If someone had told you before the Big Ten Championship Game that Wisconsin's vaunted defense was going to force three turnovers, block a field goal, limit J.T. Barrett to less than a 50 percent completion rate, and hold Ohio State to a six-point second half, what odds would you have given the Buckeyes of taking home the trophy? 20%? 10?
What that same psychic didn't tell you was that, despite a few miscues, Ohio State's defense was going to look as good as advertised. Or that in the absence of any kind of running ability from the injured Barrett, J.K. Dobbins was going to put together arguably the best game of his young career.
It was far from pretty; it was hardly comfortable. But none of that matters now. What matters is that Ohio State has beaten Wisconsin to claim their first Big Ten crown since 2014, and all there's left to do is wait to see whether it's the Buckeyes or the Alabama Crimson Tide who claim the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff.
Blue chip stocks
J.K. Dobbins, RB: Jonathan who? J.K. Dobbins put on an absolute clinic on Saturday evening, roasting the country's best defense for 174 yards on 17 carries and coming thiiiis close to finding paydirt on two long runs.
But perhaps just as impressive as Dobbins' 77-yard scamper down to the one yard line was a carry of a single yard that he picked up in the second quarter. With two defenders collapsing on him on 4th-and-1, Dobbins somehow kept his legs moving for second and third efforts to get the ball past the sticks and keep Ohio State's drive alive. Whatever happens next, we're grateful that Dobbins will be there to help shoulder the load.
Denzel Ward, DB: It feels like a pretty safe bet that Denzel Ward won't be on Alex Hornibrook's Christmas card list this year. Ward was easily Ohio State's best defensive back on Saturday night, making play after play to stick Wisconsin receivers, reel in an INT, or bat the ball away entirely. The Buckeyes held Hornibrook to a 48 percent completion rate; Ward was one of the chief reasons why the Badger QB had such a difficult time getting his offense going.
Nick Bosa, DE: Speaking of people who Hornibrook might not care for: Nick Bosa more than lived up to the name on the back of his jersey against the Badgers, helping terrorize the Wisconsin offensive line and forcing Hornibrook into some bad throws. His supporting cast on the D-line and in the linebacking corps deserve tons of credit, but Bosa stuffed the highlight reel.
J.T. Barrett, QB: All sorts of platitudes about capital-t Toughness get thrown around when you watch football, but Barrett deserves them all. To come back from minor knee surgery in six days to lead your team to a conference championship and become the winningest quarterback in school history to boot is the stuff of legends.
Barrett's day wasn't perfect; the two turnovers he was responsible for gave the Badgers the lion's share of their points. But he did enough to get the Buckeyes the win, not least of which—again, on a just-surgically-repaired knee—was a tremendous fourth-down push for a conversion. And hey, running for 60 yards when you can't cut is really something.
Jerome Baker, LB: He's baaaaaack. Baker, who was one of the standouts on this defense last year, is part of a linebacking corps that's been a quiet disappointment during stretches in the season's second half. Not so on Saturday night. Baker stayed at home (proverbially), made smart reads, and was a key factor in limiting Jonathan Taylor to just 41 rush yards and a 2.7 yard per carry average. His patient, dogged pursuit to sack Hornibrook and snuff out a Badger drive in the third quarter was also a thing of beauty.
The Lucas Oil Stadium turf. We all know that the NFL franchise residing in Indianapolis is in a tailspin, but dang, can they at least take care of their field? An end zone turf issue stopped game play for upwards of 10 minutes, which was frustrating. But it did #bless us with the game's real MVP, Turf Guy (he's married, sorry y'all):
Bold move by the Big Ten to do the Dr. Pepper agricultural tuition challenge in the middle of the fourth quarter pic.twitter.com/fjPaA2ROj1— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) December 3, 2017
SELL: The late-game 4th down call. Up three with five minutes to play, Urban Meyer opted for a field goal to stretch Ohio State's lead to six. The problem is that he did it from the Wisconsin 4-yard line needing just one yard to convert. If you go for it and convert, the game is over; you're inches from the goal line and have four more downs to try to go up two scores. You fall short and you get to lean on your world-wrecking defense to prevent the other team from going 96 yards to win. It felt like a panicky, conservative move that wasn't justified by the down-and-distance conditions or the Buckeyes' field position.
SELL: J.T. Barrett running on one leg. At the risk of being #MadOnline after a conference championship win...what in the world was the Buckeye staff doing giving J.T. Barrett 19 carries, a career high? If you've read this far, watched the game, or have a phone, you're aware by now that Barrett HAD KNEE SURGERY SIX DAYS BEFORE THE GAME. That seems borderline unconscionable.
BUY: Ohio State's playoff chances. Bring on the Bulldogs! Bring on Oklahoma! I want Holyfield! I WANT HOLYFIELD!