Elliott’s big runs key OSU upset

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs a touchdown during the fourth quarter in the 2015 Sugar Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

John David Mercer/John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS – No. 1 Alabama came into the Sugar Bowl with a dominant run defense that statistically was the nation’s second-best run defense over the course of the season and a key factor in the Crimson Tide’s blueprint of building an early lead and turning the game over to its defense.

Ezekiel Elliott found room on the right side on Ohio State’s first drive and went for 54 yards.

In the fourth quarter, Elliott broke one tackle going to his left and then turned upfield. There were no defenders in position to catch him, and he went for an 85-yard touchdown that put Ohio State up by two scores.

"He’s probably the most underrated back in the country," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Elliott.

The word is out now. Amidst a wild postgame celebration on the Superdome field after No. 4 Ohio State won, 42-35, Thursday night to advance to the national championship game, the sophomore was named the Sugar Bowl’s Offensive MVP.

It was an easy pick.

Elliott broke the Sugar Bowl record with 230 rushing yards. He did it on 20 carries and scored twice against an Alabama defense that had allowed three rushing touchdowns all season and hadn’t let any single player rush for more than 100 yards in a game.

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Ohio State outgained Alabama, 537-407. The Crimson Tide had been giving up 312 yards per game.

"I knew going into the game that the Alabama defensive front was going to be very tough, very big, very physical," Elliott said. "I knew it was going to be a little bit hard for our O-line to get some movement off the ball, but they did a great job.

"I knew I would have to hit those holes hard and break a couple of arm tackles to break a couple."

Running through a tackle to daylight is exactly what Elliott did on both of his big runs. He found tough yards in the middle for a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:55 left in the first half to cut Ohio State’s deficit to 21-13. The Buckeyes got a stop, got the ball back and went into halftime down just 21-20.

"The most important momentum of any game is the last five minutes of the first half and first five minutes of the second half," Meyer said.

It was the eighth 100-yard game of the season for Elliott and the ninth of his young career. Elliott now has 1,632 yards rushing on the season, moving into fourth all-time on Ohio State’s single-season list behind Keith Byars and a couple guys who won the Heisman Trophy, Archie Griffin and Eddie George.

On the season he has 11 rushes of 20 or more and five of 50 yards or more.

"He ran a very good defense tonight," Meyer said. "And he ran very well. I’m not sure how many yards he had, but I know it was a lot."