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J.T. Barrett, Ohio State flip script in second half to rally past Wisconsin

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It wasn’t pretty, but the Buckeyes adjusted at halftime and regained their mojo.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

REMAIN CALM!

ALL IS WELL!

Sounds about right, eh Kevin Bacon?

Ohio State spent much of Saturday evening bumping up the blood pressure and tightening the sphincters of their loyal followers, but nonetheless emerged victorious in Madison for their second straight road overtime triumph over the Badgers.

Let’s get straight to the rankings!

1. Joe Thomas Barrett

Things looked quite dicey for Barrett early, as his struggles from the Indiana game carried over into Saturday night. The redshirt junior was 2-of-6 for 21 yards through the Buckeyes’ first four drives, and was 6-of-14 for 81 yards at half. (A called QB draw on 3rd-and-11 late in the second quarter indicated that confidence in the passing game wasn’t exactly sky-high.) But as the spotlight on him grew as the game aged, Barrett took his game—cliche alert—to another level. And then another level. And then another level.

After an overthrow resulted in a Wisconsin interception in its own end zone on Ohio State’s first second half drive, Barrett directed two successive scoring marches in response, converting short TD runs to push the visitors ahead, 20-16. On the second score, Noah Brown—who Meyer entrusted to play big snaps as a freshman in 2014 because the dude was a punishing blocker—pushed his man into the press area adjacent to the end zone.

Barrett then damn near led Ohio State to what could have been the deciding TD in regulation, but he was tripped up by the slimmest of margins and the Buckeyes settled for a field goal. In overtime, Barrett and the offense overcame a false start and a holding penalty to score via a well-executed pitch-and-catch from Barrett to Brown, a touchdown that vaulted Barrett past Braxton Miller into sole possession of Ohio State’s career touchdown record. (Barrett and Brown also connected on what may have Barrett’s best toss of the year on 3rd-and-5 late in the third quarter when Barrett squeezed a 21-yard completion in to Brown around a trio of Badger defenders.)

Barrett’s final numbers: 17-of-29 for 226 yards through the air, plus a touchdown and a pick. He added 92 yards and two scores on 21 carries. It was an overall ‘gutsy’ performance reminiscent of his play late in the 2014 Penn State game.

2. Walk-off sacks

A little less than two years after Joey Bosa implanted Akeel Lynch into Christian Hackenberg and finished off Ohio State’s overtime victory at Penn State, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes & Co. polished off the Buckeyes’ win Saturday night by leveraging the Badgers’ offensive line into QB Alex Hornibrook.

3. The best acting like it

Urban Meyer owns the best winning percentage (85.1 percent entering Saturday) of any coach in the modern era of major college football. Following Saturday’s win, Meyer has his eighth streak of at least eight consecutive wins, and his Buckeyes have now won 20 straight true road games—shoutout to da ‘U’— since he became the program’s head honcho prior to the 2012 season. The man is a damn fine coach.

So when the opponent of a team coached by an individual who is going to go down as one of the game’s greats throughly manhandles and outsmarts Meyer’s team in the first two quarters of a football game, it’s news.

Wisconsin’s first half was a master class in what a good coaching staff and good play calling can do to erase a substantial talent deficit. Wisconsin’s skill guys ran over and around their more highly-recruited counterparts, and the Badgers’ pre-snap motion had the Silver Bullets scrambling in the first half. (Playing a night game at home in one of the game’s best environments doesn’t hurt, either.) Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst doubles as the team’s offensive play-caller, and quite frankly, he was Greg Schiano and Luke Fickell’s daddy in the first half, as the hosts outgained Ohio State 313-172 and were averaging over seven yards per carry.

But Meyer and his staff regrouped, and the Buckeyes responded in kind quickly, owning the third quarter by outgaining Wisconsin 118-11. Ohio State possessed the ball for nearly 10 minutes and converted a pair of fourth downs. Once The Talent figured out what The Grit was doing, the game flipped.

4. Gareon Conley’s almost-INT

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin
Gareon Conley’s spectacular interception probably should’ve counted. But whatever.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This incredible one-handed interception originally stalled Wisconsin as the Badgers were driving late in regulation for the potential winning score, as the play was ruled a clean pick on the field. The replays appeared to show that the ball avoided the ground and instead bounced off Conley and into his grasp. Somehow, the officials found evidence to overturn the call.

What?

The end result was the Badgers’ drive stalling out, so the Buckeyes, who were likely to sit on the ball anyway and play for OT, lost out on a little field position and a little time.

But still. Should’ve been ruled a pick.

5. Jazz Peavy

The Wisconsin wideout owns a top-notch name and was very effective on jet sweeps to boot.

6. Windmillin’ referees

Meyer certainly should’ve been more wary of where he was on the sideline, but I think he (and likely many others) underestimated the wingspan of the Windmillin’ Ref. Lesson learned.

7. Mother Nature

The second half was forecasted to be played in a biblical flood, but the only time the skies opened up was when Barrett lost his grip on the ball and his subsequent overthrow resulted in an end zone INT for Wisconsin. Not cool, Momma.