Four Downs: Big-play Buckeyes topple No. 1 ‘Bama in Sugar Bowl

Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott rumbled for 243 total yards (230 rushing) and two TDs in the Sugar Bowl, including an 85-yard TD in the fourth quarter -- the longest-yardage play against Alabama all season.

Crystal LoGiudice

The big boys at have a slew of long-form pearls from Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl — aka the second semifinal of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

So, instead of doing a traditional breakdown of No. 4 Ohio State’s 42-35 upset of No. 1 Alabama — like the ones executed for Penn State-Boston College or Oklahoma-Clemson — we’ll convert this "Four Downs" into a steady stream of quick hitters:

On offense, the Crimson Tide were 2 for 13 on third-down conversions — a galling stat that was slightly mollified by their success on fourth-down plays (2 of 2).

On defense, Alabama couldn’t consistently get Ohio State off the field, allowing the Buckeyes to convert on 10 of 18 third-down opportunities.

For the night, the Buckeyes started five drives — five! — inside their own 10-yard line.

Forget about that lone reception. The kid’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas — a trick play that Alabama seemingly had covered the whole time — was a thing of beauty, cutting Ohio State’s pre-halftime deficit to just one point. (Thomas’s footwork on the high-wire catch was similarly immaculate.)

Fast forward to the fourth quarter: Spencer’s leaping grab of Alabama’s onside kick — with Ohio State leading by seven and 1:59 left on the clock — helped ensure victory.

Henry was a one-man wrecking crew for the Crimson Tide, racking up 149 total yards (95 rushing) and one touchdown.

But during the broadcast, it almost felt like Alabama ignored its most productive weapon against Ohio State for large chunks — especially when the Buckeyes transformed a 21-6 deficit into a 34-21 lead.

The sophomore’s performance was eerily reminiscent of last year’s Sugar Bowl, when Henry amassed 161 total yards and two scores in a loss to Oklahoma — on just nine touches. Factoring in Thursday’s workload, that’s a cumulative tally of 310 total yards and three TDs on 24 touches … from two losses where Alabama had double-digit deficits in the second half.

The reason for Henry’s minimal touches, of course, revolved around running back T.J. Yeldon (10 carries, 47 yards, one TD) and receiver Amari Cooper (two TDs vs. Ohio State) accounting for three scores, 19 touches and 118 yards.

And it’s eminently possible both playmakers won’t be around next season (when the NFL draft comes calling).

Of the Buckeyes’ 14 outings, Elliott (1,853 total yards, 14 TDs) has accounted for 100 total yards and/or one touchdown 13 times — including his 243-yard, two-TD effort from Thursday.

The numbers look even stronger for OSU’s tent-pole victories over Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Alabama: The Sugar Bowl MVP averaged 162 total yards/1.6 TDs.

However, the sophomore didn’t really explode onto the scene until Game #4 (233 total yards, one TD vs. Cincinnati), or three weeks after Virginia Tech pulled off the road shocker against Ohio State.

Against Alabama, Elliott (six straight outings of 18-plus touches) had already crossed the hallowed threshold of 100 rushing yards … by the end of the first quarter.

And his 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter (3:24 left) essentially punched OSU’s ticket to the CFP championship (Jan. 12 at mammoth AT&T Stadium).

Not bad for the Big Ten’s fifth- or even sixth-best tailback. Eh?

Did you catch QB Cardale Jones’ eyes lighting up in his postgame interview with ESPN, when lamenting how Ohio State really wanted a shot at the "big, bad SEC?"

Well, the conference shall remain big and bad for the foreseeable future, given its vast recruiting resources and elite-level athletes and coaches.

At the same time, the league has become vulnerable to criticism over the last few days, given the defeats of LSU (vs. Notre Dame), Ole Miss (vs. TCU), Mississippi State (vs. Georgia Tech), Auburn (vs. Wisconsin) and now Alabama during bowl competition.

But what does this mean for the future? Alabama will perpetually remain a top-5 team with Saban at the helm. On the whole, LSU fared rather well in a so-called transition campaign; and Auburn likely won’t be penalized too much — in the court of public opinion — for falling to multiple teams (Texas A&M, Wisconsin) that lost 59-0 at some point of the regular season.

(If you really think about it, that’s a damn cool fun fact.)

Let’s take the above comment one step further: It’s fascinating that injured Ohio State QB Braxton Miller — who’s eligible to transfer and play for another school next year — could be Oregon’s starting quarterback in next year’s title game … against the Buckeyes.

The first Steve Miller, a senior defensive lineman for OSU, scored the Buckeyes’ second touchdown of the latter half, expertly dropping into ‘stunt’ coverage on a pass play, jumping Amari Cooper’s slant route and taking Blake Sims’ ill-advised toss to the house for a 41-yard pick-six.

Around that time, ESPN began regular airings of a Taco Bell commercial (promoting the Crunchwrap Slider) featuring a cover-band rendition of Take The Money And Run — a popular 1970s-era song from the second Steve Miller.

In his Alabama tenure (2007-14), Saban has an absurd mark of 91-17 — a sublime record that includes three BCS national championships.

But among the 17 defeats, the Crimson Tide are now 1-3 at the Superdome on Saban’s watch.

In fact, if you want to get technical about things, the coach has never won a "Sugar Bowl" with Alabama, since the 2013 BCS National Championship game (at the Superdome) was played on Jan. 7, 2013 — five days after Louisville’s Sugar Bowl shakedown of Florida.

Thursday’s College Football Playoff semifinals generated 79 and 77 points, respectively. Plus, don’t forget that Michigan State and Baylor combined for 83 points in the Cotton Bowl.

Thank goodness today’s college defenders are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, huh?