The Kentucky Derby winner came from behind for a shocking first place finish.
Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: What is your favorite Ohio State comeback?
Josh’s Take: 2021 Rose Bowl
This weekend’s Kentucky Derby was a reminder that everyone loves a good comeback story in sports, even more so if you own – or have money on – an 80/1 longshot horse. Plenty of people struck it rich with Rich Strike, and the backstory of the horse even making it into the race was great to hear and/or read about. But Gene, now that I got that terrible joke/pun out of the way, I need to confess something.
I don’t get the whole infatuation with the Kentucky Derby or any other horseracing event. Sorry, it’s just not my thing. I appreciate the gambling and the party element, but why is this a must-see sporting event? What do we really know about it, or any of the players involved?
The one owner that I am aware of is basically Ashley Schaeffer from Eastbound & Down, nobody on the planet can name a successful jockey, and the most important “athletes’ or figures involved are horses. They are beautiful, majestic creatures, but I like to get to know my athletes. Or I’ll decide to root for them because they are associated with a school and/or city that means something to me. Tell me why I should ever care about Rich Strike again, and maybe I’ll jump on the horseracing hype train. I can join the others who pretend to care once a year.
Personal feelings about the event aside, Rich Strike’s win was a comeback for the ages, and it got us thinking about great Ohio State comebacks. A number of them came to mind, and I lost the game of rock, paper, scissors for Gene’s entry, so I settled on the most recent one. OSU’s come-from-behind Rose Bowl victory over Utah put a spectacular end to the Buckeyes’ football season, and while it was not part of the College Football Playoff, I do think it is a game we will remember for some time.
Under different circumstances, the 2022 Rose Bowl could have been a snooze-fest. No disrespect to the Utah, but if Ohio State had its full complement of players, the Buckeyes probably would have rolled the Utes. But with a number of high-profile players opting out, OSU found itself in a real battle. C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba put on a show, under-appreciated players made a few big plays, and the game ended up being one of the most exciting Ohio State victories in recent seasons.
Unlike the Alabama CFP game or a closely-contested version of The Game, The Buckeyes did not have a ton to play for in Pasadena… and it showed early on. They were coming off of a crushing defeat to TTUN, and honestly, my anticipation for the Rose Bowl was not at an all-time high. But my excitement level increased as the game went along, and by the second half, I was on the edge of my seat.
Ohio State’s defense could not stop a nosebleed during the first half, and it seemed like they might actually lose to a tougher-than-nails Utah team. Fortunately, the Buckeyes eventually showed some toughness of their own, and Stroud and Smith-Njigba put on a performance for the ages. Watching the two of them work in perfect harmony was a sight to behold. They were completely unstoppable as a duo, and we may never see another game like it. The aerial display was truly memorable, and the comeback made it that much more special.
But the Stroud-to-JSN connection was just one of the elements that etched this game into my memory — potentially forever. Marvin Harrison Jr.’s breakout was a preview of great things to come, Tommy Eichenberg showed a ton of grit and determination in firing his defense up, and the team as a whole found a toughness that they had not really shown all season. It was not a dominant victory by any means, but it was hard-fought and completely earned.
For what it’s worth, the Rose Bowl also set in motion a series of coaching changes that will hopefully lead to great results in the coming seasons. I don’t want to sit here and say that I will forever remember this game because it was the last one that Kerry Coombs, Al Washington, and others coached at OSU, but I do hope that we look back on it as the beginning of a new, even more successful chapter in Ohio State football history. The end of the season was a necessary evil, but ending it with a victory removes a little bit of the sting.
I’m optimistic that the Rose Bowl was the beginning of something special. The Buckeyes could have folded, and if they did, some would likely be asking questions about Ryan Day and/or the state of the program. But instead, I think we are collectively optimistic about the future. I hope that we will look back at the record-setting comeback as something that propelled this team to even great heights, and it is a game we should all remember for how special it really was.
Gene’s Take: 2015 Sugar Bowl
I’m willing to admit that I got the lucky draw here and won the battle for the rights to get the 2015 Sugar Bowl as my choice, as both Josh and I likely agree that this is our favorite Ohio Sate comeback of all time — or at the very least in recent memory. Not quite as big an underdog as Rich Strike, the Buckeyes were certainly not the favorite as they embarked into SEC territory to take on No. 1 seed Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff. While a few comebacks against Michigan and the 2019 B1G Championship also come to mind, this game takes the cake for a number of reasons.
Things started out okay for the Buckeyes but not great, as they got the ball inside the Alabama 5-yard line on their first offensive possession but were unable to finish the drive, settling for a 22-yard field goal. From there things got hairy, as an Ezekiel Elliott fumble led immediately to a 25-yard touchdown run for Derrick Henry as the Tide took the lead. Ohio State again got inside the five but had to settle for a field goal to make it 7-6, and Bama responded with another touchdown to extend their lead to 14-6. A Cardale Jones interception then led to an easy score for the Crimson Tide, and just like that Ohio State trailed 21-6 midway through the third quarter.
That is when things began to take a turn. A long 12-play, 71-yard drive on the Buckeyes’ ensuing possession resulted in an Elliott score as the deficit was cut to 21-13. After forcing an Alabama punt, Ohio State capped off their final drive of the half with a ridiculous trick play touchdown on a pass from Evan Spencer to Michael Thomas in the corner of the end zone. Thomas just barely got the foot inbounds, and all of the sudden the scarlet and grey were down by just one with all of the momentum heading into locker room at halftime.
Ohio State opened the second half with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Devin Smith, and just a few drives later defensive end Steve Miller picked off a pass from Blake Sims and returned 41 yards to the house for yet another Buckeye touchdown as the script had now fully been flipped, with OSU leading 34-21 near the end of the third quarter. Alabama would not got quietly into the night, however, as they responded with an 84-yard touchdown drive of their own to cut the Ohio State lead to just six points as we neared the start of the fourth quarter.
Both teams went quiet offensively for much of the final frame, but eventually the Buckeyes broke through with the most famous play of that crazy game. Ezekiel Elliott took the ball in the backfield and cut to the left, finding an extra burst of speed as he split the defense down the left sideline with nothing but green grass in site. 85 yards later, Elliott was in the end zone with what would prove to be the deciding touchdown as Ohio State now held a 42-28 lead with just over three minutes remaining. Bama would make one final push, scoring a touchdown to cut it to six yet again, but Sims was intercepted by Tyvis Powell on the final play of the night as the Buckeyes emerged victorious, 42-35, en route to what would become a National Championship at year’s end.
Ohio State at one point trailed 21-6 with not much going right, but things quickly turned around in that second quarter and the trick play at the end of the half set the tone for the rest of the game. The 2015 Sugar Bowl is one that im sure lives at or near the top of the list of favorite games for almost all of Buckeye Nation, especially since that game really felt like the national title as the harder game of the two between the Tide and Oregon, which Ohio State easily rolled in the actually title game. Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and the entire Buckeye defense put on a show in the heart of SEC territory against the kings of the conference, and it was truly a sight to behold.