After being dominated throughout the first half of play, the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes were able to rally in the second half in a come-from-behind 34-21 win over the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers to secure the program’s third-straight Big Ten Championship. For OSU, the performance was likely not enough to stay in control of the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, but the Bucks were nevertheless able to avoid a scare in the conference title game.
The Badgers punched Ohio State in the mouth right out of the gate, scoring on their opening possession and keeping the Buckeyes off the board until late in the second quarter. Jonathan Taylor was having uncharacteristic success against OSU, rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Ryan Day, however, was able to make the necessary adjustments at the break to turn things around and right the ship for his undefeated squad.
Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, the whole host of receivers, and a revitalized second-half defense, were able to lead the team to victory as they usually do. The two-headed monster responsible for much of Ohio State’s dynamic offense this season combined for four total touchdowns as they helped dig the Buckeyes out of an early hole to secure a conference title. Dobbins ran for 172 yards and a touchdown, while Fields passed for 299 yards and three scores.
Wisconsin won the coin toss and elected to receive, so it was Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers starting with the ball on their own 15-yard line. Jack Coan started his team off hot, completing his first pass of the game for 27 yards. Coan was able to pick up a 3rd-and-6 by escaping the pocket and scrambling past the sticks, and just like that, Wisco was in Buckeye territory. One player later, Taylor was able to explode up the middle for a 44-yard touchdown, as the Badgers clearly came to play taking an early 7-0 lead.
Ohio State put the ball in the hands of its leader to start the ensuing drive, with Fields hitting Chris Olave for a quick first down. A pair of first downs by Dobbins and then Fields with his legs had the Bucks past midfield. Fields took a bad sack — which would be a recurring theme on the game — and OSU was knocked back to 3rd-and-18. After picking up 12 yards, Ryan Day elected to go for it on 4th down, and the Buckeyes came up short as they turned the ball over on downs.
Wisconsin continued its hot start on offense, picking up a quick first down with Taylor up the middle near midfield. The Buckeyes were able to regroup fast though, and would wind up forcing a punt, starting with the ball on their own eight-yard line.
After picking up a first down on the ground with Dobbins, Fields dropped a seed to Austin Mack who made a spectacular one-handed grab for 34 yards.
The Badgers would once again force OSU into a 4th down situation, this time needing just one yard to move the chains. Dobbins would pick up the yard up the middle by a hair, and the drive continued. However, after Fields missed a wide open Olave deep downfield, OSU would have to punt.
The Badgers continued to paper cut Ohio State’s defense on both the ground and through the air, picking up short gain after short gain resulting in first downs, including a 4th-and-4 conversion, driving the ball all the way down to the Buckeye 30-yard line. Coan was playing absolutely perfectly to start the game, and a QB keeper up the middle untouched for 14 yards gave Wisconsin a 14-0 lead.
It looked as though the Buckeyes had immediately gone three-and-out, but Ryan Day rolled the dice and went with a fake-punt pass to pick up a gutsy first down deep in their territory.
The risky play call seemed to inject some life into the Ohio State offense, as a 21-yard reception by Binjimen Victor and a 24-yard rush by Dobbins had the Bucks threatening in the red zone. But, things would change for the worse immediately, as Fields was stripped of the football and Wisconsin recovered the fumble inside the 5-yard line.
The OSU defense would dig deep and find a way to get a stop, forcing a punt and regaining possession near its own 30-yard line with just 3:18 remaining in the half to try and put points on the board. Fields was able to pick up a pair of crucial third downs to Garrett Wilson and Olave, and after a 24-yard catch-and-run by K.J. Hill got them inside the five, Dobbins punched it in for Ohio State’s first score of the day, now trailing just 14-7 with a little under a minute left in the quarter.
It was all for naught, however, as the Buckeye defense collapsed entirely. After allowing a 45-yard rush to Taylor on the first play of the drive, Coan hit Quintez Cephus for 24 yards to put Wisconsin on the goal line. Coan would sneak it up the middle for a touchdown, and the Buckeyes once again trailed by 14, down 21-7 at halftime. Through the first 30 minutes, one team looked like they showed up to win a football game, and the other was Ohio State.
The Bucks started the second half with the ball as we got back underway. It looked like another three-and-out was in store, but Fields was able to roll out and find — guess who — Olave deep down field for 50 yards.
A coupe plays later, Fields found Jeremy Ruckert, who hauled in an incredible one-handed TD grab to again cut the deficit to just seven, OSU now trailing 21-14.
Ohio State was looking to capitalize on momentum, as Jashon Cornell came up with a huge sack on third down. Things went from bad to worse for the Badgers, as the punter dropped the snap and had to fall on the football, giving the Buckeyes the ball right back inside the red zone. The offense still wasn’t exactly clicking yet, and Wisconsin would hold OSU to a field goal — the score now 21-17 with just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Badgers got back to more of what they did in the first half, running the football and hitting short passes for first downs, also being aided by a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the Buckeyes. The flags returned the favor later in the drive, as a holding on Wisconsin pushed them back after working it to the OSU 30-yard line and were forced to settle for a field goal. The 48-yarder sailed wide left, and Ohio State took over on offense.
The Buckeyes remembered that Dobbins was on the roster, and the junior was able to pick up a few nice gains on the ground as Ohio State passed midfield. The Scarlet and Gray were in business after a pass interference against Wisconsin. On the very next play, Fields found Hill over the middle, who was able to make a nice cut and snake his way into the endzone as OSU took its first lead of the night. It was now 24-21 with just over two minutes left in the quarter.
Wisconsin looked to be a bit on its heels now, suddenly trailing after blowing the big halftime lead, and after some poor communication on offense wound up punting it back to OSU. After Fields took a sack that looked to kill the drive, Victor caught a pass and put on a litany of moves to pick up a big 28-yard gain and keep the offense on the field. Shortly thereafter, Fields scrambled to his left, directing traffic and eventually finding Hill open in the end zone for a TD.
After trailing by 14 at halftime, Ohio State now led 31-21 with just over 12 minutes remaining. The Badgers looked shook, and after Shaun Wade blasted Taylor on a run up the middle for a loss of yards, Wisconsin again was forced to punt the ball. The Buckeyes were playing with a completely different energy than in the first half, and it was showing up big time on both sides of the ball.
OSU looked to continue to pound the rock on its next possession, feeding Dobbins early and often. An 11-yard strike to Wilson had the Buckeyes driving past midfield, spreading the defense with a good mix of runs and short passes. Dobbins was putting on an absolute clinic, as chunk after chunk on the ground had Ohio State in the red zone. The Bucks were able to work it down to the 2-yard line, but the Badgers defense held strong on the goal line. OSU had to kick a field goal, extending the lead to 34-21 with under five minutes to go.
Ohio State needed one more defensive stop to seal another Big Ten Championship. After working the ball down to the Buckeye 32-yard line, Wisconsin was faced with a 4th-and-2. The Badgers tried to pitch it to Taylor, but Chase Young and Jordan Fuller had it perfectly read in the backfield to put a bow on a gutsy comeback victory in the conference title game.
Ryan Day and his team will now wait and see how the College Football Playoff Committee values its resumé against LSU’s for the No. 1 spot in the playoff. Depending on the seeding, a matchup with either the Clemson Tigers or the Oklahoma Sooners is on the horizon in the first round of the CFP.
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