INDIANAPOLIS — J.T. Barrett looked just fine Saturday. Now it’s up to college football’s selection committee to decide whether No. 8 Ohio State has done enough to earn a playoff bid.
Six days after having surgery on his right knee, Barrett threw two touchdown passes, ran for another and had a crucial fourth-down conversion late in the game to give the Buckeyes a 27-21 victory over previously unbeaten No. 3 Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State (11-2) claimed its first conference crown since its 2014 national championship season. The loss ended the nation’s longest active winning streak at 13 and probably doomed the playoff hopes of the Badgers (12-1).
The reason: Barrett’s incredibly speedy recovery.
“I didn’t have any pain in my knee,” he said before answering whether the Buckeyes deserve a playoff spot. “I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
While most athletes need at least two or three weeks to recover from minor knee surgery, Barrett told doctors and coaches he would be OK. And after watching Barrett in pregame warmups with a protective brace around the injured knee, Barrett got the starting nod and played like the three-time conference quarterback of the year.
After running nine yards to convert a third down on the Buckeyes’ second possession of the game, he found a wide open Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard TD pass to make it 7-0.
Two possessions later, Barrett’s threw a short pass to Parris Campbell, who turned a missed tackle into a 57-yard mistake for another score. Then after a 77-yard run by J.K. Dobbins, Barrett powered in from the 1-yard line to give the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Sure, Barrett made some mistakes and missed some receivers.
But the only time he really paid for it came on an ill-advised pass from near his goal line in the first quarter. Barrett was picked off by Andrew Van Ginkel, who returned it nine yards for a Wisconsin score.
Otherwise, the Buckeyes were pretty much in control.
“We expected to see the best and he was,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said of Barrett. “He’s a heck of a quarterback.”
Wisconsin closed the deficit to 21-10 at the half and 21-13 early in the third quarter.
The Badgers offense finally broke through early in the fourth by capping a 52-yard drive with a Chris James’ 1-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion pass from Alex Hornibrook to Troy Fumagalli after a delay to repair the field. That cut the deficit to 24-21 with 12:39 to go.
Barrett’s fourth-and-1 conversion on the next series set up a short field goal, and the Badgers couldn’t rally on their final two possessions to save the perfect season.
Barrett finished 12 of 26 with 211 yards, two TDs, two interceptions and rushed 19 times for 60 yards.
Ohio State: Since getting blown out at Iowa last month, the Buckeyes have been trying to play their way back into the playoff picture. The win over Wisconsin just might do it. Three of the four playoff spots were likely sewn up Saturday, going to Big 12 champ Oklahoma, SEC champ Georgia and ACC champ Clemson. Will the committee take another conference champion over Auburn or Alabama? “We have two wins over two top-four team and another one over a team ranked 12th or 13th,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re a conference champion and we deserve a shot.”
Wisconsin: Critics contended the Badgers were never as good as their undefeated record because of a weak schedule. On Saturday, they fought to the end but still came up short. The usually stout defense missed too many tackles and gave up too many big plays.
The last time Dobbins played a game in Indiana, he rushed for freshman single-game record of 181 yards in a rout over the Hoosiers. This time, Dobbins broke Maurice Clarett’s single-season freshman record at Ohio State. And all he needed was one run. Dobbins finished with 17 carries for 174 yards and surpassed Clarett’s total of 1,237 yards on the 77-yard run. He finished the day with 1,364 yards. Dobbins was named the game’s MVP.
Wisconsin started the game as the only team in the nation that hadn’t trailed in the fourth quarter. That streak ended when the Badgers opened the fourth down 24-13. Jonathan Taylor’s streak of four straight 100-yard games also ended Saturday. The Big Ten rushing champ was held to 41 yards on 15 carries and failed to score for the fourth time this season.
The game was delayed after the seams of two pieces of turf came apart during James’ TD run. The refs immediately stopped play and summoned maintenance, which spread a black substance underneath the turf and rubber pellets on top of the turf. After about 10 minutes, the game resumed to the roar of the crowd.
Ohio State: Will find out where it’s heading this postseason on Sunday.
Wisconsin: Also awaits its postseason fate Sunday.