PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - Urban Meyer says he decided to end his remarkable coaching career at Ohio State partly because of the stress inherent in this high-intensity job.
After his Buckeyes blew most of a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter and had to recover a last-minute onside kick to win the Rose Bowl, anybody could understand why this 54-year-old coach can’t wait to retire.
But the stress is over. Meyer is going out at the top of his profession. And for the first time, he is a Rose Bowl champion.
Dwayne Haskins passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and Meyer headed into retirement with a 28-23 victory after the fifth-ranked Buckeyes held off No. 9 Washington’s thrilling comeback in the 105th Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
After the confetti flew in the north end zone, the Buckeyes gathered around Meyer for one last celebration of their coach. He is walking away after going 83-9 at Ohio State with one national championship, three Big Ten titles and this Rose Bowl victory, the Buckeyes’ eighth overall in the Granddaddy of Them All.
“I’m a very blessed man,” Meyer said. “I’m blessed because of my family, (but) this team, this year, I love this group as much as any I’ve ever had.”
Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Rashod Berry caught TD passes in the first half for the Buckeyes (13-1), who took a 28-3 lead into the fourth and seemed to be cruising to a blowout.
But star running back Myles Gaskin threw a touchdown pass and rushed for two more scores for the Huskies (10-4), scoring from 2 yards out with 42 seconds left.
The Huskies got no closer, however. Defensive player of the game Brendon White intercepted Jake Browning’s pass on the 2-point conversion attempt, and Dixon recovered Washington’s onside kick.
“We’re going down as one of three teams in Ohio State history to win 13 games,” Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young said. “Legendary team. Legendary coach. We’re all legendary right now.”
Meyer cited his health last month in his decision to step down. A cyst in Meyer’s brain causes severe headaches that are even worse for a man who says he gets not just nervous, but “deathly ill” before big games.
Meyer largely refused to reflect publicly on his career during the month since he announced his plans. After he shook Washington coach Chris Petersen’s hand, raised the trophy and walked off the Rose Bowl turf, Meyer finally thought about the journey that brought him back to his home state for a stellar seven-year tenure capped by this late-breaking thriller.
“Every week, every yard, every down, when we recruited these players, I just wanted to make sure that we made the great state of Ohio proud,” Meyer said. “And once again, we weren’t perfect, but we did a lot of good things.”
Browning passed for 313 yards and Gaskin rushed for 121 in the final game of the four-year starters’ landmark careers at Washington, which has lost three straight New Year’s Six bowl games.
But after three poor offensive quarters, the Pac-12 champions made it awfully interesting late. The Huskies racked up 170 yards of offense while making three strong drives in the fourth, but they had fallen too far behind in their first Rose Bowl game appearance in 18 years.
“It was too little, too late, but we’re always going to keep swinging,” Browning said. “That’s how we are as a team. We’re never out of it.”
No. 14 Texas 28, No. 6 Georgia 21
In New Orleans, Sam Ehlinger ran for three touchdowns, the Texas defense largely held Georgia’s offense in check, and the Longhorns earned their first 10-win season since 2009 by beating the Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl.
Ehlinger was the star of a gritty win, running for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter, a 9-yard score in the second, and a 1-yard TD in the fourth. The 191-cm, 104-kg sophomore finished with 64 yards rushing on 21 carries and also threw for 169 yards.
No. 11 LSU 40, No. 7 UCF 32
In Glendale, Arizona, Joe Burrow shook off a vicious early hit to throw for 394 yards and four touchdowns, helping LSU end Central Florida’s 25-game winning streak in the Fiesta Bowl.
LSU (10-3) started its first Fiesta Bowl without several key players on defense and fell into an early 11-point hole against the high-scoring Knights (12-1).
The Tigers clawed back behind Burrow and a defensive front that made life difficult for UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr.
Burrow was slow getting up after being blindsided by 142-kg defensive lineman Joey Connors on an interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
LSU’s junior quarterback returned to the game and picked apart UCF’s secondary, hitting 21 of 34 of passes, including two touchdowns to Justin Jefferson.
The LSU defense sacked Mack five times and made him rush numerous throws, managing to hold the nation’s third-best offense to just 250 total yards — 295 below its average — while spoiling the Knights’ bid for a second-straight self-proclaimed national title.
Iowa 27, No. 18 Mississippi State 22
In Tampa, Florida, safety Jake Gervase made an interception in the end zone to help preserve a late lead, and ball-hawking Iowa Hawkeyes beat Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.
Gervase also batted down an errant fourth-down pass to end the Bulldogs’ final drive at the Iowa 32 with 25 seconds left. Two earlier Mississippi State threats in the fourth quarter led to only three points.
The Hawkeyes totaled just 199 yards, with 75 coming on a touchdown pass from Nathan Stanley to Nick Easley, but they converted three takeaways into 17 points.
Stanley threw for 214 yards and three scores. The Hawkeyes won despite netting minus 15 yards rushing, and their three running backs totaled 4 yards in 15 carries.
Iowa (9-4) earned its biggest postseason victory since an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech to cap the 2009 season.
Mississippi State (8-5) lost to a team outside the top 15 for the first time.
No. 16 Kentucky 27, No. 13 Penn St. 24
In Orlando, Florida, Benny Snell Jr. ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns to become Kentucky’s career rushing leader and help the Wildcats wrap up their best season in more than four decades with a victory over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
Snell scored on runs of 2 and 12 yards in the second half, then carried for a couple of crucial first downs to help Kentucky (10-3) run out the clock after Trace McSorley of Penn State (9-4) trimmed a 27-7 deficit to three points despite playing with a foot injury.
McSorley threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns, and the Nittany Lions’ career passing and wins leader also rushed for a team-high 75 yards on 19 attempts.
Lynn Bowden Jr. scored on a 58-yard punt return for Kentucky, and Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year Josh Allen had three of the Wildcats’ six sacks.
Kentucky finished with its first 10-win season since 1977.