We were bound to get a nail-biter at least once this season.
The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes needed overtime to down the frisky No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday, but when it counted, the men of Scarlet and Gray showed just how much the difference in talent and coaching matters in college football.
Despite trailing most of the contest, Ohio State strung together a strong fourth quarter and a stellar overtime to put away their first top-10 opponent of the season. We are, as Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “trapped in the amber of chaos. There is no why.” Chaos was certainly the order of the day, from near-turnovers (Chris Worley’s Herculean effort against Corey Clement) to actual turnovers (J.T. Barrett in the rain dot gif) to a walk-off sack that called eerie echoes of 2014 to mind (we see you, Tyquan Lewis). And really, there was no definitive “why.” Was it the rain? The Camp Randall atmosphere? The tyranny of heightened expectations in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year?
Whatever the reason, Ohio State has looked kinda miserable the past two weeks, except when it hasn’t. And when it hasn’t, the casual Buckeye fans and the diehards alike have seen something beautiful, something worth talking and writing and reading about. Here we go:
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Jerome Baker, LB: A certain Ohio State sports blog predicted that Baker was going to have the game of his life against the Badgers, and boy did he deliver. The substitute outside linebacker—starter Dante Booker remained frustratingly sidelined for another week— showed up in a big way, recording eight solo tackles (in on 13 total) and 1.5 tackles for loss against a Badger offense that looked far pluckier than its 100th S&P+ ranking would suggest.
Baker has all the talent in the world, and even once Booker gets healthy, it’s hard to imagine him poaching too many snaps from Baker, who has put together a pair of stud performances against good Big Ten competition. His is a name you can expect to hear more and more often as this season enters its second half.
Jalyn Holmes, DE: Holmes’ stat line wasn’t the sexiest on the Buckeye defense against Wisconsin, but he was money when it counted. Holmes harangued Badger QB Alex Hornibrook throughout the second half, and got in on several gang tackles of rejuvenated senior RB Corey Clement.
Holmes doesn’t get the shine that a lot of the Buckeye defensive linemen do, but he’s one of the most athletic guys on the unit, and when they enter the vaunted “Rushmen” package, he’s especially apt to do damage. No. 11’s name was called often in this contest, and rightly so. His sack against Hornibrook was perfectly timed, and a symbol of just how much talent and depth this line has.
Noah Brown, WR: Noah, good to see you! After entering the national conversation with one of the season’s best individual performances—a 4 TD game in the defenestration of Oklahoma—Brown had pretty much gone radio silent since. Not so on Saturday.
Brown reeled in four catches against the Badgers, none more important than his overtime touchdown grab to give the Buckeyes the lead. They didn’t give it up. Brown’s form was superb, his athleticism beyond question, as he hauled in J.T. Barrett’s throw to put Ohio State ahead. As no less a luminary than than Skip Bayless said tonight, he’s got the skills to make an NFL team very happy someday.
Ohio State's Noah Brown is going to make an NFL team very happy.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) October 16, 2016
Nick Bosa, DE: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: a No. 97 named Bosa caused real problems for a quality opponent, particularly in overtime, when his penchant for getting to the quarterback effectively ended the game.
Of course, Bosa the younger had some help on the walk-off sack in the form of Tyquan Lewis, the veteran defensive end who’s quietly putting together a remarkable season. Bosa himself was a real disruptor, and while he only finished with two tackles, it seemed like he was everywhere for four quarters. The Badgers largely abandoned the power game for a much more effective series of sweeps incorporating WR Jazz Peavy, but when they did try to go between the tackles, Bosa was there to meet them.
Curtis Samuel, H-Back: Yawn. Another game, another 100-yard performance from Brooklyn’s Finest. After getting just nine touches against Indiana last week, Samuel was a much bigger factor in this Saturday’s game plan, getting 18 touches in what was otherwise an uninspiring offensive performance from the Buckeyes. They’re better when the ball is in his hands, period.
Tyler Durbin, K: The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is that you don’t miss kicks against a top-10 opponent, and our own Tyler Durbin certainly delivered on that promise against the Badgers. He finished the night three-for-three, hitting a season-long 40-yard try and keeping the Buckeyes’ scoring afloat while the offense was figuring out how best to attack such a quality opponent.
Gareon Conley, CB: Conley was credited with one interception and almost certainly had a second (more on the officiating in a minute), but in a season dominated by his fellows DBs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker, it was nice to see Conley out getting his own on the team’s biggest stage yet. His would-be second pick came late in the fourth quarter at an incredibly opportune time; even though it was eventually overturned, the Badgers had lost whatever it was they had before and ended up giving the ball back to the Buckeyes two plays later. The Badger offense found way more space than anyone would’ve wanted in this one, but Conley should get a lot of credit for stopping the bleeding.
It doesn't matter now, but that reversal was complete garbage. pic.twitter.com/YTWWe4RIk8— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 16, 2016
The passing attack: Granted, it was raining hard for a good chunk of this game, and far be it from the purview of a schlubby sports blogger to say what a quarterback should and shouldn’t do. But anyone with a pair of eyes watched a Buckeye offense on Saturday that looked painfully out of sorts for the first three quarters of the game, capped by a backbreaking interception in the end zone after J.T. Barrett missed a target so badly that it wasn’t immediately clear who he was throwing to.
Wisconsin boasts an incredible defensive unit, really the only reason why the Badgers have managed a top-10 ranking after this many weeks of play, and they’re disruptive powers were on full display against Ohio State. For the second straight week, the passing game has looked completely disjointed and unsure of itself. It’s a far cry from a few short weeks ago, when J.T. Barrett and Noah Brown were hooking up from varied downs and distances to dismantle the Oklahoma Sooners. The offense isn’t irreparably broken, but an attack predicated upon J.T. Barrett carrying ~45% of the team’s rushes isn’t one built to last.
SELL: Tonight’s officiating. Different week, same story. This go-round, the obvious deficiency was in the calls directed at both team’s offensive lines, who held so much that it felt like watching a phone call with your local Comcast rep. Conveniently, the referees decided to right this wrong in overtime, leading to more frustration and confusion while the Buckeye O-line played pretty much exactly as it had all game.
BUY: Off-ball discipline. That said...the Buckeyes finally seemed to figure out how not to get flagged in this one, getting called for just four penalties after a string of games with plenty of laundry on the field. So there’s that!