Rapid Reaction: Utah falls to Ohio State in Rose Bowl clash for the ages
The Rose Bowl was a tale with two stories.
One one hand: man, oh man Jan. 1, 2022, might go down in Rose Bowl lore as one of the best iterations of the “Granddaddy of Them All.” Period. It had everything. It had pomp and circumstance, with Utah making its first-ever appearance and The Ohio State Buckeyes returning to the fold. It had explosive plays and highlight reel catches and records smashed and an 86th-year Utah wideout (kidding) returning a kickoff for a score and a walk-on being thrust into the game only to throw a game-tying touchdown and effectively a walk-off field goal to win it.
Utah led for nearly 45 minutes of game clock. Ohio State emerged victorious, 48-45.
To that end, the other hand: Utah will leave crushed. After a mad-dash for points erupted in a second quarter that saw a combined 42 points and 443 yards, Utah entered into survival mode. The Utes had a 35-21 halftime lead on college football’s most explosive offense. With a seriously-depleted secondary, the Utes clearly wanted to bleed clock in the second half. They ran it 19 times and threw it only nine times.
But the Utes have absolutely zero reason to hang their heads.
Ohio State entered the game down more than 20 scholarship players, but Ohio State also entered the game third nationally in the 247 Talent Composite, behind only Alabama and Georgia. If there was a team that could afford to be short a few scholarship players, it was the Buckeyes.
Case and point: missing it’s two “best” receivers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba had one of the greatest performances by a collegiate wideout in postseason history. He caught 15 balls for 347 yards and three scores. Utah had no answer for him.
But the Utes were starting a running back at one corner spot and a second-year freshman at the other spot. Clark Phillips III showed America one of college football’s next star corners resides in Salt Lake City. Micah Bernard played admirably.
Ohio State put up points on every team it played this season, sans Michigan and (randomly) Nebraska. And while Utah was able to somewhat limit OSU tailback TreVeyon Henderson’s effectiveness on the ground, it was hit with an incredible display of passing from a Heisman finalist. No shame in that.
And when its starting quarterback was knocked from the game late in the fourth quarter with a head injury and walk-on freshman quarterback Bryson Barnes was thrown into action, head coach Kyle Whittingham trusted his guys to go make a play.
Barnes picked up 10 yards on a quarterback keeper on third-and-1 to extend a possible game-tying drive, then drew a pass interference flag on the Buckeyes the next play to move Utah into the red zone. From the OSU 15-yard-line, he leaned back and fired to Dalton Kincaid in the back of the end zone to tie it at 45-all.
BRYSON BARNES COMES IN AND THROWS A TOUCHDOWN TO TIE THE GAME 😱🌹pic.twitter.com/xw5FiFfjO3
— Pickswise (@Pickswise) January 2, 2022
Utah needed one more stop from its defense on Ohio State’s next possession that never came. Ohio State moved methodically down inside Utah’s own 10-yard-line, then kicked the game-winning field goal with nine seconds left on the clock.
No doubt the Utes needed more defensively.
Ohio State averaged 11.2 yards per play in the first half. Though it trailed by 14 points, the signs were there that Utah was going to be cutting it close if its offense slipped in any way.
The biggest issue was first down.
With so much missing in the backend, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was in a bind. Utah needed to be able to apply pressure on OSU quarterback CJ Stroud, but to do so would mean exposing less-experienced defensive backs. It needed to be able to keep Ohio State off-schedule, but the Buckeyes averaged 9.6 yards per first-down play. Stroud was 17-for-23 for 259 yards passing on first downs alone.
When Utah got Ohio State to third down, it was able to get off the field. It just couldn’t get to passing downs—OSU was in standard downs an absurd 82% of the time on the evening. Utah had only one tackle for loss and no sacks. Utah’s star defender and the Pac-12’s leading TFL-producer entering the day, Devin Lloyd, was limited to just four tackles and nothing else.
Offensively, Cam Rising was surgical, particularly so in the first half. He finished 17-for-22 for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 92 yards rushing on the ground, perhaps hitting one of the most important plays of the game for the Utes.
With Ohio State’s offensive coming alive in the second—Smith-Njigba had touchdown catches of 50 and 52 yards on back-to-back offensive plays for the Buckeyes—a 28-21 Utah lead was looking slim. Tavion Thomas picked up eight yards on first down for a drive that began at the Utes’ 29, but on second and third Utah gained only a yard. Facing fourth-and-1 from its own 38, coach Kyle Whittingham elected to roll the dice and go for it.
Rising broke loose of several would-be Buckeye tacklers and rumbled 62 yards for a score.
— Dave Fox (@Davefox2) January 1, 2022
If not for the run, if perhaps that play ends with a turnover on downs, the Rose Bowl might have gone very differently.
But, time and again early on, Utah answered when it needed to. It just came up a few plays short at the end. That’ll sting for a while, but in hanging with one of the brand-name programs in the sport, Utah showed a national audience it has plenty of staying power of its own.
What a game.