In a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated, the Trojans lost the Cotton Bowl to Ohio State 24-7 as the Buckeyes capitalized on four turnovers by USC that they turned into 21 points, and the only Trojan score came after a muffed OSU punt at the Buckeyes 15-yard line.
The tone for the game, as far as USC was concerned, was set on the very first drive when normally dependable Deontay Burnett fumbled inside the USC red zone after securing a first down catch, and the Buckeyes quickly jumped to a 7-0 lead. Burnett also had a key drop and could have been more aggressive going for a Darnold pass that was picked for a touchdown. When Deontay is having these kind of problems you knew it was going to be a long night.
Burnett actually rebounded and ended up with 12 catches for 139 yards, much like the Trojans tried to rebound in the second half. The USC defense did a good job in the second half (Uchenna Nwosu was a star all night long) as they didn’t allow any scores and certainly gave the Trojan offense plenty of chances to get back in the game.
Unfortunately, that just wasn’t meant to be against an Ohio State defensive front that was as good as advertised with 8 sacks against Sam Darnold and limiting the USC ground game to 1.6 yards per carry (57 yards on 36 attempts). Darnold was able to throw for 356 yards on 26-45 passing to become the first USC QB to go over 4,000 yards in a season (no small feat).
There were also issues that have been seen all season long from the Trojans such as penalties, clock management and a lack of urgency at key times, and it will be the way this game was lost that will be part of a different off-season dialogue compared to the resoundingly positive momentum of last year.
Because while the Trojans did win the Pac-12 title and are on the verge of putting together a third-straight highly-ranked recruiting class, the final memory isn’t going to be of a game-winning field goal sailing through the uprights at the Rose Bowl, it’s going to be the Trojans getting pushed around by Ohio State at the line of scrimmage, and of being overwhelmed in a lesser-but-similar fashion to the last time we played at AT&T. Seeing those issues on display was a reminder that no matter how much good was accomplished this year, there is still work to be done in terms of the standard for the program, and Clay Helton knows that.
(more game coverage to follow)