Gil LeBreton

Buckeyes show we were blinded by SEC mystique

Ohio State players celebrate a touchdown by running back Ezekiel Elliott in the second half of the Sugar Bowl  on Thursday in New Orleans. The Buckeyes will play Oregon in the national championship game in Arlington on Jan. 12.
Ohio State players celebrate a touchdown by running back Ezekiel Elliott in the second half of the Sugar Bowl on Thursday in New Orleans. The Buckeyes will play Oregon in the national championship game in Arlington on Jan. 12. AP

They had a third-string quarterback and a 100-to-1 shot.

Or so we thought Thursday night, as late as midway through the second quarter.

But we were blinded — blinded by the early theatrics that staked the Alabama Crimson Tide to a 21-6 lead.

Blinded by the Tide and Southeastern Conference mystique.

Blinded, as we soon discovered, by the gritty resolve that the Ohio State Buckeyes had within them.

They were here at the Sugar Bowl only on a hall pass, we had concluded. To get into the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes had played their Big Ten card. They had beguiled the CFP committee. They had manipulated the selection system.

Ohio State’s riveting 42-35 come-from-behind upset of Alabama won’t change everyone’s feelings on that. But in a whirlwind 48-hour period unlike anything college football has ever witnessed, when hearts were tested as much as talent, the Buckeyes showed what they were all about.

You’re not supposed to come back on Alabama like that. Foes are not supposed to sneak up on coach Nick Saban from behind.

At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones — the backup to the Buckeyes’ backup — isn’t likely to be sneaking up on anybody. But his poise under the Tide’s pressure was roundly unexpected.

Jones ran for 43 yards and threw for 243 and one touchdown. Most of all, however, he outplayed his counterpart, Alabama’s Blake Sims.

And as his offensive line rose to the challenge, finding him time where little of it existed in the opening 20 minutes, Jones found a way to move the first-down chains and keep the Crimson Tide offense off the field.

That’s what the manual says about beating Alabama. You have to keep the football away from the Tide playmakers. You have to create chaos, because Saban prefers order.

Yet, at the end, when the season was swirling around both teams, both coaches, both mystiques, Jones and the Buckeyes didn’t back down.

It had to be wearying for Urban Meyer and his team, spending a week as The Other Team in Town.

On the eve of the Sugar Bowl, Meyer even was asked, “Is it too early to think about where Nick might land in terms of great historical figures?”

Meyer managed to give a somewhat polite answer.

“Too early where a coach might rank?” he repeated. “I don’t think it’s too early. Won a bunch of national championships. Very consistent winner at several different schools. I think obviously he’s one of the great coaches in college football history.”

From a provincial standpoint, no score over these two days can convince me that TCU didn’t belong in the four-team playoff field.

But as the night’s drumbeat pounded Thursday, it was difficult, frankly, not to be disarmed by Ohio State.

“Greatest game in college playoff history,” someone quipped.

True, there have only been two. But you’ll get no argument here.

We thought it was going to be another one of those nights. Another maestro performance by the solidly favored Crimson Tide.

But we were blinded. Blinded by a team intent upon showing it belonged.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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