NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As Alabama quarterback Blake Sims rolled to his right, he saw tight end O.J. Howard slip behind his defender and into the end zone.
Sims unloaded a pass meant to restore the Crimson Tide’s lead in the fourth quarter, but there wasn’t enough air under the ball.
Ohio State safety Vonn Bell snagged it just in front of the goal line for one of three interceptions Sims threw in the second half, and the Crimson Tide couldn’t recover during a 42-35 loss in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.
“It was all me. I take full responsibility for everything that happened tonight,” Sims said. “It was no other person’s fault but mine.”
That may be debatable, because Alabama’s defense struggled, too.
One thing that is certain is the Southeastern Conference will be without a team in the national championship game for the first time since the 2005 season, when Vince Young led Texas past Reggie Bush and Southern California.
Coach Nick Saban by no means had his most dominant team this season. Alabama survived several close calls to stay in contention for a fourth national title since 2009. There was a 14-13 victory over Arkansas, an overtime victory at LSU and a second-half comeback in the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
The defense looked vulnerable in a number of games, but Sims, leading a more explosive offense designed by new coordinator Lane Kiffin, usually did enough to outscore the opponent.
Not this time.
Sims’ first interception on a slant pass was returned 41 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Steve Miller, putting Alabama behind 34-21. The second, by Bell, came with Alabama down 34-28 and a little under 10 minutes to go.
The last came on Sims’ desperate heave to the end zone as time ran out. Tyvis Powell snagged that one and sprinted out of the end zone in a fit of excitement as several Alabama players sat on the field as if struggling to come to grips with the fact they would not be moving on to play Oregon in the national championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.
“It hurts a lot. Not for myself, but for my teammates,” Sims said. “I know how hard they work in practice. I know how hard they worked in the offseason. I went out there and had a game like I did. … Maybe if I would have played better, we would have had an opportunity to win.”
After the vaunted SEC West fell to 2-5 in bowl games, Saban called Ohio State “a very underrated team by everybody in terms of how people thought about them.”
Alabama’s defense, which gave up 456 yards passing two games ago against Auburn, also struggled against Ohio State’s 6-foot-5, 250-pound, dual-threat quarterback, Cardale Jones, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who finished with a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards rushing.
Jones, making only his second start following an injury to starter J.T. Barrett, tested Alabama with his strong arm, resulting in several long completions. Devin Smith caught a 47-yard touchdown pass in the second half, and his 40-yard reception in the first quarter set up a field goal. Jones finished with 243 yards passing.
“The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm. And they have some very talented receivers,” Saban said. “I really give their team a lot of credit. I give their coaching staff a lot of credit. They’re difficult to defend.”
Leading up to the game, Alabama defense end Jonathan Allen warned that Jones could be a matchup problem because he is also a good scrambler with the size to break tackles. Jones’ scrambles added up to 89 yards and resulted in several first downs, though he was credited with only 43 net yards rushing because of three sacks.
In the end, Saban didn’t seem all that stunned his team had lost, just sad to see its run end.
He thought this year’s squad had exceeded expectations.
“I was very proud of what they were able to accomplish and I was also apologetic to them as a coach and a coaching staff that didn’t do a better job of helping them be able to play their best in this game,” Saban said.
The coach said the Tide “had great team chemistry all year, worked so hard, had great senior leadership, you know, very little divisiveness and selfishness on this team, and this was a really fun team to coach and really wanted to see them do well.”
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