In the span of two days, Ohio State learned it would be without its starting quarterback, J.T. Barrett, for the rest of the season and that it would have to bury a teammate.
Its Big Ten Championship Game preparations against Wisconsin began with a funeral after walk-on senior defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge went missing for five days, he was found dead in a trash bin near his off-campus apartment. His death was ruled a suicide.
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And with the biggest game of the season (at the time) looming, it all felt inconsequential in a week that was a reminder of the fragility of life. It put football in perspective.
“You can look at a coaching manual and I'm not sure you'll find anything … You'll never get over it,” said Meyer, who added, "this is life lessons, this is so much deeper than lining up on a football field.”
Taylor Decker, the junior tackle and Karageorge's friend, added, “we’re trained to handle adverse situations, obviously not something of this magnitude. We’re trained to play football and this is so much more than that.
"Football’s just a game," he continued. "People blow it out of proportion and make it a lot bigger than it is.”
Even so, the Buckeyes carried on with heavy hearts as they geared up for the Badgers and one last chance to bolster their hopes of securing a spot in first-ever College Football Playoff.
“Every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game. You have some really good built-in excuses,” Meyer said. “To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge.”
Yet on the big stage and with the nation watching, Ohio State obliterated Wisconsin, 59-0, to win its first Big Ten title under Meyer. The Buckeyes outgained the Badgers, 558-258, and were so dominant that they led 38-0 at halftime and amassed 364 yards in the first half.
Players of the Game: Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith
Considering just how dominant the Buckeyes were, it was too hard to single one player out for a particularly exceptional performance. Instead, Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott and Devin Smith were equally lights out in the team's obliteration of Wisconsin.
Jones, making his first-career start against the Badgers, threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 12-of-17 passes. He was awarded the game's Most Valuable Player.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Devin Smith caught four passes for 137 yards — three of which were touchdowns.
Critical Play of the Game: Jones' 39-yard touchdown pass to Smith to go up, 7-0, less than two minutes into the game
In a game like this, there really was no critical play of the game. Ohio State dominated the Badgers from kickoff to when the confetti fell from the rafters at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Rather, the Buckeyes set the tone of the game when Cardale Jones tossed a 39-yard pass to Devin Smith less than two minutes into the contest. Just like that, Ohio State led, 7-0, and the Badgers turned into a deer in the headlights.
It also answered — somewhat emphatically at that —whether or not its offense would struggle without J.T. Barrett, who suffered a season-ending injury the week before.
What It Meant
When it was over, as the celebration ensued on the field, Urban Meyer smiled and radiated the kind of unadulterated joy you'd find in a 7-year-old on Christmas morning.
B1G Championship Game Coverage
- OSU Crushes Wisconsin, 59-0
- Big Stage, Big Statement
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- B1G Title in GIFs
- 3rd String to MVP
- Tweetstorm: B1G Title
- Photos: B1G Title
- Videos: Celebration, Carmen Ohio
- B1G Title Notebook
- Twitter Reaction
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- Five Things
- B1G Title Game Poster
- Film Study: Shutting Down Gordon
- Film Breakdown: Wisconsin
After falling to Michigan State on this stage last season, the Buckeyes avenged a devastating loss that defined their postseason collapse a year ago.
That they did so without Braxton Miller, without J.T. Barrett and with heavy hearts after laying Karageorge to rest just a few days before. It all made the moment that much more meaningful.
In a week with every reason to be less than entirely focused, they put together their most complete performance in three seasons under Meyer, who talked of winning the Big Ten title as a precursor to even bigger aspirations.
“This is without question the most improved — from start to finish — team that I've ever been around. To see them operate in all facets of the game at a high, high level from our punter to the way we played defense, then offense was incredible," Meyer said.
"All I can speak to is I've been around teams that have competed and won national championships. This team, the way it's playing right now, is one of the top teams in America."
But the fifth-ranked Buckeyes wouldn't find out their postseason fate until the next day. Meyer and his players argued they were worthy of one of the four spots in college football's new postseason format.
"I think tonight showed that and I mean, honestly, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re one of the top four teams in the country," said senior tight end Jeff Heuerman. "I don't know how you don't put us in the top four, honestly. I've kept my mouth shut about that for a pretty long time. I'm done with that. We’re definitely one of the top four teams in the country."
Michael Bennett, the senior defensive lineman who wore Karageorge's No. 53, said “just watch the film of what we just did."
"We just functioned on all cylinders tonight," he continued, "and when you see something like that happen, you have to take a step back and wonder, well, who can’t they beat when they’re functioning on all cylinders."