In what may feel like deja vu for both teams, Ohio State (10-2) will take on Wisconsin (12-0) in the Big Ten Championship. As the parallels to the 2014 season continue to add up, the Buckeyes will again need to look impressive against the Badgers in order to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. The game, as usual, will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. on Fox.
Ohio State is coming off yet another win over rival Michigan, their sixth straight against the Wolverines and 13th victory in the last 14 iterations of “The Game.” Despite the 31-20 win, not everything came up Scarlet and Gray in Ann Arbor. In the third quarter, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game with an apparent knee injury. It was later revealed Barrett had injured the knee in pregame warmups in a collision with a cameraman. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins would finish the game, completing six of seven passes for 94 yards and securing the victory for Ohio State.
The injury to Barrett may have been a blessing in disguise for the Buckeyes, who seemed to get away from their game plan most of the first half. Ohio State looked to keep the ball in Barrett’s hands at almost all times, whether that meant in the passing game or with his legs, ignoring their two star running backs. With him out of the game, and Haskins not as versatile in the run game, it forced the ball into the hands of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber who, as usual, shined when given the opportunity. The two backs finished with 158 rushing yards and two touchdowns, capped on the final drive by a long 35-yard run by Dobbins and a 25-yard touchdown by Weber that would seal the game.
Despite allowing only 20 points, the Buckeye defense did not look as sharp as usual. There were many uncharacteristic missed tackles and bad angles taken by the Ohio State defense that resulted in Michigan first downs. They caught a big lucky break coming up against Wolverines quarterback John O’Korn, who had a very poor game. There were more than a few open receivers for O’Korn throughout the game, most of which never saw the ball as a result of poor throws. Michigan had a chance to take the lead late in the game down just four points, but would lose possession on the very first play of the drive on a Jordan Fuller interception, the ball thrown 10 yards past O’Korn’s intended receiver.
Wisconsin also took care of business in their rivalry game, defeating Minnesota for the 14th-consecutive time 31-0. In their largest margin of victory in conference this season, Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook was extremely efficient, completing 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown. The Wisconsin defense allowed just 133 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of the year. Minnesota had only two first downs in the game.
The Badgers come into the conference title game undefeated, albeit with a seemingly easy schedule. Wisconsin does not feature an offense that is going to blow the doors off anyone, but they are very consistent and good at sticking to their game plan. Hornibrook has thrown for 2,157 yards this season with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While everyone knows the effectiveness of Taylor on the ground, a big threat the Buckeyes will have to contend with is tight end Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli is a big part of the Badgers offense, catching 38 passes for 471 yards and four touchdowns this year. Ohio State, who has had a tough time guarding opposing tight ends this season, needs their linebackers to step up big time to try and slow the 6-foot-6 senior.
Perhaps what has gotten Wisconsin this far, the Badger defense is stellar. As a team, they rank second in FBS in points allowed at just 12 per game. Their biggest strength on that side of the ball are their linebackers, who have done a good job in both shutting down the run game and limiting passes over the middle. The duo of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly have really shined. Edwards has a team-high 11 tackles for a loss this season to go along with two sacks and four interceptions. Connelly has a team-high 71 total tackles, adding 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Ohio State, who is at their best when utilizing the power-run game, will have to get creative to avoid the Badger linebackers.
The last time these two met in the conference title game, things were incredibly lopsided. Ohio State, who came into the game starting third string quarterback Cardale Jones for the first time, dominated from start to finish en route to a 59-0 dismantling of the Badgers. Things will not be that easy this time around, as Wisconsin comes into the game with a chance to make the playoff and revenge on their mind for the embarrassment they suffered last time around.
The biggest question mark surrounding the game is the health of Barrett, who Urban Meyer has deemed probable for the contest. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Buckeyes, they cannot afford to neglect their running backs like they did for a half against Michigan. If Ohio State wants to win this game, it has to be on the backs of Dobbins and Weber. If they are able to stick to the script and play to their strengths, then their tremendous depth on both offense and defense, especially at wide receiver and on the defensive line, should be just enough to slip past the Badgers to secure their 36th Big Ten title.
Final Score: 31-24 Ohio State
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Ohio State Football article is published, fill out our email notification form.