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Ohio State announced about an hour before kickoff that 13 players would be unavailable for Monday’s national championship game against Alabama.
But the Buckeyes’ biggest loss came in the opening minutes of the game at Hard Rock Stadium. Running back Trey Sermon, who had accounted for 636 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Ohio State’s last three games, went to the locker room after Ohio State’s opening drive. By the second quarter, he was ruled out with a collarbone injury and was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. Sermon carried the ball once for 2 yards.
Sophomore Master Teague III took over the bulk of Ohio State’s running back duties in Sermon’s absence.
The full list of players announced as out pregame: cornerback Cam Brown, defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan, kicker Dominic DiMaccio, defensive tackle Ty Hamilton, wide receiver Jaylen Harris, kicker Blake Haubeil, offensive lineman Dawand Jones, linebacker Cade Kacherski, linebacker Mitchell Melton, defensive end Tyreke Smith, defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, safety Kourt Williams and running back Miyan Williams.
Togaiai, Smith, Haubeil and DiMaccio are the main four of note.
Togiai and Smith, both juniors, are pivotal pieces on Ohio State’s defensive line. The two have combined for 31 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in Ohio State’s first seven games.
Togiai leads the Buckeyes with three sacks and is tied for the team lead with 4.5 tackles for loss.
Haubeil, who announced on his Instagram account prior to the game that he had tested positive for COVID-19, has been Ohio State’s primary kicker this season, going 5-for-7 on field goal attempts and making all 24 of his PAT attempts. DiMaccio, a junior, has primarily been a kickoff specialist, handling 37 of the Buckeyes’ 55 kickoffs (Haubeil took the other 18).
Ohio State will now rely on freshman Jake Seibert for its placekicking and kickoff duties. He missed his lone field goal try of the year, a 44-yard attempt against Indiana, but is a perfect 13 for 13 on PAT attempts.
Reports surfaced early in the week about potential COVID-19 issues in the Ohio State program that led to discussions of postponing the title game until Jan. 18.
But worries quickly subsided and both teams passed their final round of COVID-19 testing on Friday before making their way to Miami.
Jaylen Waddle returns
All week, Alabama coach Nick Saban said wide receiver Jaylen Waddle would be a “game-time decision” for Monday’s title game.
ESPN’s Allison Williams reported about 20 minutes before kickoff that Waddle will play but the Crimson Tide will be selective on how they use him.
Waddle was on the field during pre-game warmups, stretching, running sprints and getting in some route work albeit with a noticeable limp. DeVonta Smith, John Metchie III and Slade Bolden were announced as Alabama’s expected starting wide receivers.
Jaylen Waddle lookin' good in warmups pic.twitter.com/q98HM4XEwA
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 12, 2021
“It’ll be on a limited basis, if he can play,” Saban said pre-game on ESPN’s College Game Day. “That decision is going to be up to him.”
Waddle returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since fracturing his right ankle on the opening kickoff of Alabama’s 48-17 win over Tennessee on Oct. 24. He hadn’t seen the field since.
In the four games prior to his injury, however, Waddle had 25 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns. That led the Crimson Tide, with eventual Heisman Trophy winner Smith sitting second at 483 yards on 38 catches a third of the way through their season.
On tap for ‘Bama: UM
Alabama’s next game to open the 2021 college season will be the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Sept. 4 against the University of Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide and Hurricanes have met 17 times since 1941, with Alabama winning 14 of those games. The last time the teams met was on Jan. 1, 1993 to end the 1992 season, when No. 1 Miami fell 34-23 to No. 2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for Miami’s lone loss. The victory secured the national championship for Alabama.
This and that
▪ Alabama safety Jordan Battle, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus, was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. The sophomore lowered his helmet to to drill Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert as he tried to make a cross over the middle with 6:13 left in the half. Flags immediately flew, and replay review upheld the 15-yard penalty and ejection.
▪ With his two catches for 31 yards on Alabama’s opening drive, Smith set the SEC record for career receiving yards. Smith had 3,781 yards at the conclusion of that drive (a 12-play, 78-yard drive capped by a 1-yard Najee Harris rushing touchdown), passing Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews career mark of 3,759 yards.
Later in the first half, Harris scored his second touchdown on a 26-yard pass from Mac Jones to give Alabama a 21-14 lead. It was the 29th touchdown of Harris’ season for the most in ‘Bama history.