Last week, Ohio State played with fire but escaped unscathed. This week, they got burned — and essentially torched their playoff hopes in one fell swoop.
In the thrilling 39-38 win over No. 2 Penn State last weekend, OSU rallied back from deficits of 28-17 at halftime and 35-20 at the end of the third quarter. There would be no magic this weekend, however, as Iowa took a 31-17 halftime lead, then stepped on the Buckeyes’ throats in the third quarter and never let up en route to a dominating 55-24 win over what was the sixth-ranked team in the country in the first College Football Playoff poll.
The visiting Buckeyes actually tied the game at 17-all early in the second quarter before the Hawkeyes ripped off 31 straight points in a run that extended through early in the fourth to essentially seal the stunning upset.
The usual stout OSU defense simply had no answer for Nathan Stanley, who tied a career-high with five touchdown passes in the game. Nearly as important was the running of Akrum Wadley, who churned out a tough 115 yards on the ground, and an Iowa defense that limited the high-flying Buckeyes — they were second in the country at 571.3 per game — to 371 yards of offense. Add in the interception trifecta from Josh Jackson, and it was an all-around dominating performance for the 6-3 Hawkeyes.
The visitors didn’t exactly do themselves any favors as, in addition to turnovers, the Buckeyes were once again hurt by penalties — nine on the night for 95 yards. OSU came into the game an undisciplined team, ranking 107th in the country in penalties committed and 117th in penalty yards.
The first four possessions of the second half perfectly encapsulated the Hawkeyes’ defensive dominance as the Buckeyes went three and out on the first three, then coughed it up on a J.T. Barrett interception on the fourth. It served as Barrett’s third pick of the game, which led to 17 of IU’s points; the fifth-year senior added a career-high fourth in the fourth quarter. Barrett had come into this game with just one interception in 246 pass attempts this season and seemingly put himself squarely in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
And, just as quickly as he’s out of that conversation, so the same can be said for OSU and the playoffs.
At sixth in the initial CFP rankings, the Buckeyes held their postseason destiny in their own hands. Win out the remainder of the regular season, claim the Big Ten championship, and earn a third trip to a playoff semifinal in four years. Instead, the best OSU can hope for, barring an epic collapse from myriad teams, is an at-large berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game as no two-loss team has ever qualified for the playoffs.