In a tepid affair where Ohio State trailed unranked and pitiful Indiana in the third quarter, Jalin Marshall played the roles of hero and redeemer.
Marshall, who had two critical fumbles in a sloppy win against Minnesota the week before, saved the day as the sixth-ranked Buckeyes used a late and furious surge to rally past the Hoosiers, 42-27.
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In his second start of the season, the redshirt freshman H-back, scored the team's final four touchdowns — including an electric 54-yard punt return for a touchdown that sparked Ohio State back to life. His efforts helped the Buckeyes clinch a return to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis and kept afloat their hopes of a bid in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Player of the Game: Jalin Marshall
To understand the scope of Marshall's heroics against Indiana, you have to understand his outing against the Golden Gophers in frigid Minneapolis a week earlier. While he had five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, his two fumbles (one while trying to plow his way into the end zone and while trying to field a punt) took the luster out of Ohio State's 31-24 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
After the contest, Marshall was attacked over social media by a throng of fans who blamed him for nearly costing the Buckeyes the win (although the game was more or less never truly in doubt because of Minnesota's horrifically one-dimensional offense).
As if he were trying to assemble an appropriate response to their vitriol, Marshall combined for 151 yards and four touchdowns — which came one after the other after the other.
“It’s very satisfying," Marshall said, "but I’m not satisfied with my season yet. But it does feel good to kind of have that barrier off my back with all the negative things I got toward me."
It also helped vindicate Marshall's expanding role in Ohio State's offense.
Play of the Game: Marshall's 54-yard punt return for a touchdown
Trailing the Hoosiers, 20-14, following Indiana running back Tevin Coleman's 90-yard run, a spell of unease fell over the Horseshoe. Ohio State's powerful offense had come to a most unexpected halt and the defense had given up the longest run in stadium history.
In the waning minutes of the third quarter, though, Marshall turned the entire tide of the game.
As an otherwise ordinary punt soared across the field, it felt like there was a certain tension in the air as the hushed crowd waited for Marshall, who had fumbled twice last week, to carefully haul the ball in.
When he did, he ducked and dodged a handful of defenders before galloping 54 yards for a touchdown. The din of the crowd swelled as the Buckeyes seized command of a game that few expected to be this close.
“When Jalin took the punt back to the house, that was the one that sparked it all. It seemed like everybody was high-tempo, high-energy,” redshirt sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said.
“Everybody was ready to go out and make plays. Everybody was talking; at first there really wasn’t anybody saying too much on the field. The energy — you could definitely tell. There was a change.”
The Buckeyes scored another 21-straight points to ice the game.
What It Meant
In a game that was marred by turnovers and general sloppiness, Ohio State clinched a return to Lucas Oil Stadium for the right to play for the Big Ten Championship. And though the Buckeyes might have lost a half-step in the race for a spot in the playoff, head coach Urban Meyer didn't appear particularly concerned.
Indiana Game Coverage
- Buckeyes Rally Past Indiana
- OSU Keeps Playoff Hopes Afloat
- Marshall Saves the Day
- Photos: Indiana
- VIDEO: Carmen Ohio After the Win
- Indiana Notebook
- Indiana Twitter Reaction
- Indiana Debriefing
- Indiana Quotebook
- Five Things
- Film Study: Marshall's Punt Return
- Film Breakdown: Indiana
- Indiana Game Poster
"We're fine. I guess, whatever the score was, somewhat of a close call," he said. "Just have to play better. We still are division champs.”
On one hand, Ohio State looked very average for about three quarters against a bad Indiana team. On the other hand, the Buckeyes made a series of critical plays when they needed them the most despite an otherwise clumsy performance.
“We're conference division champions, won a bunch of games in a row (and) we have some work to do," Meyer said. "Sometimes in college football, things don't go exactly as scripted.”
“We noticed it in warm ups, the atmosphere wasn’t the same," Powell said. "It was kind of dead for the football team, so we addressed the issue in the locker room before we went out on the field, but it still seemed like nobody got it.”
Thanks to Marshall, though, it wasn't enough to derail Ohio State's season.