Luckily for Buckeye Nation, there are two halves in a football game. In what was a tale of two halves for the Ohio State Buckeyes, the scarlet and gray eventually beat the Wisconsin Badgers, 34-21, to win its third straight Big Ten title and clinch their spot in the College Football Playoff.
The first half made Ohio State fans have flashbacks of the Purdue and Iowa debacles in years past. The Buckeyes just did not look like themselves early on and it appeared that it just wasn’t their night.
In short, Ohio State really needs to just throw away the tape from the first half. Then again, there’s plenty they can take and learn from as well. In short, the first 30 minutes of the game featured a defense that seemed to have reverted back to their 2018 selves, which was a group that couldn’t tackle and gave up plenty of big-time plays to the opposing offense. Then, offensively, Justin Fields just seemed off rhythm and inaccurate. It was probably due to his sprained MCL that he re-aggravated in the win over Michigan last week.
With that said, a great team recovers. They make (halftime) adjustments, improve their play, tire out their opponent, and in a heavyweight battle where one person throws the first punch or two, the bigger and better opponent takes it, recovers, and throws the last punch. That’s exactly what took place in Indianapolis Saturday night. For the first time this season, Ohio State was faced with some adversity for more than one quarter. In fact, they trailed more in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game than they did throughout the entire regular season. But it’s not about who throws the first punch, but the last one. The Buckeyes knew that and never gave in.
After trailing, 21-7, at the half and being dominated throughout much of the first half, Ohio State scored 27 unanswered points and made it look quite easy on both sides of the ball in the second half to bring it home. A huge part of the defense’s resurgence was Jeff Okudah returning to the game following halftime. Arguably the best cornerback in the country missed most of the first half and once he returned, Wisconsin’s pass attack was held in check. It’s amazing what a shutdown cornerback can do to help the defense.
Offensively, Fields and J.K. Dobbins made it look easy in the final two quarters. It was clear that the Badgers’ defense became very tired as the game went on and the Buckeyes took advantage of it, scoring on five straight possessions to start the second half. Fields finished with 299 yards and three touchdowns while completing 19-of-31 passes. All three passing touchdowns came in the final two quarters. Like he has done all season, Dobbins continued to dominate on the ground, totaling 172 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. Even when the quarterback was struggling, the running back once again proved that he can carry the offense. Chris Olave (five catches, 94 yards) and K.J. Hill (seven receptions, 83 yards, two touchdowns) led the air attack. Hill also became the all-time receptions leader in Ohio State history, passing David Boston.
While Binjimen Victor and Garrett Wilson may not have put up huge numbers, the two wideouts had some very key plays in the game. Victor carved his way for a first touchdown on a third-and-long; Wilson had two impressive coaches (his lone receptions of the game) on two balls that were overthrown by Fields. The true freshman proved that he has some great hands and will be one heckuva playmaker for years to come. Oh, and Jeremy Ruckert proved why he was considered the best tight end in his class with a brilliant one-handed touchdown grab.
Defensively, while they struggled as a group in the first half, they were their usual 2019 Silver Bullets in the second half. Chase Young might not have put up huge numbers in terms of the box score, but the defensive end was wreaking havoc in Wisconsin’s backfield, especially in the second half.
The leadership. The heart. The determination. Ohio State never gave up. They adjusted, fought back, and did exactly what they had to do. That’s what makes first-year head coach Ryan Day such a special leader. No one panicked, his coaching staff made adjustments and put the players in the best position to succeed when it mattered most. Those are the types of signs of a championship coach, coaching staff, and team.
Looking ahead to Sunday afternoon: Along with the undefeated Buckeyes, the rest of the Playoff field appears to be LSU, Clemson, and Oklahoma, all of which won their respective conference championships. The only question s the seeding of the four teams. If I had to guess, it will be No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Clemson, and No. 4 Oklahoma. While the Buckeyes were the No. 1-ranked team heading into the weekend, with their struggles against the Badgers Saturday night paired with LSU’s dominant win over Georgia, the Tigers could very likely find themselves back in the top spot. Then again, with the way the Buckeyes played in the second half, they proved that they should remain atop the rankings. Only the committee knows at this point. We’ll find out Sunday though when the final rankings and Playoff field is revealed at 12 p.m. ET.
Until then, enjoy this win, Buckeye Nation. It was ugly in the first half, but a W is a W, right? Now it’s time for the Playoff.