Ohio State Football: Buckeyes show resilience in comeback win for Big Ten championship

Ohio State rallied to beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday afternoon to improve to 6-0.

Here are five things to know about the game after the fourth-ranked Buckeyes hoped to punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff with a 22-10 win over the No. 14 Wildcats:

1. Ohio State trailed early but came back on the back of Trey Sermon.

The transfer from Oklahoma picked a good time to have his best game as a Buckeye.

Sermon broke Eddie George’s Ohio State single-game rushing record with 331 yards on 29 carries.

His 9-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter put Ohio State on top 13-10, and his 3-yard run with 4:03 left in the fourth quarter set the final margin.

“When you have a player in a rhythm like that you just have to keep feeding him the ball, and that’s what we did,” said quarterback Justin Fields, who added 24 yards on the ground.

George ran for 314 yards against Illinois in 1995.

2. The Buckeyes won their fourth Big Ten championship in a row.

Ohio State won the conference for the 40th time, though the official count is 39 because school vacated a share of the 2010 title as a result of NCAA violations committed that year. That trails Michigan’s record by three and is 21 more than Minnesota, the school with the third-most.

This one stands out because it almost never happened. The Big Ten “postponed” fall sports in August but reversed course in September after acquiring the ability to perform daily rapid tests for COVID-19.

The Buckeyes had to cancel a game at Illinois because of an increase in positive tests in their program, and games against Maryland and Michigan wiped out as those programs dealt with the presence of the virus in their locker rooms.

“It’s never easy to win a championship,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “That’s just not the way life works. It’s certainly not in 2020.”

3. Several players stepped up after being thrust into larger roles.

More than 20 players were not available because of injury, positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing, a group that included starters Chris Olave, Baron Browning and Drue Chrisman.

Sixth-year senior Justin Hilliard replaced Browning at linebacker and played his best game in scarlet and gray, leading the team with nine tackles including two for loss.

He also recovered a fumble and made a crucial interception in the end zone on the first drive of the third quarter with Northwestern looking to add to a 10-6 lead.

Julian Fleming replaced Olave at receiver and caught four passes for a team-high 53 yards while senior walk-on Zack Hoover replaced Drue Chrisman and dropped two of his three punts inside the Northwestern 10-yard line.

4. Fields struggled most of the game and injured the thumb on his throwing hand.

The junior quarterback revealed after the game he had banged his thumb on the ground late in the game.

Although he hoped it was just a sprain, he said the digit tightened up enough he had a hard time throwing.

“It’s pretty stiff right now. I really can’t move it, but I think it’s just a sprain,” he said. “I’ll probably put some ice on it and it should be good in a few days.”

He did not blame that for his poor stat line, though.

“In the first half it wasn’t even the thumb,” said Fields, who completed just 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards and threw a pair of interceptions. “I don’t want people to look at my thumb as an excuse. It’s just flat out me.”

5. Day said the group was the most special he has been around.

“We had to deal with cancelation of games,” he said. “We had a hard time getting into a rhythm in all three phases, and then we get into this game here and maybe things are clicking as good as they usually do and we find a way to fight back in the second half.

“In a world where it’s all about wins and losses, this team has learned so much this season which is the reason we even started playing college football in the first place and the reason we started coaching, to see the growth of young men like this.”

As far as his team’s worthiness for the CFP, Day eschewed criticizing other teams in the running and instead focused on his own.

“I’m not going to talk about other teams because we have enough positive to talk about in our program, but if we have an opportunity to play anybody in the country in one game, I’m gonna take the Ohio State Buckeyes. I feel strongly about this team. We’re made of unbelievable character, and they’ve been through so much. And I think there’s a lot of people in the country who would agree with me.”

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