Another domino fell Saturday for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Defensive end Sam Hubbard, a redshirt junior, announced he will leave the program to enter the NFL Draft.
A day earlier, just before the Cotton Bowl began at AT&T Stadium, cornerback Denzel Ward announced his departure, while at the same time explaining his decision to not play in the bowl game in order to avoid the risk of injury.
Ohio State goes through this every season, and every season, the Buckeyes contend for championships as other players step up to fill the roles of the drafted players. A 24-7 victory against Southern California on Friday puts the Buckeyes in a strong position to enter the 2018 season as a top-10 team, no matter who else goes pro.
”Well, momentum is very, very important,” Meyer said Friday in his post-game press conference. “We had an excellent signing day. We’re going to find out here shortly who’s going to leave early for the draft. That’s always one of those bittersweet moments. But it’s very healthy program. I just go through that locker room, and it’s probably not the politically correct way of saying it, but there’s not many people I don’t like. I like a lot of those guys. As a matter of fact, I love the majority of them and appreciate them. And that’s a good sign.”
The Buckeyes didn’t play a perfect game against USC and even lost the yardage battle by a wide margin (413-277), but they controlled the game from start to finish.
The Trojans committed three turnovers in the first half. All three led to Ohio State touchdowns.
J.T. Barrett scored on a 1-yard run five plays after a fumble by USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett. After a 26-yard field goal by Sean Nuernberger, USC quarterback Sam Darnold started the next drive by throwing an interception. Safety Damon Webb returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Ohio State defensive Tyquan Lewis sacked Darnold and forced a fumble. Linebacker Jerome Baker recovered the ball and returned it to the Ohio State 41-yard line. Two plays later, Barrett scored on a 28-yard run. That was all the Buckeyes needed, though no one knew that at the time.
Neither team scored in the second half.
“The name of the game was, in the first half, we had turnovers,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “We didn’t really get our run game started. The second half we get it down in the red zone three times and don’t come away with any points. That’s the difference in the game.
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Ohio State closed the season with a 12-2 mark. It’s the fifth season with at least 12 victories in Meyer’s six seasons. The Buckeyes improved to 2-0 in the Cotton Bowl and won a bowl game for the first time since the 2016 Fiesta Bowl when they beat Notre Dame 44-28.
“This one is very personal,” Meyer said. “I’m from Ohio. I’ve been a Buckeye, I think, as long as I’ve been able to say the word Buckeye. So when I hear ‘Hang On Sloopy’ and see the former players and know that we in our own little way have done some very good things for this great university, that’s one of those feel good moments.”