INDIANAPOLIS – Coming into the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night Ohio State wanted to make a statement and it did.
But it wasn’t exactly the statement it wanted to make.
By the time the game kicked off, OSU had only the longest of long shots to make the College Football Playoff. The only imaginable chance to do that was to crush Northwestern and hope somehow the playoff selection committee would find that impressive enough to include the Buckeyes in the top four teams.
Instead, the statement Ohio State made in its 45-24 win over Northwestern was that it was the same talented but sometimes inconsistent and frustrating team it has been much of the season.
The Buckeyes’ 12-1 record is nearly perfect but the process of getting there sometimes was a little bumpy.
“We were up and down. That’s what happens when you have some injuries you’re dealing with, you have some adversity you’re dealing with and not many teams out there are perfect. We’re 12-1 and champions of arguably the best conference in America,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
“The way I got through it, the way I hope our players got through it was, ‘Who cares?’ You just show up every Tuesday for practice and get a little better. That’s what they did,” he said.
“The ultimate prize is a national championship. But you can’t even be in that conversation unless you win your conference. Our objective is to get to Indy, win the conference championship and if we have a chance to play for a national championship our guys will be ready to go.”
When OSU was at its best on Saturday night and all season it rode the exceptional right arm of quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
He was on top of his game again on Saturday night when he completed 34 of 41 passes for a career-high 499 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to their second consecutive Big Ten championship. But both of those championships could be the biggest prize they get in those seasons. They appear to be headed to the Rose Bowl to play Washington.
Haskins threw two of his touchdown passes in the first half when OSU built a 24-7 lead. Then, after Northwestern cut the lead to 24-21 halfway through the third quarter, he threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave, set up another with a 63-yard pass to Johnnie Dixon, then came back to Dixon for a 9-yard scoring pass to put the Buckeyes in front 38-24 with nine minutes to play.
Finally, his 17-yard touchdown pass to J.K. Dobbins with 4:09 to play, which made the score 45-24, put the game away.
Ohio State might not have gotten quite the statement it wanted, but its third-year sophomore quarterback might have made a Heisman Trophy statement.
Ohio State had 607 yards total offense. Northwestern (8-5) was led by quarterback Clayton Thorson, who completed 27 of 44 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser, of Sidney, rushed for 60 yards on 13 carries.
Ohio State put together a 77-yard touchdown drive after taking the opening kickoff to go up 7-0 in the game’s first five minutes.
Haskins hit Parris Campbell with passes of of 14 yards, 11 yards and 16 yards during the drive, then finished it with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin after escaping from potential sacks twice.
Northwestern tied the game on a 77-yard touchdown run by John Moten with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
It was the sixth time Ohio State’s defense had given up a run of 70 yards or more this season and the seventh play of more than 70 yards it has allowed. Moten had 127 yards all season and his longest run was 29 yards before Saturday night.
OSU’s next score came after Chase Young sacked Thorson and forced a fumble that the Buckeyes recovered at Northwestern’s 46-yard line with 9:35 left in the first half.
That drive ended with a 42-yard field goal by Blake Haubeil. The lead grew to 24-7 when Haskins connected with McLaurin for a 42-yard touchdown throw with 1:21 left in the first half.
“Sure it matters. The ultimate prize is a national championship. But you can’t even be in that conversation unless you win your conference. Our objective is to get to Indy, win the conference championship and if we have a chance to play for a national championship our guys will be ready to go.”
“I don’t really want to get into that tonight. It’s a tough situation for them (the College Football Playoff selection committee). There are a lot of great football teams out there and we’re one of those great teams. I think there is a lot of merit to winning your conference, which we did. You look at the road wins we had – at Penn State, at Michigan State, at TCU and obviously the way we played against the fourth-ranked team in America and the way we played tonight. I don’t know if we’re in position to start making statements about where we belong but I know they’ve got a tough decision to make because we’re a heck of a football team.”
“I’ll never forget this team. One of the most unselfish group of players I’ve ever been around,” Meyer said.
“This was a very unique year. And there’s only one explanation for why we’re sitting here as Big Ten champs and that’s that group of players. I’ve got to point out guys like Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. I don’t know what you do without those guys. There’s no chance we’re in this situation, without Dre’Mont Jones, no chance, without Tuf Borland. Isaiah Prince. The captains on this team were phenomenal.”
“Nick Bosa, that was a shot, and we all love Nick. I’m not saying that — but that guy means so much to our program. And that was — that was one that took a while to recover from. But our guys did. Obviously we love Nick. I’m just saying. But you take the best player in college football now and a great locker room guy,” he said.