide defense and forced two turnovers from quarterback Blake Sims.

The Sugar Bowl was a game decided by momentum, with the pendulum swinging between the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide throughout. Ohio State failed to capitalize on two first-quarter drives deep into Alabama territory, settling for field goals while Alabama was scoring touchdowns. A pair of first-half turnovers set up Alabama scores, and the Tide led, 21-6, early in the second quarter. Ohio State had no trouble moving the ball against Alabama's defense, though, and an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown dive was followed by a touchdown pass from receiver Evan Spencer to fellow wideout Michael Thomas.


Thomas's spectacular catch on the trick play sent the Buckeyes to the locker room down one point and brimming with confidence, and a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half gave OSU its first lead since 3-0.

After an exchange of punts, Sims made his first mistake. A third down slant pattern was intercepted by defensive end Steve Miller, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, Ohio State was riding a wave and Alabama looked vulnerable.

The Tide responded with an 84-yard drive, highlighted by a 52-yard Derrick Henry screen pass and capped by a Sims touchdown run that narrowed the OSU lead to six points at the end of the third quarter. Alabama's defense stiffened after the score, forcing three consecutive three-and-outs from the Buckeye offense.

Despite excellent field position, Alabama struggled to capitalize. The second Crimson Tide stop, deep in Ohio State territory, gave Alabama a short field for a would-be go-ahead score, but Sims promptly threw an interception to safety Vonn Bell. The third series, starting from the Alabama 45, ended with another punt. Alabama would not get a fourth. Elliott broke through the Crimson Tide defense for an 85-yard touchdown run, the longest play allowed by Alabama all season. Elliott finished with a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards on 20 carries and a pair of scores.

Sims drove the Crimson Tide back down the field, capping it with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. Evan Spencer outjumped Alabama's kick team on an onside kick, and Ohio State was able to run out most of the clock. A late Alabama drive crossed midfield, but a Hail Mary attempt was intercepted, ending the game.

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones finished with 243 yards on 18/35 passing, with one touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 43 yards on 17 carries for a Buckeye offense that piled up 281 rushing yards on the Alabama defense.

Sims finished 22/36 for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but his three interceptions were critical. Derrick Henry was Alabama's leading rusher, with 13 carries for 95 yards. Amari Cooper was held to nine catches for 71 yards.

The win was Ohio State's first victory in a Big 6/BCS bowl game since they beat Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. It was also the last time that a Big Ten team beat an SEC team in such a game.

Three things we learned

1. The tyranny of the SEC is over. Last year, Auburn's athletic director told reporters that it would be "unamerican" if his one-loss Tigers were left out of the national championship in favor of then-undefeated Ohio State. There will be no such griping in the future. Alabama has now lost two consecutive Sugar Bowls as massive favorites, and the SEC will once again not win the national championship. Throw in losses by Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn and LSU in high-profile games, and talk of SEC dominance should be quieted significantly.

Ohio State's blowout loss to Florida in the 2007 Sugar Bowl started the SEC's run of dominance, and Ohio State's continued struggles reinforced it. It was only fitting that Ohio State ended that run on Thursday night.

2. Alabama's defense is now vulnerable to the right opponent. Past iterations of Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have been based on a pounding running game and stifling defense. The running game is still there -- Alabama ran for 170 yards against Ohio State -- but this year's Crimson Tide defense is nowhere near Saban's usual standard. Ohio State posted 348 yards in the first half and outgained the Tide by 209 yards, the highest first-half yardage differential conceded by Alabama under Saban. Elliott broke the Sugar Bowl rushing record. Yes, against Alabama.

There is a particular type of offense that gives Alabama fits: An up-tempo attack with a dual threat quarterback that can prevent the Tide from substituting and run effectively against tired Alabama defenders. Just two teams topped 24 points against Alabama this year: Auburn and Ohio State, which employ similar philosophies if different tactics. Auburn wasn't an anomaly created by the nation's hottest rivalry. It was a blueprint for competing with the Tide.

3. Pro-style offenses are in trouble. The College Football Playoff semifinals matched two teams running high-tempo, run-heavy, spread-based offenses against pro-style attacks. The spread offenses won both, putting up 87 combined points and more than 1,100 yards in the process. Alabama was the last true holdout among the nation's elite programs, and even the Crimson Tide are being forced to accept some changes.