Yeah, that might not have been how you pictured it going down, but savor the flavor because four straight Big Ten crowns don't grow on trees.
Ohio State came back to beat Northwestern, 22-10, yesterday in Indianapolis, despite being short-handed again due to COVID-19, to clinch another Big Ten crown and (unofficially until around noon) a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Trey (F.) Sermon went absolutely bonkers, rushing for an Ohio State single-game record 331 yards on 11.4 a pop with two touchdowns in what feels like the most out-of-the-blue performance in school history. Sermon had 344 rushing yards across Ohio State's first five games combined.
Ohio State needed every magical yard from Sermon as Justin Fields struggled for much of the afternoon and Ryan Day's playcalling favored the pass even with the running game clicking behind an offensive line mauling dudes up front. Seriously, throwback screens, backward passes, dialing up multiple passes when the running game couldn't be stopped and the passing game was out of sync. Pure insanity from a guy who is obviously an offensive wizard but just kept getting too cute for reasons I don't yet understand.
Whatever. Ohio State won yet I remain concerned the secondary in particular can keep the Buckeyes from an early playoff exit although tip your cap to the front seven as the Bullets held an admittedly meh Wildcats offense to three points over the final three quarters. And as we know from experience, once you're in the final four anything can happen.
While we wait for the CFP announcement, here are Five Things from another championship performance in Indianapolis.
PLAYING JUST SIX GAMES IS NOT AN ADVANTAGE
I was already tired of whiny ass coaches and media talking about Ohio State being on an easy street to the playoffs because it had only played five games entering yesterday.
To be accurate, Ohio State was on easy street because the Big Ten largely sucks. But playing what is now six games over a choppy ass schedule due to COVID-19 issues for both the Buckeyes and opponents has not been a bonus.
The reality, calendar wise, is Ohio State is basically in mid-October form if this were a normal season. You think Harry Miller could've used some more games/reps heading into a playoff? What about this secondary? You think maybe some of the receivers not named Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave would be more seasoned if they could've played more games? Hell yes.
Ohio State enters the playoffs with a hand tied behind its back because it has only played six games. It does not have an advantage in the playoff because it only played six games.
SALUTING TOMMY TOGIAI AND HASKELL GARRETT
It's unreal to me just how criminally underrated Ohio State's interior defensive line is. Tommy Togiai is a second-team All-Big Ten performer and Haskell Garrett is just a third team guy? Voters out here are just flat out not watching film or else huffing paint while they do so.
Garrett was flat out unstoppable with five tackles, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and countless times where he disrupted plays with super quick penetration.
Togiai didn't stuff the stat sheet to the same degree, posting three stops, but it was the same deal. He was constantly in the backfield and helping keep the linebackers clean to make plays.
If Ohio State does find itself matched up with Alabama or Clemson, the ability of these two to disrupt timing, keep linebackers free and try to take some pressure off the shaky secondary will go a long way in determining the outcome.
CONCERN OVER FIELDS?
Against Ohio State's two toughest opponents, Indiana and Northwestern, Justin Fields completed 52.6% of his passes for an average of 207 yards per game with two touchdowns passes against five interceptions.
Yesterday, Fields was 12-for-27 including a 4-for-17 stretch spanning late in the first quarter to the middle of the third.
Obviously not having Chris Olave threw things for a loop but he still looked skittish in the pocket at times, held the ball forever in too many instances and made a really poor decision lowering his shoulder on a would-be tackler in the red zone for no reason, leading to his thumb injury.
Make no mistake, Fields is an incredible player but he has undeniably struggled against the two best teams he's seen so far this season. That has to be a little concerning, right?
THE MAN IS 137 YEARS OLD - AND HE'S A BAD ASS
Justin Hilliard has quietly played some really good football this year and yesterday was the best we've seen yet.
The sixth-year senior has endured more than his fair share of setbacks but he's a bad ass dude that just keeps sticking with it.
With Baron Browning unavailable, Hilliard posted a team-high nine stops, two for loss, and an interception.
The pick was crucial as Ohio State already trailed 10-6 with Northwestern marching to start the second half. On 3rd-and-8 from the OSU 9, Hillard locked up in man-to-man coverage and shadowed his man near the front left pylon before pivoting and jumping to secure the football.
Hilliard also recovered a fumble later in the second half to thwart another Wildcat drive.
Just a hell of a day from a guy that stays ready and serves as Exhibit A to Ohio State's culture.
PASS DEFENSE STRUGGLES CONTINUE
Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey set season-highs with 224 passing yards and 24 completions despite attempting just the fourth-most passes in a game this season.
He was picked off twice, once by a linebacker and once by safety Josh Proctor but if you aren't concerned about Ohio State's pass defense headed into the playoffs, I'll have what you're having.
Injuries, guys kicked off the team, the best cover guy switching positions, and a lack of development/reps from only playing six games means Ohio State should have its hands full should a matchup against Mac Jones or Trevor Lawrence sit just over the horizon.
The Buckeyes did keep Ramsey from completing a touchdown pass on the afternoon but boy does it feel like this group is ripe for the picking by a legit QB unless the pass rush goes bananas.