Ohio State capitalizes on USC turnovers to win Cotton Bowl

Ohio State safety Damon Webb (7) runs an interception in for a touchdown in front of cornerback Kendall Sheffield (8) during the first half of the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Southern California in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

If you watched the first half of the Cotton Bowl you saw all you needed to see Friday night.

Ohio State took advantage of USC’s turnovers in the first half to jump out to a 24-7 halftime lead and coasted through a boring second half to win by the same score.

USC started the game with the ball and fumbled on the third play of the game. Wide receiver Deontay Burnett coughed the ball up after a completion from quarterback Sam Darnold.

Five plays later, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was in the end zone.

OSU kicked a field goal to make it 10-0 and Darnold threw a brutal interception on the Trojans’ first offensive play after the kick. It was returned 23 yards by cornerback Damon Webb for the score and a 17-0 lead.

USC drove to the Ohio State 23 midway through the second quarter, but Darnold fumbled. After a long pass play and a USC penalty, Barrett scored on the second play of the Buckeyes’ drive and gave OSU a 24-0 lead.

The game, a matchup of the two Power Five conference champions that didn’t make the College Football Playoff, did not live up to any prizefight billing. After Ohio State led by three scores at halftime, you were better served doing tasks around your house, hitting the local watering hole or going to sleep rather than watching the entire second half. Ohio State seemingly had no interest in increasing its lead and USC seemingly had no ability in making the game close.

While Ohio State’s offense was, on the whole, entirely uninspiring, Barrett did make himself the most prolific player in Big Ten history during the second half. The senior surpassed former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees for the most total yardage by any player in Big Ten history.

Darnold, meanwhile, was plagued by turnovers. He fumbled twice to go along with that interception and continued a 2017 theme. While he makes incredible throws that few quarterbacks can make, he’s also shown a propensity to make mistakes few quarterbacks should ever make.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t note how overmatched USC’s offensive line was against the Ohio State defensive line Friday night. Darnold was overwhelmed by Buckeye defenders at times.

But the performance of USC’s offensive line aside, it was a game that didn’t scream “No. 1 pick” for Darnold. While he’s eligible to come out for the 2018 NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, the loss could serve as strong evidence he’ll be back for a fourth season with the Trojans.

Barrett is done for sure. He finishes his career as the only OSU QB to start four games against Michigan and win all four of them and has a national title to his name, though he missed the final three games of that season thanks to a broken ankle. He ended Saturday night 11-17 passing for 114 yards and had 16 carries for 66 yards.

Ohio State finishes the season with a 12-2 record and will probably end up somewhere in the top five of the final Associated Press poll depending on how the College Football Playoff semifinals shake out.

USC will end the season at 11-3 and the Trojans’ loss continues an abysmal bowl season for the Pac-12. With just Washington to go in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, the Pac-12’s only bowl win is courtesy of Utah in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Stanford, Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon have all lost their games.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!