Ohio State 22, Northwestern 10 | Scarlet & Gray Matter analysis

Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein
Columbus Dispatch

Observations on Saturday's Ohio State-Northwestern game, by Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein:

The game at hand

• Short-attention span synopsis: Preach it, young man. Ohio State’s second game in a month, and rust was obvious. Cute not a good look, so Buckeyes get to mauling. Fourth straight Big Ten title comes with antacid tablets. Spoiler alert: Six-win OSU is not a playoff darling, but championships matter. Now, will COVID spike the party punchbowl?

• Pregame buzz: Were style points needed? Or would simply a win ensure that the Buckeyes secured a spot in the College Football Playoff? While Ohio State vied for a fourth consecutive league championship, an unprecedented run of success in the history of the conference, the predominant storyline centered on its credentials for playoff qualification, especially as coaches and administrators (see: Texas A&M and Notre Dame) politicked for their teams in recent days, highlighting the discrepancy in games played.

Spread the wealth?: Perhaps the only thing more foolish than betting real money on 18- to 20-year-old college football players is doing so in the midst of a pandemic. Ohio State’s status as a 20½-point favorite seemed a stretch even before receiver Chris Olave ended up on the COVID list, an action that rendered OSU’s passing game as ineffectual as sugar in the gas tank. The Buckeyes were strong enough to break Northwestern’s will, but covering that line was doomed early.

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon shows off the MVP trophy while surrounded by his teammates after Ohio State's 22-10 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.

Strategically speaking: Between halves, the Buckeyes changed their approach on offense and hitched their game plan to their running game. After carries by running backs accounted for only nine of 37 OSU plays in the first half, the Buckeyes ran 27 out of 34 times over the final two quarters. Trey Sermon had 22 attempts after halftime and went on to break Eddie George’s 25-year single-game school rushing record by totaling 331 yards.

This week in vanity plates: 6 IS ENUF

The View

• How the team sees it: Yes, we’ve only played six games, but this season feels much longer than that.

• How the playoff committee will see it: Leaving out an unbeaten team with a playoff track record was just too hard of a sell.

• How Buckeye Nation will see it: We should be in, but are we good enough to get through the semifinals?  

Hey, what did Day say?

What he said: "If we had to play one game against anybody in the country, I’ll take the Ohio State Buckeyes."

What it means: "We want 'Bama. But we'll take Clemson."

They said it

Your turn/the channel: Friend of the program Gus Johnson did not have to stretch his lungs too much in describing the action, though it’s curious that such a veteran play-by-play man would continue to show complete surprise when Sermon burst into the Northwestern secondary time and again. Mostly, though, the Fox telecast was uneven and unsatisfying, largely because of the frequent – and often epically long – breaks for commercials and “Masked Dancer” promotions.

Numbers for dummies

39: Number of Big Ten championships won by Ohio State, including its title this season.

13: Average margin of victory for Ohio State in its past four wins in the conference championship game.

0: Points scored by Northwestern in the second half.

44.4%: Completion percentage by quarterback Justin Fields, the lowest of his college career.

9.2: Average yards per rush attempt by Ohio State, nearly twice as many as per pass attempt.

2: Punts by Zach Hoover that were pinned inside Northwestern’s 10-yard line. Hoover was filling in for Drue Chrisman, who was unavailable after testing positive for the coronavirus.

399: Rushing yards by Ohio State, the most since totaling 410 in a win over Rutgers in 2016.

19: Points scored by the Buckeyes out of seven trips to the red zone, limited by an interception from Fields and settling for field goals.

3: Points scored by Ohio State on its opening drive, the first time in six games this season that the offense did not score a touchdown on its first possession.

10: Combined sacks and tackles for loss by Northwestern's defense, which was effective in getting pressure in the Buckeyes' backfield.  

On tap

For the third time in five seasons, Ohio State can sum up its playoff appearance this way: A little Dabo will do ya. Yep, the Buckeyes placed No. 3 and drew No. 2 Clemson in a New Year's Day semifinal. That's not necessarily good news for OSU, which is 0-2 (one blowout, one heartbreaker) in the past two meetings and 0-4 overall against the Tigers. At least the game will be played in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans rather 2,000 miles away in Pasadena.

Tweethearts

Reactions to the game on Twitter:

@offtackleempire: let's not forget the adversity the Buckeyes are facing, having to rely on 4-star players instead of 5-stars 

@MegNBrews: Current status. Screaming at the tv. Come on, Buckeyes 

@mcrubberglove: Pains me to say it, but I don’t want this Buckeyes team anywhere NEAR the playoff 

@mkremer48: Can you imagine how Alabama or Clemson would annihilate this horrible Defense? 

@BeardedWagner: Penalties are killing us on offense. 

@10centBeerNite: What’s killing you on defense? 

@evansevcik24: Buckeyes getting manhandled by a bunch of future attorneys and CEOs. 

@the3rdwoo: Buckeyes playing bad enough to lose to Michigan today. Just kidding 

@ds_wendy: Buckeyes are 2020ing the hell out of this game! 

@B0ss607: Justin Fields plays 2 ranked teams this season and he plays like doo-doo in both. 

@kennysipes: Started that drive with a 21- and a 25-yard run. And then threw six straight passes ending in an interception. Read the room, coaches. 

@elliewilhelm: Nesting/stress cleaning is all that’s getting me through this game. 

@jsab4807: When did Ryan Day turn into Freddie Kitchens? Good lord this is unwatchable. 

@THEmarkajohnson: Justin Field has played more like Totie Fields today. Yes, it is a dated reference. 

@JWherle: The only person on the field that can stop Trey Sermon right now is Ryan Day … and its working 

@62010Mullins: Our Buckeyes may win this game.... but they lost the playoff spot 

@mo219908: I hereby commit the name of my first born child to be Trey Sermon Jr. My potential daughter will be (ticked) but the decision has been made. 

Horseshoe haiku

Sermon delivers 

Fire and brimstone, lights match 

To start Buckeyes’ blaze

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

rstein@dispatch.com