INDIANAPOLIS — Back and forth they went. No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State fought back-and-forth with both teams’ College Football Playoff hopes hanging in the balance.
When Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett hit wideout Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard touchdown, Wisconsin responded with a pick-six. Even when Ohio State took a 21-7 lead, the Badgers fought back to within three points in the fourth quarter, but could never take the lead.
The Buckeyes (11-2, 9-1 Big Ten) proved to be too much for Wisconsin (12-1, 9-1 Big Ten), handing the Badgers their first loss with a 27-21 victory in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
With three top-25 wins and a conference championship win, all Ohio State can do is wait as the playoff committee determines whether it has done enough to make up for its losses to No. 3 Oklahoma and Iowa earlier in the season.
Playing just six days after having knee surgery, Barrett did what he could to keep his team in the game against Wisconsin. He started the scoring with the touchdown strike to an open McLaurin, which concluded a 96-yard scoring drive, the longest in Big Ten championship history. He then found H-back Parris Campbell for a 57-yard touchdown pass less than five minutes later.
But Barrett also made his fair share of mistakes. He followed up the touchdown pass to McLaurin with an interception that linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel took nine yards for Wisconsin’s first touchdown of the game to knot the score at seven. Linebacker Leon Jacobs also intercepted Barrett late in the third quarter. Barrett finished the game 12-for-26 for 211 yards, including two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 19 rushes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Ohio State’s offense was buoyed by freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, who had 17 carries for 174 yards. He exploded for a 77-yard rush that Barrett followed up with a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:05 remaining in the first half, then Dobbins had a 53-yard carry late in the third quarter. With Dobbins’ 77-yard run, Ohio State surpassed Wisconsin’s average of 236.9 yards given up per game. The Buckeyes finished with 449 total yards.
But Ohio State’s defense kept its team in the game, making up for Barrett’s turnovers and running back Mike Weber’s first-half fumble.
The Badgers had five three-and-outs, and freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who has the most rushing yards in the conference, had 41 carries for just 15 yards, his lowest total of the season.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook went 19-for-40 for 229 yards with two interceptions. He also threw an interception on Wisconsin’s second drive of the then-scoreless game. The Badgers marched 55 yards to Ohio State’s 18-yard line. But the drive ended there when cornerback Denzel Ward picked off Hornibrook’s pass at the 4-yard line with 7:34 remaining in the opening quarter.
Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger went 2-for-3 with made field goals from 27 and 20 yards. Wisconsin kicker added two field goals. He hit both attempts, making them from 28 and 46 yards.