It wasn’t 59-0, but it might be just enough to do the job. On the same stage that Ohio State used a Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin to launch an 11th hour run to the College Football Playoff and an eventual national championship three years ago, No. 8 Ohio State hopes to do the same after taking down undefeated No. 4 Wisconsin 27-21 to win the Big Ten title.
J.T. Barrett famously did not play in the 2014 rout, but the fifth-year senior created his own legend by leading the Buckeyes to the win six days after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to lead the Buckeyes with 211 passing yards, 60 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
The win pushes Ohio State to 11-2 on the season and gives the Buckeyes two wins over top-10 foes, bolstering the Buckeyes’ case as they look to edge 11-1 and fifth-ranked Alabama to reach their third Playoff in four seasons — all of which would come under controversial circumstances. The 2014 blowout of Wisconsin — with Hall of Fame Badgers coach Barry Alvarez serving on the selection committee — allowed Ohio State to pass both TCU and Baylor on Selection Sunday. A year ago, Ohio State became the first non-conference champion to reach the Playoff, beating out a 2-loss Penn State team that both won the head-to-head matchup over the Buckeyes and and claimed the Big Ten championship.
And now Ohio State looks to become both the first 2-loss team and the first team to suffer a blowout loss to reach the 4-team field.
Trailing 21-10 at the half, Wisconsin pulled within one score with a 46-yard Rafael Gaglianone field goal to open the third quarter, but Ohio State answered with a 27-yard Sean Nuernberger boot.
The score remained at 24-13 when Barrett tossed his second interception of the night, which Leon Jacobs grabbed and returned to the Wisconsin 48-yard line. Given the short field, Wisconsin’s offense charged to its first offensive touchdown of the night, a 1-yard Chris James plunge that literally ripped the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in two.
After a 15-minute delay in which grounds workers repaired the field, Alex Hornibrook found Troy Fumagalli for a 2-point conversion to pull the Badgers within 24-21 with 12:39 remaining.
Ohio State’s next possession consumed 7:19 of the clock over a 15-play march, extended by a 4th-and-1 conversion by Barrett, but stalled at the Wisconsin 3. A 20-yard Nuernberger field goal did not put Wisconsin away, but did force the Badgers to score a touchdown to win instead of needing a field goal to tie.
Wisconsin moved only 19 yards on the ensuing possession, as Paul Chryst bet on his defense by electing to punt on a 4th-and-3 from his own 38 with 3:20 to play and a full compliment of timeouts. That gamble paid off when Barrett threw behind a wide open J.K. Dobbins on 3rd-and-5, giving Wisconsin the ball back at its own 30 with 2:59 to go.
Wisconsin moved the ball as far as the Ohio State 43, but a called holding penalty and a missed pass interference flag pushed the Badgers back to a 1st-and-20 and the drive could not recover. Hornibrook fired three straight incomplete passes and was intercepted on fourth down by Damon Webb to allow Ohio State to seal the win.
A Wisconsin turnover started the scoring. The Badgers moved into the Ohio State red zone on their first possession, but Hornibrook’s lob near the end zone was intercepted by Denzel Ward at the 4-yard line. The Buckeyes needed only four plays to traverse the 96 yards ahead of them, the last 84 coming on a Barrett pass to Terry McLaurin to open the scoring.
Barrett then gifted Wisconsin a touchdown with a 9-yard pick-six to Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel. He quickly erased that score, though, completing a 4-play, 75-yard drive with a 57-yard snatch-and-dash to Parris Campbell, giving Ohio State a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After three straight three-and-outs, Ohio State again put together another blitzkrieg drive, this time moving 82 yards in three plays, 77 of which came on a Dobbins run. Barrett pushed the lead to 21-7 with a 1-yard plunge one play later.
Needing a score to stay in the game, Wisconsin drove to the Ohio State 37, but Chryst elected to punt on a 4th-and-3 instead of going for it or kicking a 54-yard field goal. The decision immediately worked out, though, when Van Ginkel forced a Mike Weber fumble at the Ohio State 11, leading to a 28-yard Gaglianone with 3:42 left in the half.
Nuernberger’s 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half was blocked.