After giving up 313 yards in the first half, Ohio State comes alive in second half and overtime … Barrett has gutty performance to lead way for undefeated team … Opponents who have power-rushing attacks give defense problems.
Ohio State had just knocked off Wisconsin in overtime, sealing the win with a group-sack on fourth down that set off a joyous combination of leaping, hugging, screaming and falling down with laughter, when my iPhone dinged with a message from a Buckeye fan.
You could almost sense the gloom that accompanied the words:
“A win is a win, right?”
Seriously? That was the instant analysis from this game?
If you’re stinking it up and looking uglier than a tapped-out UFC fighter’s face, all that matters is coming away with a victory. But the Buckeyes went into Wisky at night — where the press box shakes above the stadium as fans react to the playing of “Jump Around” by literally jumping around — and beat the eighth-ranked team in the nation with a masterful second half and OT.
Don’t put this one in the “win-is-a-win” box, where you act sheepish and apologetic for having prevailed. This wasn’t one of those lackluster performances from last season like the seven-point wins over Indiana and Northern Illinois.
This was a monster victory, one that will earn respect around the nation and could propel Ohio State to great things.
But, no, it wasn’t perfect, so let’s address some facts here.
The Buckeyes allowed 313 yards in the first half. Awful. And there could be trouble a-brewin’.
The defense is built for speed, not power, and the front seven lacks beef. I suppose you have to decide what you want, and while the Buckeyes are great in space, they can be overpowered with smashmouth football.
That’s Wisconsin’s forte. It’s also what Michigan does so well and why that game is potentially a worrisome match-up (sorry, Buckeye fans, if that just made you reach for the Tums).
The Badgers had their way in the first half, much of their yardage coming between the tackles when the Buckeyes were getting knocked back as if they were on roller skates.
But the defense surrendered only 11 yards in the third quarter, allowing J.T. Barrett and Co. to get their act together.
The Buckeyes looked like themselves during an extended drive on their opening series of the second half. But Barrett, just as the rain started falling, had a pass slip out of hands and was intercepted in the end zone. The score stayed 16-6.
You figured they needed points there in such a low-possession game. But it didn’t matter.
They forced their second straight three-and-out, and it was an offensive explosion after that.
Their next four possessions:
Touchdown in OT to win the game.
Barrett was 17-for-29 for 226 yards and two scores. He rushed 21 times for a team-high 92 yards.
Meyer afterward called his fourth-year junior QB a soldier and a warrior, which, in my book, is the ultimate compliment for an athlete.
He also said about his team: “We’re good, man. We’ve just got to get a little bit better.”
The game was full of big plays and crazy sequences. Here are a few:
Senior moment: I’m not a Dontre Wilson fan. He’s become as scary as Jalin Marshall on punt returns — and I don’t mean that in a good way. He’s not the blur we thought he’d be when he came here four years ago as a highly regarded all-purpose back from Texas. The recruitniks missed on that one.
But he had what may end up being the catch of his career — a 43-yard grab in traffic that set up a 31-yard Tyler Durbin field goal to tie it with 3:57 left.
It was huge because a big gain by Curtis Samuel was nullified by a holding penalty.
One play before the field goal, though, I actually thought Barrett had a lane for a first down or more. On a third-and-5 keeper, he cut outside instead of ducking upfield, and was dropped after a two-yard gain.
A missed opportunity.
Interception wiped out: Gareon Conley made his second interception of the game with 55 seconds left. I realize you’re supposed to say he “appeared” to make the interception. You know, to be unbiased and all.
But Conley pulled it down, his elbow was under the ball when he hit the turf, and he hauled it in when he momentarily lost control on the ground.
The officials checked replay, of course, which is always a box of chocolates. But even the guest replay guru in the TV booth agreed the play should stand and not be overruled.
Of course, it was overruled. Wisconsin had one more play from midfield but threw an incompletion.
Most would think missed call didn’t hurt since Ohio State forced a punt. But Meyer might have gotten aggressive and tried to score after Conley’s pick at the 21-yard line with 55 seconds left and two timeouts. After a punt to the 15, he had to settle for OT.
Too many flags: A you can’t have penalties on offense in an overtime. As George Patton said, you hate to pay for the same real estate twice. But that’s what the Buckeyes did.
After one first down, they had a momentum-stalling false start on Isaiah Prince, making it first-and-15.On second-and-short, it was holding on Jamarco Jones.
Barrett extracted them from that mess, completing a third-and-two pass to Noah Brown for a TD. Nice.
Looking ahead: The schedule still looks like a minefield: at Penn State next week in prime time (with a bye week to prepare like Wisconsin), Northwestern and Nebraska at home, at Maryland, at Michigan State, Michigan at home.
Daunting, for sure.
But the Buckeyes have never lost a true road game under Meyer, winning all 20 they’ve played. I don’t see them losing another this season.
This was a major test — facing an opponent that has beaten LSU from the mighty SEC, coming on a night when 80,000-plus fans were screaming themselves blue.
We could be looking at a rematch in the Big Ten title game, which is why this was such a gutty win.
The only downer was not being able to see ABC commentator and renowned Buckeye-basher Mark May, who picked Wisconsin in an upset (real surprise there), not have to give Ohio State its due afterward. For whatever reason, the network has pregame and halftime analysis but just signs off and doesn’t go back to the studio for more discussion after prime-time games.
I think I would have enjoyed that.