Ohio State football: Buckeyes win, but do themselves no favors
It’s a beauty contest. Sure, the committee that chooses the College Football Playoff will deny it. They’ll point at metrics and formulas, quality wins, and non-conference schedules. But at the end of the day — unless you’re Georgia — it’s going to be a beauty contest. Everybody who isn’t No. 1 Georgia is playing college football not in a vacuum, but in a world where everybody else’s results matter.
And in that world, Ohio State kept their CFP dreams alive with Saturday’s 26-17 win over Nebraska. But the Buckeyes didn’t do themselves any favors.
They were outrushed by Nebraska, 113-95. The Buckeyes had the first multi-interception game from superb freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud. Ohio State struggled at times with penalties, picking up 8 flags. Nebraska wideout Samori Toure racked up 150 receiving yards on just 4 catches. Twice, the Buckeyes opened up multi-touchdown leads, once at 17-3 and then again at 23-10. Both times, Nebraska hit big passes to Toure, one for a touchdown to bring Nebraska back into the game, and the other covering 53 yards to the 1-yard line, leading to a touchdown on the next play.
Yes, the good news is that the Buckeyes ultimately did take care of business. Michigan State didn’t. Wake Forest didn’t. Cincinnati flirted with a loss even closer than OSU did.
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But at the same time, this game, as one of 4 remaining regular season contests, was a chance for Ohio State to distance itself from the pack, a chance to not only move into the CFP top 4 (the Michigan State loss probably will take care of that) but to establish some breathing room, some certainly in a season of insanity.
Ohio State got an all-world performance from Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who set a school single-game record for catches (15) and was 2nd in receiving yards (240) in a single game in program history. Kicker Noah Ruggles, who had been rarely tested, was perfect on 3 crucial field goals, a pair coming from 46 yards out, longer than his previous best of the season.
OSU’s defense had its moments, picking up 5 sacks against Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez. And ultimately, the Buckeyes held serve. The running game struggled, but the passing game sometimes soared (most of that was Smith-Njigba). The defense gave up a couple of big passes, but not much else.
The other bit of good news is that it’s not like the Buckeyes will finish their schedule playing Southwestern Alaska Tech and hoping to sneak into the CFP. The three remaining opponents figure to be a pair of top-10 teams — Michigan State and Michigan — to finish the season. But before that comes a very respectable Purdue squad that might sneak into the top 25 this week after beating the Spartans.
Still, for the second week in a row, Ohio State played a less than stellar B1G squad with a chance to make its case clear for the CFP. The Buckeyes didn’t sabotage their status with a loss, but they also didn’t do anything to help themselves in the long term.
“We’re just not clean in some areas,” OSU coach Ryan Day admitted after the game.
A dirty win certainly trumps a loss. But it may not be enough in the sport’s ultimately beauty pageant.