RECAP: Big Ten Championship Game 2020 (Ohio State vs Northwestern)
1. First of all, props to Northwestern, as they played one Hell of a game today. There is - literally - not one player on Northwestern's entire team who had an Ohio State offer, yet the Wildcats went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes all game long and had the 20-point favorites on upset alert for about three quarters. Pat Fitzgerald is a great coach and motivator and he got every ounce of talent and effort out of his squad. Unfortunately for Northwestern, that still wasn't enough to beat Ohio State, because the Buckeyes are just that much more talented than the Wildcats.
2. Major props to running back Trey Sermon, who broke the Ohio State single-game rushing record with 331 yards on 29 carries (11.4 average) and a pair of touchdowns. Sermon broke the record set by Eddie George against Illinois all the way back in 1995 (314 yards on 36 carries). Sermon also broke the Big Ten Conference Championship Game record set by former Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott against Wisconsin in 2014 (220 yards on 20 carries). Sermon may not be on the same talent level as Elliott and George, but for one game he was the best running back in Ohio State history.
3. And the Buckeyes needed every one of Sermon's 331 yards because quarterback Justin Fields was, quite frankly, awful. Fields completed just 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and three sacks (and that doesn't count the incompletion on a failed two-point conversion). It looked like Fields hurt his hand early in the game, and afterwards he stated that he suffered a sprained thumb on his throwing hand. If Fields was in fact injured, we all have to hope that he gets well before the Playoffs. If not, the Buckeyes already slim chances to win it all will get that much slimmer.
4. With Fields ailing and Sermon repeatedly gashing the Northwestern defense, it's strange that Buckeye braintrust didn't adjust the gameplan away from the pass until well into the second half. With 5:04 left in the third quarter, Ohio State had run 26 passing plays for 72 yards and two interceptions, and 18 rushing plays for 221 yards, en route to a 10-6 deficit. Then the Buckeyes switched to Tresselball mode, going on a 7-play, 71-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground, to take the lead, 13-10. On their next drive, the Buckeye reverted to their first half form, a three-and-out that consisted of two incomplete passes and a 2-yard run. In the 4th quarter, the Buckeyes' first drive netted 3 points and 31 yards on 4 plays, three of which were rushes. Then came the backbreaker: a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consisted of 8 rushes for 68 yards, and 1 pass for 12 yards (and a head-scratching pass play on a failed two-point conversion). At the end of the game, Ohio State ran out the clock with four rushes for 36 yards.
So, the recap the playcalling:
5. With Trey Sermon racking up 65 percent of the Buckeyes' total yardage (335 of 513 yards), no one else on the offensive side of the ball did much of note. At least, not much of note in the stat book. The offensive line played an outstanding game, paving the way for Sermon and generally giving Fields plenty of time to throw the ball (even if Fields couldn't accomplish very much with all the time that he had). The only real negative was a holding call on Harry Miller on the opening drive that cost Ohio State a touchdown.
- First 40 minutes: 18 running plays, 221 yards; 26 passing plays, 72 yards, 2 turnovers; 6 points
- Final 20 minutes: 19 running plays, 175 yards; 4 passing plays, 9 yards, no turnovers, 16 points
6. For the second week in a row, the Buckeye defense held their opponent to just 10 points (Michigan State got their final two points on a safety). They also held Northwestern to just 329 total yards, forced three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble), had three sacks for minus 28 yards, and another six TFLs for 20 additional yards lost. On the negative side of the ledger, Northwestern gained 19 first downs and converted 8 for 18 (44.4%) on 3rd and 4th downs.
7. Linebacker Justin Hilliard was Ohio State's highest-rated signee ... in the Class of 2015. Six years later, the oft-injured Hilliard has yet to live up to his five-star billing, but today he had the game of his career: 9 tackles, 2 TFLs, a fumble recovery, and an interception in the end zone that killed a Northwestern drive and swung all of the momentum in favor of Ohio State.
8. Safety Josh Proctor played big, with several crushing hits, an interception, and another pass defensed that should've been a pick six (there's a reason that safeties aren't wide receivers). Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (3rd team All Big Ten, smh...) had another huge game, with 5 tackles, 2 TFLs, and a sack. Defensive end Jonathon Cooper had 6 tackles, a 16-yard sack, and a pair of quarterback hurries. Reserve lineman Cormontae Hamilton had a TFL on his only play of the game. True freshman safety Lathan Ransom had a pair of tackles and broke up a 4th-down pass late in the 4th quarter that sealed the deal for Ohio State.
9. With punter Drue Chrisman out due to COVID, backup Zach Hoover punted three times for an average of just 39.3 yards, but placed two punts down inside the 6-yard line, and his third went for 41 yards net after a fair catch. Not a bad debut.
10. So now two questions remain: One, will the Buckeyes be selected for the Playoffs tomorrow? If the Committee respects an undefeated team and conference champion, then the Buckeyes are in for sure. If the Committee wants to insist on eye tests and style points, then the Buckeyes might get left out in favor of some team that better fits the television moguls' narrative (SEC! SEC! SEC!). And two, if the Buckeyes do make it into the Final Four, do they have any realistic chance of winning it all? I say no, that Alabama and Clemson are just too good, and Ohio State is just too depleted from COVID concerns and too disjointed from lack of reps. But there's a reason that they play the games, and you can't win it if you ain't in it. So #GoBucks and hope for the best.
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