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Reactions to Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship win over Northwestern

INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State is the Big Ten champion for the fourth-consecutive year.


It was a bumpy path to Indianapolis for Ohio State. The Big Ten Conference made a new schedule in August, postponed the season to the spring and then restarted the season in October. The Buckeyes had three games canceled due to COVID-19 and played just five times.


Despite a controlling first half by No. 14 Northwestern, No. 4 Ohio State walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium with another silver football and a likely College Football Playoff berth.


Ohio State running back Trey Sermon broke Eddie George’s 1995 single-game rushing record, running for 331 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats’ No. 21 rushing defense.


Linebacker Justin Hilliard had a career game for the Buckeyes and the Ohio State defense did not allow a point in the second half.


Now, the team awaits its next postseason destination.


Collin Ginnan and Brendan Kucera have more on the Buckeyes’ Big Ten Championship win.


OFFENSE


Collin Ginnan


Yes, Ohio State won this game 22-10 and did not score its first touchdown until late in the third quarter. Yes, Trey Sermon also broke the school single-game rushing record with 331 yards on the ground. By no means was this a perfect game, nor was it the expected performance. Nonetheless, Ohio State needed a win and got it.


Mistakes and general disjointedness plagued the Buckeye offense for much of the game — as did an overreliance on the pass in the first half.


There were certainly things for Ohio State to be concerned about. The Buckeyes did not score a first-half touchdown for the first time since 2018 at Purdue. Justin Fields was 12-of-35 for 114 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.


But Sermon’s 271 second-half rushing yards carried Ohio State to its fourth-straight conference title despite its early-game struggles.


Sermon’s breakout game also provided a new dynamic to the Ohio State offense that had been missing most of the season. Having a home-run threat out of the backfield — especially against statistically good run defenses — is crucial for a run in the postseason.


Brendan Kucera


Going into this game, most people were likely expecting a big game from Justin Fields and No. 4 Ohio State blowing out No. 14 Northwestern — neither of which were the case.


Ohio State found itself with a 13-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter against the Wildcats, and it was the Ohio State running attack leading the way.


The Ohio State running game has drawn some criticism this season, but showed up when it was needed most. Master Teague was pulled with an injury after two carries and Trey Sermon took advantage running for 331 yards.


Looking ahead, this creates problems for buckeye opponents who will already have the tall task of scheming against Fields.


With Chris Olave absent, the passing game was nowhere to be found for Ohio State. Justin Fields was dealing with a thumb injury throughout the game which hindered his ability to pass accurately going 12-of-27 for just 114 yards.


Despite struggling to find offensive consistency today, Ohio State has found another weapon in Sermon that they will be able to utilize in future game(s) this season.


DEFENSE


Collin Ginnan


Singling out the yardage, Ohio State’s defensive performance from the first half to the second wasn’t all that different. Northwestern gained 167 yards with 5.4 yards per play in the first half and 162 yards on 4.1 yards per play in the second.


The real difference was in the execution.


Northwestern drove 75 yards for a touchdown in two and a half minutes on its first offensive drive of the game. The Wildcats also converted a field goal at the start of the second quarter. Safety Josh Proctor dropped what would have been an interception for a touchdown — he would go on to redeem that drop with an interception in third quarter.


On the flip side, the second-half drive chart for Northwestern:


  • Interception

  • Punt

  • Missed field goal

  • Interception

  • Fumble

  • Punt

  • Turnover on downs


Linebacker Justin Hilliard was the brightest spot on the Buckeye defense — leading the team in tackles with nine, two tackles for loss, one interception and a fumble recovery. He stepped up in a linebacker core that was without Baron Browning and provided the best defensive game by an Ohio State player this season.


Brendan Kucera


On the defensive side, Ohio State wasn’t faced with many deep passes, but instead had to deal with the run game and short throws from Northwestern.


The Wildcats put up ten points in the first half and were shut out in the second, turning the ball over three times in that half.


Justin Hilliard made a big play when the score was 10-6 intercepting Peyton Ramsey in the endzone in one-on-one coverage and taking away an opportunity for the Wildcats to extend their lead.


The defense made the plays when they were needed, but there are still many questions surrounding that side of the ball, especially the pass defense which is banged up and was already inexperienced coming into the season.


It was hard to determine if the pass defense has gotten better because of the lack of deep shots that Northwestern took in this game, but it will have to continue to get better because whoever Ohio State faces next will be a better offense than Northwestern.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Collin Ginnan


On special teams, walk-on punter Zach Hoover stepped up in the absence of Drue Chrisman and delivered two pins inside the Northwestern six-yard-line.


Expect Ohio State to be announced as a top-four College Football Playoff team Sunday afternoon regardless of what happens Saturday in the ACC and SEC. Who and where Ohio State will be playing is up in the air, but it is unlikely the committee will pass up an undefeated, conference-champion Ohio State.


Brendan Kucera


Sermon, who stepped up for a banged up Ohio State offense, was the biggest thing to take away from this game. Even if Teague is healthy, look for Sermon to get the majority of the carries next game, wherever that may be.


Earning their sixth win of the season and a fourth-straight Big Ten Championship, Ohio State is likely in the College Football Playoff and will find out their fate at noon ET tomorrow.