ARLINGTON, Texas — Ohio State was without its top cornerback against Southern California in Friday’s Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward watches from the sideline during the first half of Friday's Cotton Bowl.
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Denzel Ward, a junior who is eligible to enter the NFL draft, did not warm up with the team before the game and did not play.
Ward is projected as one of the top cornerbacks in the 2018 draft, and he confirmed he will enter it with a year of eligibility remaining.
Ward played during all of Ohio State’s victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship earlier this month, and had started every game for the Buckeyes during the 2017 season.
An Ohio State spokesman confirmed Ward traveled to the Cotton Bowl and practiced all week, but decided before the game he would not play against USC.
Shortly before the game, Ward posted a statement on Twitter, saying, “This was a very difficult decision that I ultimately had to make. But at the end of the day I feel this is the best decision for my family and I.”
A number of projected high picks have skipped their bowl games during the past two seasons. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who also is likely to be selected in the first round of the draft, opted against playing for the Bruins in the Cactus Bowl.
Last season, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey both sat out of bowl games to preserve their draft status. Both players were selected in the top 10 in the draft.
Ward led the Buckeyes with 15 pass break-ups in 13 games, which was more than any two Buckeyes put together.
Go bucks! pic.twitter.com/DfBOKYQzhO— Denzel Ward (@Flash_Ward12) December 30, 2017
“Ward wrestled with the decision to play [or not] throughout the bowl prep practices, leaving open his decision until game day,” Ohio State said in a statement. “So he practiced, but he also helped the younger players in the program who were getting additional reps at cornerback this past month.
“The coaching staff was aware that Denzel’s decision to play or not play would not be made final until game day. He elected today to sit out.”
UP NEXT: With Ward not playing, fellow cornerback Kendall Sheffield earned a start, his third of the season. The redshirt sophomore did not wait long to make his presence felt.
On the Trojans’ third play from scrimmage, quarterback Sam Darnold found receiver Deontay Burnett for a first down, but Sheffield ripped the ball away and safety Damon Webb recovered. The OSU offense scored on the resulting drive for a 7-0 lead.
NEW RECORD: Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his own record with a first-quarter touchdown run. The 1-yard score was his 46th touchdown of the season, which is a new single-season record at OSU. Barrett previously set the record with 45 total touchdowns as a freshman in 2014.
TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA: Darnold’s 13th interception of the season proved to a costly one. Webb stepped in front of a slant route and picked off Darnold early in the second quarter, then turned the interception into a 23-yard touchdown return.
The interception was Webb’s fifth of the season, and OSU’s first interception returned for touchdown in 2017.
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