- The Buckeyes kept the East Division's streak alive in the Big Ten finale, but impressing the College Football Playoff committee is a bit of a bigger deal.
INDIANAPOLIS — For the Big Ten’s imbalanced divisions, it was same old, same old on Saturday night. For the fourth consecutive year—that is, every year since the conference reorganized its divisions—the East was victorious. In three of those matchups, Wisconsin has been the team to fall, and Saturday’s loss was the second time it’s been defeated in the title game as the higher-ranked team.
Before Saturday’s 27-21 Ohio State win, the Badgers defense—which was ranked No. 1 in the country going into the game—had allowed opponents just three plays of more than 50 yards. All were passing plays, two for touchdowns. Against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin more than doubled that number, allowing two passes of more than 50 yards and two rushes. Especially in the first half, the Badgers played as if they’d forgotten Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was coming off meniscus surgery six days earlier. Barrett was not his mobile self, and without having his legs to fall back on, he should have been limited by a reliance on the pass. That wasn’t the case, though; despite the predictable nature of Ohio State’s offense early, the Badgers were stymied. On the night, Urban Meyer’s team racked up 451 yards en route to Wisconsin’s worst defensive performance of 2017.
Key to Ohio State’s dominance was its offensive line play, which kept an aggressive Badgers front seven at bay all night. Barrett, who was 12 of 26 in the passing game, was rarely hurried, especially in crucial spots. Though he did throw for two interceptions, including a pick six, Saturday’s outcome was impressive in light of his injury and his tiny window for recovery from surgery. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was never able to establish much of a rhythm on offense, especially in its often-reliable running game, where Jonathan Taylor and company were able to rack up just 60 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per carry. Complicating the matter was Wisconsin’s conservative play calling; the Badgers had three questionable punts on the night.
With the win, Ohio State awaits the playoff committee’s decision Sunday about which team—it or Alabama, most likely—deserves the No. 4 seed. (Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia all shored up spots before the conclusion of the Big Ten game.) Its performance on Sunday left something to be desired in terms of consistency and finesse. That said, the Buckeyes proved—or reiterated—on Saturday that its rosters boasts as much talent and speed as any in college football. Though it has two losses to Wisconsin’s one, the Badgers (thanks largely to a weak schedule) were eliminated from contention Saturday; in the end, Ohio State’s ceiling certainly looks higher than Wisconsin’s.
The most interesting moment of the night came with 12:39 remaining in the game. Wisconsin had just scored its second touchdown of the day, pushing the ball into the end zone from one yard out. When the pile of players cleared from the goal line, it left behind a massive divot, which took nearly 10 minutes for the grounds crew—and two lime-green rakes—to repair. It was Wisconsin’s first real momentum of the night, and though the Badgers successfully went for two to bring the score to 24-21, the delay broke up their roll. The end-zone destroying touchdown was their final score of the night. The Badgers had one last chance to pull ahead, getting the ball back with less than three minutes to go, but their drive—and the game, and their playoff hopes—ended on an Ohio State interception.