Second Thoughts: Big Ten Championship Game

BuckeyeSports.com's better-late-than-never reviews of Ohio State's historic championship run continue with the Buckeyes' amazing performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

This game is almost still unbelievable seven months later.

Ohio State just could do no wrong it seemed, and Wisconsin could do no right.

The Buckeyes were on a mission, and I think the Badgers realized it fairly early on.

As shaky as the Ohio State defense had been for almost two seasons, I still thought Wisconsin had some sort of a run in it until Joey Bosa returned the fumble for a touchdown to make it 38-0 late in the second quarter. Of course, erasing a 31-point deficit would be truly historic itself, but we had seen the Badgers offense light up the Buckeyes only one season earlier with the same quarterback. And it was possible to think Wisconsin would be able to tighten up defensively once it got a handle on what the Buckeyes were doing to utilize the gifts of Cardale Jones (more on that later).

Looking back, I don't think Joel Stave's 2013 or '14 games against Ohio State were very accurate looks at who he is as a college quarterback. He certainly isn't the guy who threw for 300 yards in September 2013, but he's not as bad as he looked in Indianapolis, either. A major difference was of course Stave's main target from his big game in Columbus, Jared Abbrederis, was out of eligibility. That meant Wisconsin's passing game went from a one-man show to no hands on deck as the remaining players just aren't very good at getting open or dangerous if they happen to get the ball in the open field. Naturally some credit goes to Ohio State's defensive backs, too, but this was a lights out performance we haven't seen in a long time.

Stave's night was also a big challenge because his offensive line could not block Ohio State's front. This looked like some games we've seen in the past where the Badger line just wasn't athletic enough to handle Ohio State's defensive linemen when it was obviously time to pass... but the Badgers couldn't handle them very well when trying to run the ball, either.

In either case -- stopping the run or the pass -- Ohio State didn't get too fancy. The Buckeyes just played hard and played sound. They were in gaps and destroying blocks. They tackled well, too. I also think the knowledge their corners could shut down the receivers and the Badgers had no vertical threats at tight end made it easier for the Buckeye defense to play downhill.

Melvin Gordon was a much more dangerous player in 2014 rather than '13, when he was mostly just a home run hitter, but he could never get untracked against Ohio State. No head of steam, no room to cut, nowhere to go if he did make a move. He seemed to get frustrated, too.

It's hard to blame the Badgers for feeling helpless as the game went on. After all, if Ohio State looked a lot more athletic at a lot of different positions, it's probably because the Buckeyes are just that. Now, are they 59-0 more athletic? No, but sometimes things just work out that way.

Now, as for Jones.... I have to suspect Wisconsin was expecting him to run the ball more, as other Ohio State quarterbacks have under Urban Meyer. They knew about Devin Smith, but maybe they didn't believe the scouting reports about Jones' cannon arm. That was one thing anyone who saw him in high school knew was the real deal, but the poise he showed against the Badgers was something new. Maybe he just felt like he had nothing to lose, but Jones pushed all the right buttons. He seemed to be playing on feel, and he had a lot of help, but he also did some things you can't teach. Of course on top of all that -- for it to work out -- he had to have gotten a good handle on the offense and on what Wisconsin wanted to do defensively. Jones was patient and decisive most of the night, and his teammates rewarded him.

Notes and observations:

  • That Michael Thomas went to the ground to help Jones out on his first throw of the night should not go unnoticed. The throw sailed on Jones, but Thomas was able to get it on a curl route that backed off the corner a bit. Again Jones got help on his first touchdown of the night as Devin Smith went up and took the ball away from the cornerback. It was a great throw and a great athletic play at the other end.
  • There were a few moments where it felt like, "OK, Wisconsin is in really big trouble now." One came on when Jones hit Smith on a smash route for the third Ohio State touchdown of the game. The Badgers managed to get a free blitzer and he got a good hit on Jones but the quarterback unleashed an amazing throw to Smith, who was a bad matchup for the Wisconsin safety who had to pick him up. That made it 24-0 so separation was being lost.
  • Stave had a couple of really crucial mistakes early as Ohio State built its lead. He had a receiver open for a potential big play on a third down with the Badgers moving the ball and down only seven in the first quarter. Ohio State got the ball back and scored in two plays, the second Ezekiel Elliott's 81-yard run on which he was not touched. The next possession, Stave made a very bad decision throwing late across his body a pass that was intercepted by Vonn Bell. This robbed Wisconsin of a chance to get something going as the Ohio State defense was likely gassed from having been on the field awhile before the Buckeyes' two-play scoring drive. Instead, Ohio State got the ball back and drove for a field goal. It was less than a two-minute drive, but the quarterback also occurred while it was going on so the defense got a good chance to get its wind.
  • After the fourth Ohio State touchdown -- another play where Wisconsin might have forgotten who was playing quarterback and got so preoccupied with Jones that Elliott scored untouched on a handoff -- the Badgers also had a play where Gordon bounced it outside on a tremendous cut only to find two more Ohio State players ready for him and a third running inside out in pursuit to finish him off. He made a great cut no one else could make and half the defense was stuck inside but a speed back still couldn't get away. 
  • Cameron Johnston was amazing punting for Ohio State. Is that the ultimate insult to injury for the Badgers or what? They were playing uphill all night even before the Aussie punter started pinning them deep.
  • Jones made a great throw to Marshall for a 32-yard gain on the drive that again showed off his arm (and patience and ability to read the defense), but he also was off target on a potential touchdown to Elliott that instead went through the running backs hands (so I guess they didn't help him every play). I've seen or heard some complaints about about Jones' touch on short stuff and mid-range accuracy, but not seeing that, at least nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Rashad Frazier quietly had a big game, not only notching a sack but consistently handling a gap defensively and disrupting the run or allowing others to do so.
  • Devin Smith ran by Peniel Jean who then did a pretty poor job recovering on the first touchdown of the second half. Great job turning and finding the ball and making a hands catch. Great throw. Wisconsin blitzed the corner and it didn't really work at all. 
  • When everything is in sync, Stave can spin it, but he's inconsistent and can't move. 

    At the eight-minute mark Wisconsin football reached probably the low points since Barry Alvarez took over as they gave the ball to the best running back in the country on third and two and he lost yardage. Wisconsin was also called for holding on the play. Frazier was unblocked by line then held by the fullback.

  • Billy Price blocked two guys on Elliott's 60-yard run in the fourth quarter. After helping Taylor Decker neutralize the tackle he took out the middle linebacker to give Elliott the crease he needed. Samuel scored almost untouched on the next play, getting outside rather easily and scoring. Noah Brown had a block on Caputo in the end zone to finish the play.
  • Wisconsin ran 80 plays and scored no points. If that seems like a rarity, so does this: Ohio State scored 59 points on 56 plays.

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