The Buckeyes roster got even thinner after one play.
Trey Sermon, the Oklahoma transfer who had emerged from the depth chart to rush for a school-record 331 yards in the Big Ten championship win over Northwestern, was driven to the turf after a short carry with a left shoulder injury and did not return.
That shifted an even greater burden onto Fields, who needed a painkilling injection to be able to play through a brutal hit — a helmet to the back ribs — in the semifinal win over Clemson. The injury turned Fields, a gifted physical runner, into a pocket passer, depriving the Buckeyes of another element of their attack.
“Nobody feels sorry for you, so you’ve just got to keep pushing forward,” Day said. “It’s kind of been the theme of the season.”
The Buckeyes, perhaps more than any other team in the country, were no strangers to disruptions. They had three games canceled, playing only eight games total, and Monday was the fourth consecutive game they had been missing at least a dozen players.
Ohio State hung with Alabama for a while — in part thanks to some munificence from the Crimson Tide. Jones fumbled at his own 19-yard line to set up one touchdown, Jordan Battle kept a drive alive with a helmet-to-helmet blow for which he was ejected and Patrick Surtain II dropped an interception in the end zone, which was followed by a field goal.
Eventually, though, Alabama’s offense simply overwhelmed Ohio State.
The Tide flashed every element of its arsenal — a bullish offensive line gave space to Harris, a 6-foot-2, 229-pound back with the feet of a ballerina, and time to Jones, who dissected the Ohio State defense like it was a biology lab frog. More often than not Jones, who threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns, put the ball in the hands of Smith, the sleek and slippery receiver with the Venus flytrap hands.
Making it all sing was offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the new coach at Texas who bamboozled an Ohio State defense that hoped to bend but not break, yet accomplished neither.