Six years ago, a talented but inconsistent and injured Ohio State team suddenly put it all together in a crushing loss. Then, in their next game, the Buckeyes stunned Alabama on the road to the national championship.
Will history repeat itself?
The current Buckeyes are one more step on the road to a title this time. And of course neither the head coach nor any of the players involved back then are involved now. But there are some similarities between Ohio State 2014 and Ohio State 2020, and don’t be surprised if some of the staff members who have been a part of both (defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., coach of force Mickey Marotti) point to the current Buckeyes.
The 2014-15 team had played well, but not in spectacular fashion until it transformed into a monster in the Big Ten Championship Game, destroying Wisconsin 59-0 and closing a (controversial) College Football Playoff offering. Established as a significant underdog against No. 1 seed Alabama, the Buckeyes won a vulnerable defense for 42 points to pull off the upset at New Orleans, highlighted by Ezekiel Elliott’s famous run “85 yards through the heart of the South” for him. definitive marker. .
The 2019-20 Bucks had been equally unspectacular until they exploded at Clemson on Friday in the CFP semi-finals, putting it all together in a 49-28 domination of the favorite Tigers. And now comes’ Bama, favored by a touchdown in the national championship game next Monday.
It should be noted that this Alabama team has been significantly better than the 2014 Alabama team. But there is no doubt that the challenge presented by Ohio State is formidable. This is a juicy showdown, from the shows’ traditional stature to the firepower and pro talent both teams possess.
These are the No. 2 and No. 3 programs of all time in wins (Ohio State second, Alabama third). Both claim a trillion national titles (some more legitimate than others). In the past decade, they are 1-2 nationally in the fewest losses: Alabama with 12, Ohio State with 17, and seven of the Buckeyes’ losses came in 2011 with an interim coach. Nick Saban has compiled a resume that might be the best of all time, but at 23, Ryan Day has the best winning percentage of any active coach at .958.
And Day’s outfit looks like Urban Meyer’s group from 2014.
Is Trey Sermon on a hot streak like Elliott was six years ago? Elliott finished that season with three straight 200-yard rushing games, amassing 696 yards and eight touchdowns. Sermon’s last two games: 524 rushing yards, 65 receptions and three touchdowns. Run with speed, power, elusiveness, and most of all, determination. The Buckeyes have another guy capable of breaking through the heart of the 85-yard South again.
Alabama fights back with its own back beast in Najee Harris, leading the nation in touchdowns with 27 and posting 10th nationally in yards per game from scrimmage with 144.4. He’s a dependable runner on every shot, but he’s also capable of doing the spectacular, as Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud learned when Harris threw him on a 58-yard dash at the Rose Bowl last Friday.
“Harris is multi-dimensional, physical at the point of attack, soft hands, he takes great routes, he makes you work to get him to the ground, just like any back we’ve seen,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
One thing that seems unlikely for Ohio State is another Cardale Jones-like appearance of a backup quarterback, in case star quarterback Justin Fields’ rib injury against Clemson is worse than expected or reverted to. injure against Alabama. Fields took a wicked shot from the Tigers’ James Skalski and played, but the rest of the weekend probably didn’t feel too good. Freshman CJ Stroud, who came in and delivered for a play as Fields regrouped, has yet to throw a collegiate pass. Even as the third crossbar in 2014, Jones had thrown 16 career passes when called up after JT Barrett broke his leg.
Fields had one of the best performances in Ohio State history against Clemson, playing through pain and throwing for a career high of six touchdown passes and 385 yards. If he performs like that again, connecting with elite wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, an Alabama defense that has allowed 11 pass plays of 40 yards or more will be challenged. The Crimson Tide has perhaps the best coverage corner in the nation in Patrick Surtain, “as good a corner as I’ve seen in college football, in any year,” in the words of Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, but Saban deepthroats are pedestrian by their standards.
Of course, on the other hand, he has an Alabama offense that has been more consistently explosive than Ohio State’s going against a defense that can be exploited. The Buckeyes are not in the national top 30 in scoring defense, in the top 40 in total defense, or in the top 55 in passing efficiency defense. Indiana’s Michael Penix threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns against Ohio State, and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is better than Penix. And their main receiver, DeVonta Smith, is simply the best in the college game.
Jones is also statistically less prone to throwing errors than Fields. Only 1.1 percent of Jones ‘passes this season have been intercepted, compared to Fields’ 3.1. Jones also hasn’t had a single multiple interception game this year, while Fields pitched three against Indiana and two against Northwestern.
“These guys make me look better than I am,” Jones said after the Notre Dame game, but one of his best attributes is avoiding looking bad.
An X factor for Alabama’s offense will be coordinator Steve Sarkisian moving into double duty mode, having been named head coach at Texas on Saturday, but he will remain at the Tide for this game. Some of Saban’s coaches have handled it well (most notably Kirby Smart, who helped Alabama win the 2015 national title before leaving for Georgia). Some haven’t (Saban fired Lane Kiffin bound for Atlantic Florida after the 2016 playoff semifinal). The expectation is that Sark will remain marked, especially given what Saban has done in terms of recycling his career, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Clark Lea only tried to wear two hats for Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, and the result was not great: two losses and his defense gave up an average of 32.5 points in the two games. Several others have done it over the years, and most will tell you that it is really difficult. Case in point: Mark Richt, who was the offensive coordinator at Florida State for the 2000 national championship game before leaving to head coach at Georgia.
“To be honest, I bit off more than I could chew,” Richt said last month. “It was not a very good experience. As I passed it, I felt like I was doing the best job I could do. I didn’t feel like I was cheating Florida State. But in the end, the bottom line was that we didn’t score an offensive point that day. … It is very, very difficult to do. Every time Georgia’s phone rang, it was kind of a problem that he was trying to solve, while still trying to coach at Florida State. “
On the other hand, a prominent example of how to make it work: Tom Herman. Before he became Houston’s head coach in 2015, he was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State … in 2014. He was the guy calling plays when the Buckeyes blew up late in the season and made it to the national title, including that surprise. . from Alabama.
Another X factor, this one that could benefit Tide. The reactions of the winning teams last Friday was a study in contrast. Alabama behaved as usual; The state of Ohio was evidently overjoyed. Saban was a fact; Day’s voice is full of emotion. The Tide followed the postgame victory protocol almost from memory; Coombs was making confetti angels on the floor of the Superdome.
That might not carry over in the slightest – teams have 10 days between games, giving them time to recharge emotionally. But this was a bit like a Final Four where one team comes out of the semi-finals already locked in on Monday and the other team comes out floating in a pink cloud of euphoria. (Think of 2015, after Wisconsin beat Kentucky and Duke beat Michigan State. The Badgers didn’t have enough left in the tank to hit 40 against the Blue Devils.)
Alabama players can act like they’ve been there before because a lot of them were in 2017 and 2018. For Ohio State players, this is their first appearance in a national championship game.
They can, at least, appeal to the institutional memory of that 2014 race. There are some similarities between then and now.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.