Like Ancient Rome's Pyrrhus, Ohio State won the battle, but may have lost the war. The joy of a third straight rivalry game victory was marred Saturday by the news that J.T. Barrett had gone down for the rest of the year with an ankle injury. Barrett shone for the Buckeyes in this game despite a slow start, making plays with his legs and protecting the football to keep Ohio State's offensive machine rolling.
Ohio State's playoff chances look pretty slim in light of Barrett going down. All of the calculations, all of the upset-rooting and rapt attention to rivalry week, seem mostly moot on this side of Saturday. But the show must go on, both in Columbus and on the pages of SB Nation's premiere undefeated-in-regular-season-conference-play blog. In that spirit, let's take a look at who's up and who's down after the 42-28 win.
Blue Chip Stocks:
J.T. Barrett, QB:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: The Buckeyes needed to reestablish the ground game after a decidedly mediocre showing against Indiana last week. Elliott gave them that spark. His most important run of the day came on a crucial 4th-and-1 after Barrett's injury, during which the Buckeyes opted for a shotgun read-option play. The man with the half shirt busted loose for 43 extra yards and cruised into the end zone. That run, accounting for 44 of Elliott's 121 yards, put Ohio State up by 14. They never looked back. Elliott tacked that score onto an earlier touchdown, making it two on the day.
Darron Lee, LB: The baddest man in the history of New Albany struck again on Saturday. Lee played a solid, consistent game, not getting lost in run coverage like many of his teammates appeared to in the first half. He also racked up a massive sack on Devin Gardner early in the game, to go with his second career scoop-and-score touchdown. Lee doesn't get a lot of hype, and hasn't even been playing linebacker for a particularly long time, but he has been one of the most reliable pieces on the Buckeye defense all season. It's going to be a treat watching him hold down an outside linebacker spot for the next three years.
Ohio State's Senior Class: In the class of 2014's last game in Columbus, they made their presence count. Guys like Steve Miller and Michael Bennett kept the aggressive Buckeye pass rush alive, while deep threat Devin Smith made a statement to NFL scouts with a 52-yard grab to put Ohio State in striking distance midway through the game. Jeff Heuerman was also held to one grab, but it was a thirteen-yarder that converted a third down for the Buckeyes. Much of the hype this season has been directed towards the youngest members of the team in 2014, but we have been so fortunate to have this group of guys providing veteran leadership and direction. Here's to you, seniors.
None: In a game like this, it's almost inevitable that one or two guys will stand out as goats. That wasn't really the case on Saturday. The Buckeyes didn't look great until the end of the first half, when J.T. Barrett busted out a couple of long runs to put Ohio State into the end zone, but it's hard to pinpoint a single player for more than the usual criticism. It certainly wouldn't apply to Joey Bosa, who had possibly his worst game as a Buckeye and still came up with two sacks and a forced fumble. Bosa committed several costly penalties on Saturday, but when someone makes as big of a splash as Bosa does, it's hard to ding him overmuch.
SELL: Ohio State's rush defense. This is starting to feel like a broken record, but Ohio State has a troubling tendency to let opposing rushers dominate in the early going. Melvin Gordon is coming next week, and he is going to cause some serious matchup problems for this Buckeye defense.Urban Meyer said coming into this game that tackling is something his guys need to work on, and he was proven right in the first half. And that was against a Michigan team that has struggled at times to run the ball this year. I shudder to think about what Gordon might do given the same opportunities. The Buckeyes let the Wolverines dominate the time of possession for much of the game, and had a hard time getting the necessary stops on third down against the run. Drake Johnson in particular ran like a man possessed -- his final yardage total, 74, isn't impressive in a vacuum, but he lowered his head and picked up an extra few yards on seemingly every attempt in the first half. Whether this is a schematic issue and the Buckeyes need to retool their approach to be less aggressive against the pass, or they just need to start standing guys up and making tackles, there is some serious work to be done before Wisconsin comes knocking.
SELL: Injuries. It seems cosmically unlikely that one team could lose two viable Heisman trophy candidate quarterbacks in one season, but that's where the Buckeyes stand after Saturday's win. There are some things beyond a team's control, and this is one that sucks especially hard given everything that's on the line. This team has fought back from an incredible amount of adversity and found ways to win in spite of it. There's a lot to be said for that. Here's hoping that J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller, Dontre Wilson, and all the other injured Buckeyes find their way to speedy recoveries and strong comebacks.
BUY: Ohio State's outside playoff chances. I am anything but rational, but indulge me, if you would, as I attempt to rationalize this claim. Caveats: We still have to beat Wisconsin, obviously, and the committee has indicated that it will pick "the best teams" over the most deserving teams. With Cardale Jones rather than J.T. Barrett at the helm, we probably don't look like one of the four best teams in the country. And yet.
Florida State won ugly again on Saturday, overcoming a four INT performance from Jameis Winston to beat the unranked Florida Gators by five. They have to face a Georgia Tech team next week that has been clawing its way up the rankings all season and upset No. 9 Georgia on Saturday. This will be the stiffest test faced by the Seminoles all season, and since they've looked decidedly lackluster, it's a good bet that a loss would dump them from the top four.
Fourth-ranked Mississippi State fell to rival Ole Miss on Saturday, which should hopefully help the Buckeyes inch into the fifth spot in the rankings. Ohio State was threatened by Baylor, but the Bears only squeaked out a two point victory against lowly Texas Tech and do not play in a conference championship game. Ditto for TCU, who hold the spot just ahead of Ohio State and boatraced Texas on Thursday night to keep their own playoff hopes alive.
It's a long shot, to be sure, but it's not impossible that the Buckeyes could slide into the picture as smoothly as Dontre Wilson slides into DMs. Fingers crossed, y'all.