No. 2 Ohio State (13-0, 10-0 Big Ten) defeated No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3, 7-3) 34-21 Saturday to capture its third straight Big Ten title. Here are The Lantern’s five takeaways from the comeback victory:
The Buckeyes entered halftime trailing 21-7 after allowing a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in 32 seconds with 42 remaining in the half.
Wisconsin mounted 294 yards on offense with a balanced attack and kept three Ohio State drives that made their way across the Badgers’ 40-yard-line from scoring points in the opening 30 minutes.
In the second 30, Ohio State outscored Wisconsin 27-0 and sheared the Badger attack to 138 yards.
“We had a group of guys in that locker room who were barking at each other that they weren’t going to leave this place without a win,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “Then we all got together and said, ‘This is like life. It isn’t always going to work out the way you want it.’ The challenge was we were going to find out what was really made inside of us.”
Wisconsin junior running back Jonathan Taylor managed just 13 yards rushing in the second half after piling up 135 in the first.
Dobbins does the dirty work
Ohio State junior running back J.K. Dobbins has rushed for at least 140 yards against every ranked opponent the Buckeyes have played this season.
In the team’s three-game stretch run against top 15 opponents, it entrusted Dobbins to carry the ball at least 31 times in each contest, and he racked up 157, 211 and 172 yards, respectively.
“Wow, he ran hard,” Day said. “The offensive line, that’s a good defense. They kept swinging and swinging and swinging.”
Dobbins finished with 33 carries for 172 yards and one touchdown against the Badgers. He’s 98 yards from breaking the Ohio State single-season rushing record set by Eddie George in 1995, No. 3 in the nation with 1,829 this campaign.
The Texas product has surpassed Ezekiel Elliott for No. 2 on Ohio State’s career rushing list with 4,281 yards.
Receiving corps caught Badgers
Ohio State sophomore quarterback Justin Fields set a career-high for passing attempts against Wisconsin, with 31 throws surpassing his old high-water mark of 25.
With the volume of targets available, several Ohio State receiving weapons came forward to make plays.
Redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill said the receivers came out with a renewed focus in the second half.
“From the receiver standpoint, feeding [energy] off into the team, because they score, people kind of had their heads down,” Hill said. “We’ve been here before, this senior class has. There’s nothing to have your head down for. We’re fixing to come out here and make the adjustments.”
Hill was chief among them, reeling in seven grabs for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score that put Ohio State up 24-21. He broke Ohio State’s career reception record, which previously belonged to David Boston, with 193 catches.
Sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave trailed close behind with five receptions for 94 yards.
While other options didn’t put up huge statistics, the plays they did make were instrumental.
Sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert’s lone reception was a one-handed, diving touchdown grab that pulled the Buckeyes back to 21-14.
Senior wide receiver Binjimen Victor caught a sideline pass and made two defenders miss with lethal dead leg moves to convert a fourth quarter third-and-18.
Having a wealth of receiving options could assist Fields against deeper secondaries such as Clemson’s.
Swarming front seven
After Taylor erupted for 135 yards in the first half, junior defensive end Chase Young said the team had to get focused again and stop the offense in the second.
It did so, holding him to 13 yards.
“In the locker room, we had a calm conversation about just doing our job,” Young said. “I feel like in the second half, we did.”
When pinning Taylor in, the Buckeyes were often able to swarm him with multiple defenders to halt his progress.
Wisconsin, down two touchdowns, drove inside the Ohio State 35-yard-line with less than three minutes to play. It tried a handoff up the middle to junior running back Garrett Groshek, who was met by three Ohio State defenders and stopped for no gain.
On the ensuing fourth-and-2, the Badgers tried a toss to Taylor. Young met him first in the backfield, but was immediately joined by senior safety Jordan Fuller and redshirt senior linebacker Justin Hilliard.
Adapting to adversity
Ohio State trailed only twice this season before facing its 21-7 halftime deficit against Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes were down 5-0 to Miami (Ohio) and 6-0 to then-No. 13 Michigan. Both advantages evaporated before the first quarter ended, and Ohio State won the games 76-5 and 56-27, respectively.
Saturday gave Ohio State its first taste of real adversity, and it responded by spitting the obstacles right back out of its mouth.
Now, the Buckeyes face competition with the capability to provide a great deal more difficulty. No. 3 Clemson is the defending national champion on a 28-game winning streak that Ohio State faces in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
Since a 21-20 scare against North Carolina during Week 5, no team has come closer than 31 points to beating the Tigers. The Buckeyes lost 31-0 the previous time the two faced, which was also in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.
Ohio State will see Dec. 28 whether it can overcome its largest adversary to date and earn a shot at a national title.