INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State played with a lead, usually a huge lead, for almost the entire regular season. But to win a Big Ten championship, the Buckeyes had to show they could rally.
Behind quarterback Justin Fields and an energized defense, Ohio State erased a 21-7 halftime deficit against No. 8 Wisconsin and outscored the Badgers 27-0 in the second half of the Big Ten championship to prevail 34-21. The top-ranked Buckeyes claimed their third consecutive league title and secured a College Football Playoff spot for the first time since 2016.
Wisconsin led 14-0. After Ohio State scored in the final minute of the first half, Wisconsin needed only 32 seconds to reach the end zone. The Buckeyes hadn’t faced a double-digit deficit before Saturday.
“I was curious to see how we would react and respond to some adversity,” defensive lineman Robert Landers said, “but I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys. We responded very well.”
Ohio State’s typically stout defense allowed 294 first-half yards, including 9.2 yards per rush, to Wisconsin, which moved the ball with ease behind quarterback Jack Coan, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Quintez Cephus. Fields, playing with a brace on his left knee, took three sacks, fumbled inside the 10-yard line and struggled with his accuracy.
“Was I nervous? Yeah, I was a little nervous,” first-year coach Ryan Day said. “We had a group of guys in that locker room who were barking at each other that they weren’t going to leave this place without a win. We all got together and said, ‘This is like life, it isn’t always going to work out the way you want it.’ The challenge was we were going to find out what was really made inside of us. I think you saw that.”
Fields didn’t attribute his struggles to a sprained ligament in his knee, which he aggravated in last week’s win at Michigan. He said he was “too calm” and “something was wrong mentally” in the first half, as he completed just 7 of 14 attempts. He went 12-for-17 passing in the second half with three touchdowns.
Fields credited injured wide receiver C.J. Saunders for speaking to the team at halftime. Ohio State outscored Wisconsin 17-0 in the third quarter, as the Badgers gained only 23 yards on 16 plays.
“That made us stronger, just going through that little stumble, that helped the team gain confidence,” said Fields, who earned championship game MVP honors. “It definitely put us in a situation we’ve never been in before. The way we prepare and the way we get ready for things, it just helps us a lot. Going out there with confidence is the biggest thing. If you know in your mind that you’re going to come back and play your game, that was the biggest part in that comeback.”
Fields called the game a “once-in-a-lifetime” victory. Star defensive end Chase Young thinks it strengthens Ohio State’s case to remain No. 1 in the final playoff rankings.
“To see us come back, and not just come back, but we came back and we dominated,” Young said. “I feel like a team that can flip the switch like that is, you know, a No. 1-worthy team.”