Six games that helped land Wisconsin & Ohio State in the title game
It’s a long season filled with twists and turns that began with training camp in August. And it all culminates this Saturday in the Big Ten title game.
How did Wisconsin and Ohio State end up here? Here’s a look at the three games for each school that most shaped their road to Indianapolis.
First, let’s look at Wisconsin.
Sept. 30: Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24
Star Badger freshman running back Jonathan Taylor ran for two touchdowns to help the Wisconsin attack overcome a sluggish start as the Badgers built a 31-10 lead and then held on in their Big Ten opener in what many felt was a clash of the two best teams in the Big Ten West. They were right. Just too bad it happened so soon in the season
“We knew it was going to be a hard one,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “There (are) a lot of lessons to be learned in this one.”
Alex Hornibrook tossed two picks but finished with 197 yards passing with a touchdown and Taylor ran 19 times for 80 yards. The Wisconsin defense flexed its muscles late, as linebacker Garrett Dooley had three of the Badgers’ eight sacks. New defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard looked to have a stout unit that would set the tone all season for this program.
This win over NU looked better and better as the season went on, as the Wildcats finished the season with seven wins in a row en route to a 9-3 finish.
Nov. 11: Wisconsin 38, Iowa 14
This was supposed to be a major challenge for the Badgers against an Iowa team coming off a 55-24 evisceration of Ohio State. It wasn’t.
Wisconsin rolled the visiting Hawkeyes, who ranked No. 20 entering the contest. The victory moved the Badgers to 10-0 on the season. Wisconsin had four turnovers, but its formidable defense allowed it to turn back Iowa and in the process clinch the Big Ten West and head to the league title game for a fifth time in the seven years of the event.
How good was the Wisconsin defense? It yielded just 66 yards, its fewest ever yielded in a Big Ten game. All of the Hawkeyes’ points came from their defense.
“It was fun to watch,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Guys all had great energy to them, and, boy, there were some plays made.”
Nov. 18: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 10
This was viewed as the Badgers’ last major hurdle to an unbeaten record with No. 24 Michigan coming to Madison. Indeed, it was Wisconsin’s toughest test to date. But, in the end, it wasn’t much of a challenge. Wisconsin took a workman-like effort that wasn’t pretty but it was effective, as the Badgers’ unbeaten march continued. No Wisconsin team ever had started 11-0.
UW back Jonathan Taylor ran for 132 yards vs. a stout Michigan defense, ambling for 87 in the second half to help the Badgers take control. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook hit just 9-of-19 passes for 143 yards and tossed an interception early in the third quarter but hit some big passes to key the win.
“Sometimes adversity helps us play even harder and better. We were able to do that today,” Hornibrook said.
As for Ohio State …
Sept. 9: Oklahoma 31, Ohio State 15
After opening with a win at Indiana, the No. 2 Buckeyes returned home for a big clash with No. 5 Oklahoma … and got socked. It was a numbing defeat that hearkened to the home loss to Virginia Tech during the 2014 national title season.
Oklahoma got payback after losing 45-24 in Norman last season to Ohio State. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield outplayed Buckeye counterpart J.T. Barrett, who struggled to hit passes and too often ran while receivers struggled to get open.
“It was awful,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We got beat by a very good team and a quarterback that was dynamic. I thought our defense hung in there against, like I said, a very good player.”
Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three TDs. Barrett hit just 19-of-35 passes for 183 yards with a pick.
“We’ll grow from it,” Barrett said. “Nobody points fingers. Own up to it and get to work tomorrow.”
After the game, Mayfield drew national attention by planting an Oklahoma flag at midfield of the Horseshoe to celebrate the Sooner victory. It was a brazen act.
Oct. 28: Ohio State 39, Penn State 38
This was an instant classic, as the No. 6 Buckeyes rallied from a 38-27 deficit with 5:42 left to win in Columbus vs. the No. 2 Nittany Lions. Credit QB J.T. Barrett.
“What was going through my head was Coach Meyer saying go win the game. He says that all the time, go win the game,” Barrett said.
Barrett did just that. He connected on 33-of-39 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, three in the fourth quarter after the Buckeyes trailed, 35-20. He also ran for 95 yards on 17 carries. In the fourth quarter, he was 13-of-13 for 170 yards. This effort vaulted Barrett squarely into the Heisman conversation.
And credit the Buckeye defense, which limited Penn State running back Saquon Barkley to 44 yards rushing on 21 totes. Ohio State’s strong defensive line often overwhelmed the Penn State offensive line, as the Buckeyes avenged a tough loss at PSU last year to take control of their destiny in the Big Ten East.
Nov. 11: Ohio State 48, Michigan State 3
The No. 11 Buckeyes needed to make a statement coming off a humiliating 55-24 loss at Iowa that had the nation scratching its head. What happened? But Ohio State rebounded with ferocity vs. a No. 12 Spartans team that was coming off a home win vs. Penn State.
“We can’t go back in the past, of course, so I mean we try to just move on, learn from things, learn from losses, and I think that’s what we did (after last week’s game), grew from it,” said J.T. Barrett, whose Buckeyes scored on five of their first six possessions and never looked back.
A week after tossing four picks at Iowa, Barrett did his part by chucking two TD passes and running for two more. The Buckeyes made a conscious effort to get their running backs involved. Mission accomplished, as Mike Weber bolted for 162 yards and two scores and J.K. Dobbins had 128 as the duo combined for 285 to help Ohio State take sole possession of first in the East.