A starting quarterback who, were it not for injuries, would’ve been the No. 3 quarterback in early December, and facing the best statistical defense in the conference? So far, no problem at all. Literally.
Thanks in equal parts to a combination of Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and a stifling, swarming defense, Ohio State completely controlled, dominated, lorded over, however you want to describe it, the first half of the Big Ten championship game and leads Wisconsin 38-0 after two quarters of play.
Jones, a redshirt sophomore who was making his first-ever start and came into the game with 121 career passing yards, looked like a seasoned veteran in completing 10-of-13 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns — both to Devin Smith (3-95). It actually would’ve been three touchdown tosses were it not for Elliott dropping what would’ve been an easy touchdown.
Elliott, though, more than made up for that misstep, leading the Buckeyes with 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. One of those scores was an 81-yard touchdown run that is the longest in Big Ten championship game history.
Wisconsin’s defense came into the game giving up an average of 260 yards per game; Ohio State had 224 yards in the first quarter alone. For the half, OSU totaled 364; 10 of the 12 teams UW played this season didn’t reach that mark in entire games.
Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes’ defense, at times a source of angst for the coaching staff and fan base alike, has been at its dominating best on the biggest stage of the year.
Melvin Gordon, widely viewed as the only player with even a remote chance of finishing close to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the Heisman chase, was held to just 43 yards on 14 carries; he came into the game averaging nearly 200 yards per game. Reining in Gordon was part of an impressive defensive effort as the Buckeyes’ held the Badgers to a measly 91 first-half yards and eight first downs.
Five of UW’s eight possessions ended in punts, with four of those punts coming after three-and-outs. The other drives ended with an interception, a fumble and the end of the half.
That fumble was returned by Joey Bosa for a touchdown late in the second quarter, putting an exclamation point on OSU’s best half of football this season in all three phases of the game. Michael Bennett, who is wearing No. 53 to honor fallen teammate Kosta Karageorge, had a first-half sack to add an emotional bent to the woodshedding.
With the game essentially over, the question will now become: does OSU have enough of a case to be a part of the four-team playoff? I don’t know if they do or not — that Virginia Tech loss still looms large — but they are certainly making it tough on the committee that will ultimately answer that very question.