For about 20 minutes on Saturday night, it seemed we were in for an interesting Selection Sunday. No. 8 Wisconsin led No. 1 Ohio State 21-7 and, with the 12-0 Buckeyes bid already secured, it became a discussion point as to whether the winner of an Ohio State-Wisconsin Big Ten Championship could jump a 1-loss Big 12 champion at the 11th hour, a la 2014.
And then the second half kicked off.
Ohio State accepted the ball to open the second half and rolled 75 yards in five plays, as Justin Fields found Chris Olave for a 50-yard gain and tight end Jeremy Ruckert for a 16-yard touchdown. Then the Buckeye defense forced a three-and-out, Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti dropped the ball, and the College Football Playoff selection committee might as well have shut their television sets off and gone home. Ohio State only turned that dropped punt into a field goal, but the writing was on the wall in Sharpie.
Zach Hintze missed a 48-yard field goal that would’ve stretched the Wisconsin lead to 24-17, KJ Hill (who, earlier on the drive, became Ohio State’s all-time leading pass catcher) put Ohio State on top with a 16-yard grab with 2:23 to go in the third quarter, and then put the game away for good with a 13-yard scoring catch with 12:09 to play.
While time will tell if it’s enough to hold off No. 2 LSU for the right to avoid No. 3 Clemson, Ohio State raced past the Badgers with a 27-0 second half to win its third straight Big Ten championship game, 34-21.
After slow starts each, Fields finished 19-of-31 for 299 yards and three touchdowns, while JK Dobbins carried 33 times for 172 yards and a score. After rushing 13 times for 135 yards and a score in the first half, Jonathan Taylor mustered just 13 yards on seven carries in the second half — including a loss of six on a 4th-and-2 pitch from the Ohio State 32 with 2:39 remaining, as Chase Young swallowed the Wisconsin running back and ended the comeback effort before it truly started.
Though it didn’t end well, Wisconsin did indeed come out swinging.
Paul Chryst‘s team won the toss, elected to receive, hit Quintez Cephus for a 27-yard completion on the first play of the game and scored on a 44-yard Taylor run.
Ohio State moved into Badger territory on its first possession, but Fields was stuffed for no gain on a 4th-and-7 run from the Wisconsin 34. The Buckeyes moved into Wisconsin territory again on their second try, but Fields was sacked on 3rd-and-10 from the Wisconsin 34 and this time Ryan Day punted.
Taking over after the punt at its own 20 with 1:20 to play in the first quarter, Wisconsin pieced together a vintage Wisconsin drive: 14 plays, 80 yards, six and a half minutes and capped by a 6-yard Taylor run, who became the seventh player to top 6,000 yards in the process of putting the Badgers up 14-0 with 10:19 to play in the first half.
Wisconsin again sacked Fields on 2nd-and-10 on the ensuing possession and Ohio State appeared headed for a three-and-out, but Day dialed up a pass from punter Drue Chrisman to Luke Farrell for 21 yards, keeping a drive alive that eventually reached the Badger 4, where Fields fumbled the ball away on a 3rd-and-goal run.
However, Ohio State forced a Wisconsin punt and then finally got on the board when Dobbins leaped into the end zone with 42 seconds left in the half. Wisconsin might’ve been content to take its 14-7 lead to Lucas Oil Stadium’s home locker room, but Taylor popped a 45-yard run to the Ohio State 30 — in the process becoming the first 100-yard rusher against Ohio State all season. Another Taylor run pushed the ball to the 25, and then Jack Coan hit Cephus for a leaping 24-yard grab, and Coan did the rest, putting Wisconsin back up 14 with 10 seconds left before halftime.