(Editor’s note: Bryce Shadday of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI described Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Football Game)
By Bryce Shadday | @Bryce_Shadday
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – As Ohio State coach Ryan Day was presented with Amos Alonzo Stagg Championship Trophy, the Buckeyes stood on a victory stand and held three fingers in the air to celebrate an unprecedented achievement. Their 34-21 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Football Championship Game made the Buckeyes the first team in conference history to win three consecutive outright championships.
Led by quarterback Justin Fields, who threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, and running back J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 172 yards and a score, the Buckeyes scored 27 straight points to overcome a 14-point deficit. Ohio State (13-0) has won or shared 38 conference titles, four behind Michigan’s Big Ten record. The Buckeyes defeated an opponent for the second time in a season for the first time since beating Ohio Medical twice in 1896. They defeated the Badgers, 38-7, on October 26. Wisconsin (10-3), which entered the game with an average of 243.9 rushing yards and gained 194 in the first half, was limited to just six rushing yards in the second half.
Near the end of a championship season, with a spot in the College Football Playoff suddenly threatened, the Buckeyes answered a question that their coach had been asking himself. “What were we going to do down two scores at halftime?” Day said. “We don’t know. The way we responded in that third quarter was unbelievable. You could feel the electricity in the stadium. We imposed our will. I think that goes to show you how special this team is.”
The Buckeyes’ third straight Big Ten title is not the only milestone that was reached in this game. Players from both teams eclipsed records and joined exclusive clubs.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor surpassed 6,000 total rushing yards for his career. He is the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to do so in three seasons and the seventh to accomplish the feat. Taylor only needed 68 yards to reach that milestone coming into the game, and at the 10-minute mark in the second quarter, a six-yard gain gave him exactly 6,000. Taylor’s 148 rushing yards gave him a career total of 6,080 to join a group that includes Wisconsin Heisman Trophy Winner Ron Dayne, who gained 7,125.
Senior Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill impacted the game catching five passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Hill, a former Arkansas Razorback commit, caught two passes in the first half to bring his reception total to seven. The first four receptions for Hill were enough to become Ohio State’s all-time leading receiver, breaking David Boston’s record of 191 receptions.
In the locker room after the game, Hill spoke about breaking the record, saying, “I knew I had broke it, but I couldn’t really think about it because we were behind.” Hill broke the record in the third quarter on a drive in which the Buckeyes were down, 21-17. He caught three passes on the drive, but the second catch broke the record as well as converting a crucial third down. Hill capped that drive off with a 16-yard touchdown catch.
Rather than taking credit for the record, Hill lauded previous Buckeye wide receiver greats during his time at Ohio State. “I had great leaders in front of me to show me the way,” he said. “Michael Thomas, Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, and guys like Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin, I followed their lead and worked hard.”
Fields became the first player in Big Ten history with 40 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a season. Fields, the Grange-Griffin Most Valuable Player, threw for all three of his touchdowns in the second half to surpass former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees for second place for most throwing touchdowns in a season by a Big Ten quarterback. Dwayne Haskins, last year’s Big Ten Championship Game MVP, holds the record with 50 passing touchdowns.
Fields played the entire game on an injured knee, which he admitted he was only 85-90% healthy. “I think when you play on the field, you can’t worry about injuries,” he said. “I was just worried about helping my team out as much as possible and I’m just glad we got the dub.”
When the Buckeyes trailed by 14 points at halftime, Ohio State linebacker and Indianapolis native Pete Werner remembered, Day’s message in the locker room was simple. “He told us ‘We’re going to win this game,’” Werner remembered. The last team to come back from 14 points was Penn State in 2016, which defeated Wisconsin after trailing by as many as 21.
Ohio State was able to pull off the comeback by making the necessary adjustments on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Buckeyes held Taylor to 13 yards rushing in the second half despite allowing 135 yards earned by Taylor in the first half. Offensively, the offensive line gave Fields more time to throw the ball and complete passes, which enabled Dobbins to have his way in the run game.
Dobbins ran for 97 of his 172 yards in the second half. When Dobbins goes over 100 rushing yards, the Buckeyes have a record of 18-0. Fields completed 12 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
With the Buckeyes’ victory, teams that represent the Big Ten East Division are 6-0 in the Big Ten Championship game. Ohio State claims four of those victories including three against Wisconsin.
“After we made our corrections,” defensive end Chase Young said, “what we tried to do is get three-and-outs….I feel like when plays had to be made, they were made. I feel like really that’s the only thing you can ask. When a play has to be made, we make it, get off the field for the offense. I think that’s the best thing we can do. We did it.”