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Big Ten Championship Game Debriefing: What all did we learn from Ohio State’s win against Wisconsin

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A 27-21 win against the No. 4 team in the land was the Buckeyes’ last chance to state their playoff claim.

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After the first quarter, it felt like the Ohio State Buckeyes were well on their way to another beatdown of the Wisconsin Badgers a la 2014’s Big Ten Championship Game.

Then UW came back, and it seemed like the Badgers were somehow, someway, gonna steal this thing away from the Buckeyes in the closing minutes a la Michigan State in 2015.

Then Wiscy quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw the game-clinching interception to Damon Webb.

Just like that, order was restored in the Buckeye world.

Sure, this game might’ve raised your stress level, but the outcome (an Ohio State win) did its part in razing the Alabama Crimson Tide’s campaign of claiming the final playoff spot.

Let’s take a look at all the things we learned in the Scarlet and Gray’s second Big Ten Championship win in the Urban Meyer era.

Dobby is on the loose in Indy

Entering Saturday night, the Badger defense was leading the country in numerous categories, including total defense (236.9 yards per game [YPG]) and rush defense (80. 5 YPG). When Saturday night was all said and done, that defense was ripped to shreds by freshman sensation J.K. Dobbins.

Dobbins had, arguably, his greatest game in a Buckeye uniform. He ran for 174 yards on 17 carries, with two of those runs going for greater than 50 yards.

Here’s one of them:

That rush gashed the Badgers for 77 yards. On the next play after that monstrous carry, Barrett punched the ball in for a touchdown.

Additionally, there was a fourth-and-1 situation that led to an option play, with Dobbins getting the pitch from Barrett. Dobbins got the ball behind the line of scrimmage and was met by a Badger defender just short of the first down marker. However, he fought his way past the tackle, and fell forward just enough to get the fresh set of downs.

During the game, the La Grange, Texas native passed Maurice Clarett’s freshman rushing mark of 1,237 yards.

Because of Dobbins, the Buckeyes had chances to put points on the board. With his effective ground game, as well as his presence on the field, the passing game had a chance to develop, too.

It’s in the these situations (i.e. big games in November and December) that you find out who your big-time players are. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. On this fateful Saturday night in Indiana’s capital city, Dobbins proved that he’s the guy that can be the catalyst for the Buckeye offense.

The kicker is that he’s a freshman. Normally, or so it seems, it’s a junior or senior that comes up with the big plays. Earlier in the season, especially after the losses, the complaint was that Dobbins wasn’t getting the ball enough. It appears the coaching staff looked in the mirror and finally realized what they had, and utilized Dobbins—the right way—in the biggest game of the season.

He may have lost to Wisconsin’s running back Jonathan Taylor for conference freshman of the year honors, but at least Dobbins has the MVP award from the championship game.

J.T. Barrett is part man, part machine

In a way, it’s remarkable how J.T. Barrett was even able to play. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on Sunday, rehabbed throughout the week, and rushed the ball 19 times on Saturday night.

I’m beginning to the think that’s he’s part machine—something straight out of The Terminator. With help from Dobbins and the defense, they all effectively ended Wisconsin’s dream of going to their first College Football Playoff. (So I guess Barrett sorta is like The Terminator.)

On top of that, the Wichita Falls, Texas native’s latest victory now puts him atop another leaderboard in the Ohio State history books: most wins as QB. His 37th win now pushes Art Schlichter to second all-time.

It wasn’t his greatest performance, though. He went 12-of-26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. On his second throw, he connected with Terry McLaurin for one of the longest scores of the year from 84 yards out; on his third throw, he launched it right to Badger linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who returned the interception for a touchdown.

But, Barrett’s biggest contributions came on the ground. On four third down occasions, the three-time Buckeye captain scampered for first downs. On a fourth-and-1 scenario late in the game, he ran the ball up the middle on a Draw Play and seemed to be stopped at the line. However, he bounced around the pile of players, and fought for the yard—getting it by inches.

This was a combination of last year’s fourth-and-short run that moved the chains against Michigan in overtime and the Braxton Miller juke of Penn State defenders from 2012.

Between Barrett and Dobbins, they were the ones that put a dent in Wisconsin’s claim as being one of the most stingiest defenses in the country. However, you might have noticed that another Buckeye runner wasn’t prominently used.

Mike Weber has shown that he can break off runs, too. In the Big Ten Championship, Weber, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season as a freshman, had just four carries for six yards—with one of the carries being a fumble courtesy of a Van Ginkel strip.

Is the coaching staff resting Weber for the bowl game? Is he hurt? Only the staff knows. But it does raise the question for why they used Dobbins and Barrett for a majority of the rushes, when Weber is a viable candidate to get either power yards on short downs or breakaway rushes on a worn down defense. Surely the one turnover didn’t change his usage, considering Barrett threw two picks.

