For a team that allegedly did not belong in the college football playoffs, Ohio State looked pretty convincing and compelling in its blowout win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl Friday night. The Buckeyes felt disrespected and they are using it to their advantage. Running back Trey Sermon said Monday, “We have a pretty big chip on our shoulder. We just feel like we’re — we feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country. And we just try to go prove that every time we step on the field. We all believe in each other. Yes, we have that chip, and we play with it.”
Sermon Says Buckeyes Have A Chip
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, linebacker Turf Borland, and Sermon met with the media Monday as they begin preparing for next week’s national championship game against Alabama at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
There were plenty of naysayers when it came to the Buckeyes and the postseason spot they were given. They only managed to get in five regular-season games in the COVID-altered Big Ten schedule. The conference had to give a special waiver to bypass the mandate requiring six games to play in the conference championship game. Still, they got it and beat Northwestern by two touchdowns despite the worst game of the season from quarterback Justin Fields.
The Sugar Bowl Win
Even with fewer games than non-champion teams from other conferences, as the Big Ten champion, the Buckeyes got the playoff bid for the Sugar Bowl. Once there, their offensive line dominated the game. It allowed Sermon to run for 193 yards on 31 carries. In addition, he had a rushing touchdown. For his part, Fields had the kind of performance that bowl game legends are made of. He was 22 of 28 passing for 385 yards and a Sugar Bowl record six touchdowns. But what set him apart was the second half shot he took to his midsection from Clemson linebacker James Skalski. The hit was enough to leave Fields on the Mercedes Benz Stadium turf for several minutes. Skalski was ejected for a targeting penalty when he lowered his head.
Fields went off for one play. One. Then he came back and delivered a touchdown pass just two plays later, and completed the rest of the game in strong fashion.
His coach had nothing but praise for the performance. “I thought that was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever seen in person,” Day said Monday.
Bama Is A Different Story
As well as Ohio State played last weekend, and the Buckeyes were dominating, they will have to be better still against the Crimson Tide. Alabama is coming off a 31-14 trouncing of Notre Dame in the other playoff semi-final played in Arlington, Texas. Of the Crimson Tide, Bormand said, “They’ve got talent all over the place; big, physical offensive line; playmakers on the perimeter. Coach Day said we’re going to have to play our best game. We’re going to have to play our best game this week. We’re going to have to find another level for sure.” Sermon echoed those thoughts, specifically with regards to Bama’s defense. “They’re a physical group. They’re big and strong. They fly to the ball. Their linebackers, they can move well. They’re pretty dynamic. Again, they just fly to the ball and they make plays.”
Sermon’s path to this game is not unlike many players who had unknown futures during the Spring and Summer, due to the COVID outbreak. The uncertainty was magnified when the Big Ten announced they would not play this season, only to reverse course weeks later. All this after he transferred from Oklahoma eager to play this year. “It was pretty rough in the beginning, just coming here and not being able to be around everybody, and then everything gets shut down and then picks back up. It was pretty rough,” Sermon said. “We’re all playing well, and we got to where we wanted to get to, so everything turned out pretty good. Now we’ve just got to finish.”
Sermon’s play struggled early as well. He said the week that the Michigan State game was played is when everything came into focus for him and when he first felt comfortable with his role in the offense. He was on the 2018 Oklahoma team that lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl/playoff semi-final. Alabama jumped out to a four-touchdown lead in just 17 minutes in that game. Asked what memories he had from that game that could be relevant for this week, he said, “It’s great competition and the games really go by fast. You definitely have to execute, and you just have to make sure that you don’t have any mistakes.”
Execution and Preparation
For his part, Day said last week’s game is behind them and the Buckeyes are all about this week. “While it was an emotional win, that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to win this one. And so I’d be disappointed if we didn’t play well in this game. This is everything on the line, everything we wanted, and so now all the focus goes on to Alabama. We’ve just got to prepare. The most prepared team is going to win the game, and we have to prepare like we did the week before.”