INDIANAPOLIS— For two quarters it looked like this one might be put in the nightmare file along with Michigan State 2013 and 2015, Purdue last season, Iowa in 2017 and Clemson in the College Football Playoff three years ago.
It would be incorrect to say Ohio State did almost everything wrong in the first half of its 34-21 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night and did everything right in the second half.
But it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration.
After spotting Wisconsin leads of 14-0 and 21-7 in the first half, OSU roared back to score 27 unanswered points in the second half to move on to the College Football playoff with a 13-0 record. Wisconsin dropped to 10-3, with two of the losses coming against Ohio State.
OSU’s regular-season win followed a similar pattern as Saturday night’s win. Wisconsin never led in that game but Ohio State scored the last 28 points to win 38-7.
Justin Fields completed 19 of 31 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, all three of them in the second half, and was named the championship game’s most valuable player. J.K. Dobbins rushed for 172 yards on 33 carries and scored Ohio State’s only touchdown in the first half. K.J. Hill caught 7 passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
It was Ohio State’s third straight win in the Big Ten championship game.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor rushed for 148 yards and scored a touchdown after gaining a total of 93 yards in the two other games he had played against OSU in his career.
“This team is unbelievable,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said as the Buckeyes celebrated on the field after their big comeback.
“We knew this was going to be an emotional game. We have to give Wisconsin credit. They played their tails off in this game, but we said at halftime that we were going to find out what this team is made of inside. We’re going to find out about the character of this team. They came out and played unbelievable in the second half,” he said.
Fields said, “I think the whole team knew that we didn’t play up to our potential in the first half. We got together and came out with confidence in the second half and just played our game.”
“I had no idea it was going to happen like this, but everything happens for a reason and God put me here so I’m just grateful for my coaches, grateful for my teammates, and definitely grateful for Buckeye Nation,” he said about his first season in an Ohio State uniform.
Wisconsin came out swinging when it won the coin toss, took the ball and jetted down the field on a 5-play, 83-yard scoring drive to go up 7-0 three minutes into the game.
Wisconsin’s image has long been that it is a power running team, but on the first play quarterback Jack Coan fired a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Quintez Cephus. Three plays later, Taylor got loose for a 44-yard touchdown run.
Ohio State has been shut out twice in the first quarter all season and both times came against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin increased its lead to 14-0 with a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed 6:39 of the second quarter. Coan’s 11-yard touchdown run ended the drive.
With its offense struggling in the second quarter, Ohio State rolled out some trickery when punter Drue Chrisman hit tight end Luke Farrell with a 21-yard pass.
Three plays later, OSU was on Wisconsin’s 8-yard line, but that did not end well, either, when Fields fumbled and Wisconsin recovered at its 4-yard line with six minutes left in the first half.
Ohio State was feeling a little better about itself after it drove 71 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown, which came on a two-yard run by J.K. Dobbins to cut the lead to 14-7 with 42 seconds left in the first half.
But when Taylor had a 45-yard run on the first play after the kickoff, the Badgers were in scoring position and did score, on a 1-yard run by Coan to go up 21-7 at halftime.
It took Ohio State just over a minute and a half into the second half to score at the end of a 5-play, 75-yard drive. A 50-yard pass from Fields to Olave got OSU into scoring position and a one-handed touchdown catch by tight end Jeremy Ruckert cut the lead to 21-14.
Ohio State caught a break when Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti dropped the snap and the Buckeyes recovered at Wisconsin’s 16-yard line on the Badgers’ next possession. Blake Haubeil’s 27-yard field goal after that turnover made it 21-17.
Wisconsin’s kicking problems continued on their next possession when Collin Larsh missed a 48-yard field goal.
Ohio State took the lead at 24-21 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Hill with 2:23 left in the third quarter and never let it get away.
A 13-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Hill and a 24-yard field goal by Haubeil in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 34-21.