This brings us back to the main point: Barrett getting extensive playing time after having knee surgery six days prior. There were other options for Meyer and the offensive coaching staff to use (i.e. Dwayne Haskins at QB or Weber on more designed run plays) but they kept giving the plays to Barrett and Dobbins.

Fortunately, everything worked out and OSU got the win.

Schrödinger’s Badger

When breaking down Ohio State’s path to the playoff, I mentioned that there could be a debate about the legitimacy of how good this Wisconsin team really was. It’s basically Schrödinger’s Cat, but flipped into college football terms.

The theory goes like this: depending upon who the Badgers are facing, they are either an elite team from an elite conference, or an overrated team from an overrated conference. Throughout the course of the season, Paul Chryst’s team handily beat Michigan and Iowa, but had narrower wins versus Northwestern and Purdue. (You can also throw in a first half scare from Illinois, too.)

As the latest playoff rankings came out, the Badgers, who entered Championship Weekend as the lone unbeaten from a Power 5 conference, clung onto the final spot. There seemed to be some sort of feeling from the committee that Wiscy wasn’t legit.

If you watched just the first quarter from Saturday’s game, you might’ve thought OSU was going to cruise to another blowout win over the Badgers. In their biggest test of the season, Chryst’s team was exposed. The UW defense gave up 449 total yards, with over 200 in both the rushing and passing categories. Four plays from the Bucks went for at least 50 yards, while the Badgers only had one play that went for more than 30 yards.

Eighteen of Wisconsin’s points came off turnovers. Two of the turnovers happened deep in Ohio State’s own territory, meaning that UW was practically gifted points. With the kind of numbers Meyer’s offense was putting up, this game—at least on paper—should’ve been a blowout.

Offensively, the Badgers seemed lost at times. On one play, Hornibrook was forced out of the pocket, only to find out that none of his receivers made an attempt to break away from their respective defender; they literally just stopped running. Hornibrook ended up eating the play for sack. Other times, pressure led to bad throws, and receivers missed wide open catches. Especially when the Badgers tried to make a rally, missed chances seemed to define the Madison, Wisc., program.

I have subscribed to the theory that Wisconsin is a good team; all the accolades, and billings atop multiple defensive categories are warranted for their body of work. They just ran into an Ohio State team that was out to prove that they were the best in the Big Ten. The fact that Wisconsin battled back, and had a chance to win the game, shows that they can stick with the best of them.

You take the game...no, you take the game...no, you take it...

Another reason why Wisconsin was in the game was due to Ohio State penalties. Even though the Buckeyes only had five infractions, they seemed to come at the most inopportune time.

In the waning minutes of the third quarter, a holding call deep in OSU territory on offensive lineman Jamarco Jones put the Bucks in a jam, eventually leading to a three-and-out. Wisconsin took advantage of the field position, and was able to connect on a field goal. Early in the fourth quarter, a roughing the passer call on defensive tackle Robert Landers put the Badgers in position to get a touchdown. A handful of plays later, they did just that.

If Ohio State either scored or stopped Wisconsin on those two drives, they would’ve had the game sealed up.

On the other side, the Badgers dug themselves into a hole with one bad penalty after another. They only had six flags against them, but they were of the “what are you doing” and “c’mon man” variety.

Inside the OSU red zone, a false start basically took a touchdown off the board, and replaced it with a field goal. A few drives later, cornerback Nick Nelson dropped a would-be interception on an Ohio State third-and-6, but committed a double-whammy by being flagged for defensive holding. That penalty gave Barrett and the offense a fresh set of downs—which ultimately led to a field goal attempt.

Then in the fourth frame, a facemask call on redshirt-freshman cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams gave the Buckeyes an additional 15 yards on a third down. This led to three points being added to the board.

Combine the series of unfortunate penalties with the turnovers from either team, and you have a recipe for gifting the game to the opposition...

Minutes to midnight, and arriving as one of the belles of the ball?

But through all of that (the turnovers, the penalties, Barrett and Dobbins balling out when the lights shined brightest) the Buckeyes made a claim that they are one of the best teams in college football.

When the last piece of confetti fell inside Lucas Oil Stadium, one thing could be said: Ohio State claimed the title of Big Ten Champion. They may have fallen out of the playoff picture after the Iowa loss, but at the eleventh hour, they came riding back up into the conversation.

It helped that No. 2 Auburn stumbled in their rematch with Georgia, and that No. 3 Oklahoma rolled their way out of Arlington, Texas with a Big 12 Championship.

No matter how this thing shakes out, the Buckeyes have rebounded well from both setbacks on the season. After the Oklahoma loss in Columbus, they went on a terror against six teams—including a huge come from behind win against then-No. 2 Penn State. When Iowa derailed the Buckeyes’ playoff wagon, they found a way back onto the path.

On an edition of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, Nick Saban was on the phone stating his case for why the Tide should be in the playoff. Literally around midnight, the lobbying, at least to sway the court of public opinion, was happening.

Ironically, the Big Ten Championship Game ended at exactly midnight. Does Ohio State’s playoff slipper still fit? We’ll find out soon enough.