A banged-up Ohio State team needed a lot of things to fall their way Saturday night to make their playoff dreams a reality. A Florida State loss and a Buckeye win would likely have been enough to send Ohio State through to the final four and a playoff berth. The Seminoles, for the first time all year, got the job done in solid fashion against a quality opponent, which certainly doesn't help out the Buckeyes. Nor does Baylor's victory over a top-10 Kansas State squad. There's nothing much to be done about that.
But there's a lot of good to take away from this victory, regardless of what it means for the big picture. The Buckeyes led by an astonishing 38-0 margin at halftime, and the throat-stepping continued from there. This was the definition of a statement win for a team desperately short on signature victories, especially on the big stage. Ohio State did everything imaginable to bring home Urban Meyer's first Big Ten Championship. From the offense to the defense to the goddang punt team, there wasn't a weak link to be found in Indianapolis on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes went relatively quiet in the third quarter, only adding 7 points on Devin Smith's third touchdown of the evening. The defense stayed hot, holding the Badgers scoreless again in the third, and making big plays when it mattered to keep Melvin Gordon and the Badger offense contained. Doran Grant snagged a telegraphed Joel Stave throw for the defense's second interception of the evening to end the penultimate quarter of play.
The Buckeyes added a Curtis Samuel touchdown in the 4th to get over 50 points for the umpteenth time this year. Doran Grant kept the shutout alive with a goal line interception with seven minutes to play, and the Buckeyes walked away comfortable in their impressive margin of victory.
3 things we learned:
1. The Buckeyes are the most resilient team in college football. Period. One possible Heisman candidate goes out with a season-ending injury? No problem. Two possible Heisman candidates go down for the season, something that's probably never happened before? This team takes it in stride. Couple these injuries with the tragic death of lineman Kosta Karageorge, and it becomes clear just how much this team has overcome.
Cardale Jones wasn't J.T. Barrett on Saturday night, but he was more than good enough. Jones made a statement with two long first-half touchdown throws to Devin Smith, the second of which was as nice of a pass as anyone in college football can make. Jones had his shaky moments, no doubt, but in the end he showed that he's deserving of all the praise that Urban Meyer and his teammates have given him in the last 7 days.
2. Ezekiel Elliott is really, really good. The electric sophomore has looked good all season, and possibly hasn't looked any better than he did tonight. Elliott's 81-yard scamper with 4 minutes to play in the first quarter brought the Buckeyes out to a 14-0 lead. Elliott dropped a third down pass with only daylight between himself and the endzone, resulting in the Buckeyes having to kick a field goal instead. No matter. Two possessions later, Elliott found paydirt from 14 yards out, untouched as he strolled in for 6. Wisconsin was supposed to have the better rushing attack in this matchup. That, uh, wasn't the case. Elliott finished with 220 yards on 20 carries, running like a madman on an excellent Wisconsin defense.
3.Ohio State's defense is the real deal. Wisconsin's first 5 possessions resulted in 4 punts and an interception. That's hardly the story we were told coming into this one. Everyone, fallible LGHL staffers included, predicted a massive day for Melvin Gordon against the shaky Buckeye run defense. Whoops! Ohio State rode herd on Gordon and Joel Stave for the whole game, smothering everything that the Badgers threw (err, ran) at them. Wisconsin is a relatively one-dimensional team, allowing the Buckeyes to pretty much sell out against the run, but this was a far more difficult test than they passed against Minnesota or Indiana. In perhaps their toughest matchup, the Buckeyes played their best football of 2014, driven by the defense's resounding defeat of the Badger offense's attack.