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Ohio State dominates USC in Cotton

ARLINGTON, Texas — Playoff-snubbed Ohio State got to raise another trophy in the building where the Buckeyes won a national championship.

While the streaming confetti this time was for a Cotton Bowl victory instead of a title celebration like three seasons ago, coach Urban Meyer still got a special feeling from the fifth-ranked Buckeyes' defensively dominant 24-7 win over No. 8 Southern California.

"The mindset was obvious. We wanted to go down as one of the great teams at Ohio State, Big Ten champions, obviously a top five finish," said Meyer, 73-8 in six seasons at Columbus. "This will go down as one of the best teams I've ever coached and one of the best groups of young people I've ever been around."

With Buckeyes All-America junior cornerback Denzel Ward sitting out after deciding to go into the NFL draft, fellow defensive back Damon Webb returned an interception for a touchdown after recovering a fumble to set up an early score.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 champions would usually play New Year's Day in Pasadena instead of deep in the heart of Texas, but the Rose Bowl is a College Football Playoff semifinal game this season.

Ohio State (12-2) instead quickly settled in at the NFL stadium where it won the first national championship in the four-team CFP format. The Buckeyes — with that bad loss at Iowa after an early setback to playoff team Oklahoma — were the first team left out this season.

USC (11-3), the Rose Bowl champion last season, lost for only the third time in its last 23 games. The Trojans had four turnovers that led to 21 Ohio State points in what could have been third-year sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold's final game.

"We kind of shot ourselves in the football in this game," USC coach Clay Helton said. "You're putting a hurt on your defense, and it led to points early in the game, and separation early in the game."

Ward was on the sideline in his No. 12 jersey over street clothes while Webb had a fumble recovery on the third play of the game. That led to J.T. Barrett's 1-yard keeper for a score that put the Buckeyes ahead to stay.

Webb's 23-yard interception return for a TD put Ohio State up 17-0 less than a minute into the second quarter. It was the first pick-six this season for the Buckeyes, and the team-leading fifth interception for Webb.

Ohio State was up 24-0 when Barrett ran 28 yards for another touchdown after the first of Darnold's two fumbles when stripped while being sacked. Darnold was sacked eight times overall.

"The strip fumbles, when I'm in the pocket, those are though," Darnold said.

"That defensive line took a quarterback that we have a tremendous amount of respect for and he didn't set his feet all night," Meyer said. "That's the way we won that game."

Ohio State safety Damon Webb (7) intercepts a pass in front of Southern California wide receiver Deontay Burnett (80) during the first half. Webb returned the interception for a touchdown. [LM OTERO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]