It was a rollercoaster of a season, but when the dust and confetti finally settled, the Ohio State Buckeyes emerged as Big Ten Champions. With back-to-back trips to Indianapolis ending in conference titles for Urban Meyer’s crew, the same question remains this time around as last year: was it enough to punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff?
Noon Sunday is when we’ll find that out, but let’s not focus on that right now; let’s focus on what this game showed us. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins played one of his finest games of the season. He threw for 499 yards (!) and five touchdowns on, arguably, the biggest stage that he’s been on all season. Like Cardale Jones before him, Haskins cemented himself in Buckeye — and Big Ten Championship — lore with his performance.
There’s quite a bit to unpack from the win at Lucas Oil Stadium, so let’s take a look at five things we learned.
The Dwayne Train has left Indianapolis for New York
As mentioned before, this was about as good of an individual outcome as Haskins could’ve imagined. The signal-caller has come close this season to the mystical 500-yard passing plateau, and was only one yard off against Northwestern.
With the eyes of the college football world watching, Haskins was throwing dimes. Johnnie Dixon, Chris Olave, J.K. Dobbins and Terry McLaurin all caught touchdowns, with some of them being absolute on-the-money throws.
Chris Olave has quickly become a Dude™️ pic.twitter.com/0fFep4i5dd— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) December 2, 2018
If there were any people doubting that Haskins is a Heisman contender, he put that to rest against Northwestern. A career night, one in which he passed Denard Robinson for most yards ever in a season by a Big Ten player, cemented himself not only into Buckeye history. Unfortunately for the Ohio State star, two other QBs are front-running the Heisman talk after championship weekend.
Kyler Murray had another big day for the Oklahoma Sooners, throwing for 379 yards and a trio of touchdowns in a Big 12 Championship win over Texas. Tua Tagovailoa, largely considered the Heisman favorite, got injured in the SEC Championship win. But more importantly, he appeared mortal; Tagovailoa had gone virtually the whole season turning stout defenses into Swiss cheese. The Bulldogs forced two interceptions from Tua, and for 59 minutes, had the Crimson Tide on the ropes.
The Dwayne experience has brought the most electrifying passing game in Ohio State history. But it comes in a season where both Oklahoma and Alabama have dominated the highlight reels with QB play of their own. While he may not win the coveted trophy, Haskins should at least make the trip to New York City for the Heisman presentation.
A glimpse into the future
Last week, I mentioned how Chris Olave had arrived on the scene, and was blossoming in front of our eyes. He had a two touchdown day against Michigan, and blocked a punt that changed the dynamic of the game.
Against the Northwestern Wildcats, he put up one of his best statistical games since arriving in Columbus. Haskins targeted the San Diego native five times, and each time Olave came down with the catch. Those five receptions totaled 79 yards and a score. That touchdown was an important one, too, as it helped push the Buckeyes up by 10 points in the final minutes of the third quarter.
With a receiving unit that will be, for the most part, leaving at the end of the season due to graduation and the NFL Draft, Olave will only see his role increase next season. If he’s able to do what he has in the latter half of this season, he’ll emerge as a star in 2019.
Defensively, Chase Young entered the season with huge potential. When Nick Bosa was on the line, the duo was an unstoppable force. Since Bosa’s absence and subsequent departure, Dre’Mont Jones and Young became the leaders on the line of scrimmage. On Saturday night, both Jones and Young carried the D-line, combining for four sacks. Young had three of them, and also forced a fumble from NU quarterback Clayton Thorson. Jones is absolutely going to declare for the draft, so the responsibilities on the defensive line will fall on the shoulders of Young next year.
Staying on the defense, Shaun Wade also showed his game-breaking ability in the Big Ten Championship. He only tallied three tackles in the win, but his second quarter interception nearly wiped out the momentum that the Wildcats were building, and kept the Buckeyes in the lead.
2014: Devin Smith catching jump balls in this endzone— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) December 2, 2018
2018: Shaun Wade picking them off pic.twitter.com/38027TrRiC
There’s still football to be played before the 2018-19 campaign comes to a close, but these three proved once again that they’ll be the ones leading the way next season.
Regression to the mean
Ohio State needed a blowout win to show the playoff committee that they mean business. Like the 2014 season, which included a remarkable 59-0 annihilation of Wisconsin, the Bucks needed something similar to that against Northwestern.
That didn’t happen. Worse yet, we saw a regression to the mean. While the defense only surrendered 418 yards of offense, 77 of it came on a single rush from John Moten IV. That first quarter score tied things up at 7-7, and gave the Wildcats hope of not getting run out of Indianapolis. Even though Ohio State led 24-7 at the intermission, they never really did pull away from Northwestern, who had four losses to their name.
In the second half, NU made a comeback; they got within three points of the Buckeyes (24-21) midway through the third quarter, and had chances to take the lead. While that didn’t happen — and OSU pulled away in the early stages of the fourth quarter — the same questions that popped up sporadically throughout the season showed up again: what OSU team, specifically, the defense, was going to show up in any given game?
Even though the offense cooked and the defense held Northwestern to 24 points, it wasn’t the cleanest game that OSU has — and they needed the cleanest game to help their playoff chances. Ohio State only committed two turnovers, but both occurred on drives that were moving deep into NU territory. That wiped a potential 14 points off of the board, which would’ve helped the Buckeyes put together a “statement” win on championship weekend.
Speaking of mistake free football, that brings me to our next point...
What’s a game without penalties
At this point, I’ve become numb to the fact that OSU just collects penalties at will. Drives that show signs of life come to a crashing halt as a senseless penalty gets committed. This, once again, happened in Indianapolis.
Isaiah Prince had a personal foul in the first quarter on a play that otherwise picked up 27 yards. He pancaked a defender, but instead of moving on down the field, he went and tackled the guy again — who was already on the ground. There was no need for that, and the referee obviously agreed; the play was developing nowhere near the spot of the foul, but those senseless penalties have become the norm.
The Buckeye offense had five penalties accepted, and four accepted on defense. In total, that’s 90 yards worth of infractions — not good when you’re trying to show the committee that you’re playoff worthy.
On defense, pass interference and a personal foul (block below the waste) were the big-ticket penalties on the evening. Those, unfortunately, have just become an expected reality of what OSU does each game.
So, what’s the verdict?
Worst-case scenario, the Buckeyes are headed to the Rose Bowl to battle the Washington Huskies. That would be the standard Big Ten Champion versus Pac-12 Champion matchup that we’ve grown to love from the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
At noon ET Sunday, we’ll know whether or not the Buckeyes have been deemed worthy of the College Football Playoff. If that’s not the case, it’ll be the third straight season where the B1G Champion is left out.
Before the CFP fate is announced, here’s my take: Ohio State, in my opinion, showed the makings of a playoff team. I think part of the Buckeyes’ problem was the fact that they were sent to a different dimension by Purdue, but when they won the national title in 2014, they had a bad 14-point loss at home to Virginia Tech. An argument I’m willing to make is that a 14-point loss at home to the Hokies, who went 6-6 that season, is worse than a 29-point loss on the road. When you’re at home, there is an expectation to win. Ohio State didn’t play spectacularly against Virginia Tech that season, and that 14-point loss was generous.
Either way, it’s all moot. At times, this season was frustrating, and it may have been the most frustrating season ever by a team that went 12-1. Through all of the ups and downs that the season brought, this squad put together a show, led by the most prolific passer in school and conference history.