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Buckeyes deliver Alabama-style beating

NEW ORLEANS -- Never mind the score, Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal was an Alabama-style manhandling. Only this time, Alabama was on the receiving end of the beating.

Under Nick Saban, the top-ranked Crimson Tide simply doesn't lose games of this magnitude. But not only did No. 1 Alabama fall 42-35 to No. 4 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it surrendered an enormous yardage total (537 yards) and completely got away from the staples of Saban's best seasons in Tuscaloosa.

"It's not really about what you do most of the time, it's really more about how you do it," Saban said. "And they did a better job of executing what they do than what we did."

From an execution standpoint, this was nothing like what we've come to expect from Alabama, which won three BCS championships in Saban's first six seasons. And yet it is incorrect to attempt to apply previous templates to this Alabama team.

Under Lane Kiffin, Alabama's offense no longer runs to set up the pass. Quite the opposite. Although the run worked well at times Thursday -- for instance, Derrick Henry averaged 7.3 yards per carry but ran just 13 times -- Kiffin kept putting the ball in the air.

And yet out of all those Blake Sims passes, Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper -- who already held the SEC single-season receptions record with 115 entering the game -- didn't get his customary frequent touches. With Ohio State understandably shading its pass coverage his way, Cooper made only three receptions in the second half.

"Every time Blake looked at me, a safety would run full speed over there and got a little bit of double coverage," said Cooper, who finished with nine receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was frustrating, but at the same time, I expected it."

Although Alabama led 21-6 at one point in the first half, Ohio State's offense moved the ball effectively throughout. The Buckeyes settled for early field goals and turned the ball over in their own territory, paving the way for Alabama to claim the big lead.

Eventually, the Buckeyes' trips into Alabama territory yielded touchdowns, and they sprinkled in a couple of big-play scores, as well. Meanwhile, Alabama's offense bogged down, allowing Ohio State to mount a 28-0 run between the second and third quarters.

Alabama led 21-20 at halftime, but the yardage total told a completely different story. Ohio State outgained Alabama 348 yards to 139 in the first half, with that 209-yard differential representing the greatest disparity the Tide have ever faced in a first half under Saban.

Oddly enough, Auburn outgained Alabama by 200-plus yards in the first half just two games ago, but the Tide were able to rally and win that game 55-44. There would be no such comeback against Ohio State with the Buckeyes shutting down the staples of the Alabama offense.

"Their front did a really good job," Saban said. "We didn't handle them well in running the football like we thought we might be able to when we spread them out, and they did a good job on our perimeter screens and smokes. And we made the blocks, but they made the plays, and you've got to give their players a lot of credit for the way they executed."

Conversely, Sims was unable to bounce back the way he did against Auburn, when after tossing three interceptions he led the Tide's comeback bid. With Ohio State largely taking away Cooper, he struggled to keep drives alive. The Tide converted just twice in 13 attempts on third down -- and Sims even tossed a third-down interception that Steve Miler returned 41 yards for a touchdown that put Ohio State up 34-21 late in the third quarter.

He also threw an ugly pick on the first play after a horrendous Ohio State punt gave Alabama possession at the Buckeyes' 23-yard line in the fourth quarter.

Alabama's senior quarterback pointed the finger at himself after the game.

"We weren't having no problems. It was all on me," said Sims, who finished 22-for-36 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. "I take full responsibility for everything that happened tonight. It was no other person's fault but mine."

There was more than enough blame to go around, however.

Philosophically, this was not the ruthless Alabama machine Saban has built in his eight seasons in Tuscaloosa. Certainly, Ohio State deserves credit for taking away what Alabama has done well this season -- and in the recent past -- but Saban's staff will also face reasonable scrutiny over their decision-making when a victory was within grasp.

"I think that we're certainly capable of playing a little better than we played tonight," Saban said, "and I think everybody would say the same if you asked them that, from player to coach."