Buckeyes' adjustments vs. Wisconsin keep playoff hopes in their own hands
MADISON — Noah Brown had already made the adjustment.
He knew that the Badger corners had been playing press coverage all game. It was just he and Eric Burrell, lined up with College Football Playoff hopes potentially hanging in the balance in overtime.
The end zone was the place that he became a viral sensation for the coach of the year. He nearly repeated that against-the-defender’s-back catch earlier in the game in the corner of the end zone. That time, it resulted in a pass interference penalty instead of a touchdown.
This time, he knew what to expect. J.T. Barrett knew what to expect, too.
Back-shoulder dime. Touchdown. A perfect adjustment in a game full of adjustments gave OSU the overtime lead, and ultimately the win.
— Marisa Contipelli (@marisarae19) October 16, 2016
OSU needed an extra frame to close out Wisconsin. But if you told the Buckeyes at halftime that they’d have to work a little extra to earn a victory, they would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.
Even if a loss would’ve kept the Buckeyes in the playoff hunt, they knew how important Saturday night was. They knew that coming out flat in the second half could’ve dramatically altered their season. They had seen that movie before against Michigan State.
This time, Ohio State rallied. They avoided getting out-slugged.
“It’s what we do,” Urban Meyer said. “Hang in there and keep swinging.”
Meyer’s team wasn’t getting any punches in early. The Badgers hit OSU in the mouth with a haymaker that it hadn’t absorbed in 2016.
Ohio State hadn’t allowed a run longer than 35 yards all season. Corey Clement ripped off a 68-yard run in the first quarter.
Ohio State allowed 98 rushing yards per game entering Saturday. Wisconsin had that beat in the first quarter.
Ohio State didn’t trail by more than seven points all season. Wisconsin had a 10-point halftime lead.
Just to make matters worse, the Buckeyes had two sideline warnings in the first quarter. This just about told the story of the first half.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) October 16, 2016
By the time Meyer got to the locker room, he was even more on edge.
“I was ready to tear into people,” Meyer said.
But Meyer said that the attitude in the locker room was professional. Jalyn Holmes said that there wasn’t there some massive game-plan changes needed. Just tweaks here and there.
The Buckeyes were torched on jet sweeps from Jazz Peavy. He had five straight first downs on the simple play. On the first possession of the second half, Malik Hooker kept Peavy from turning the corner and demolished him.
Alex Hornibrook thrived on touch passes throughout the first half without much over-the-top help. On Wisconsin’s third drive of the second half — the Badgers gained zero yards on the first two — Gareon Conley made Hornibrook pay for putting to much air under a deep ball.
Barrett’s adjustment took a little longer. Right after the Buckeyes got into the red zone on their first possession of the second half, the skies opened up. Rain poured down and impacted a poor throw that was ultimately picked off by D’Cota Dixon.
“I’ve got big enough hands,” Barrett said. “That shouldn’t happen.”
It might’ve made some OSU fans flash back to the Michigan State game last season. The postgame fallout from that came back to the lack of adjustments in awful conditions. But instead of making the adjustment they did against Indiana — not throwing — Meyer still counted on Barrett to make plays with his arm.
The game-tying drive in the fourth quarter saw Barrett connect on one of the biggest passes of his career. Barrett couldn’t have handed his 43-yard strike to Dontre Wilson in a more-perfect spot.
And after Barrett’s go-ahead connection to Brown in overtime, the game concluded in fitting fashion. Alex Hornibrook’s big plays in the passing game came because of his ability to get out of the pocket and stretch the OSU defense. On the final play of the night, OSU’s defensive line collectively collapsed the pocket for a team sack.
His Twitter handle is @PrimeTime_Lewis.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) October 16, 2016
It was shades of Joey Bosa’s walk-off Penn State sack. That game, OSU players said, was monumental in fueling the 2014 title run. Unlike that night, OSU came together down the stretch in a defining moment.
“We got it together in the second half,” Raekwon McMillan said.
That’s an understatement.
OSU looked mortal in the first two quarters. It did look like the team that lost against Michigan State last year.
But this team has a different element to it. Barrett didn’t want to compare this year’s group to any he’s played with. This team didn’t blink when it didn’t have it rolling in the first half. Even in the 2014 title season, Virginia Tech happened.
If there was ever a situation for the Buckeyes to slip up, it was Saturday. Wisconsin had everything rolling. When Barrett threw his rain-soaked interception, it stopped raining minutes after. It almost seemed like a sign that the football gods were on the Badgers side on Saturday.
But OSU didn’t accept its fate. And now, it has complete control of it.