Ohio State thorough in its Big Ten title game domination

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By ALEX PUTTERMAN
College Contributor Network

INDIANAPOLIS - Devin Smith knew after Ohio State's first touchdown Saturday that the Buckeyes would soon be Big Ten champions.

"I could just tell everybody's demeanor on our sideline compared to them," the senior receiver said afterward from the triumphant home locker room. "They weren't ready, and we were ready."

For those less confident than Smith, Ohio State's championship fate may not have appeared sealed until the 44-yard touchdown pass Smith caught early in the second quarter. Or maybe until Ezekiel Elliot's 14-yard rushing score minutes later. By Joey Bosa's fumble recovery touchdown just before halftime, which set the score at 38-0 Buckeyes heading into the break, there was no question. The second half was a formality.

In the end, the Buckeyes clobbered Wisconsin 59-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to earn their 35th Big Ten championship and first since 2009. They pounded the Badgers in every facet, making their 13th-ranked opponent look like a high school jayvee.

Prior to Saturday night, Wisconsin hadn't been shut out since 1997 and hadn't lost by so much since 1979.

The Buckeyes dominated thanks to Elliot, the sophomore running back whose breakout season blended in during a banner year for Big Ten backs. Elliot entered Saturday with 1,182 yards rushing, a figure that would have placed him third in the ACC or SEC but left him seventh in the Big Ten.

All week America heard about Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, the Heisman contender with 2,260 yards on the season. The back who would find seams, break big games and lift his team to a conference title.

But as Gordon struggled to bust through Ohio State's front seven Saturday, Elliot filled the starring role. He rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including an 81-yard score.

Later, on a fourth-quarter carry, Elliot surged through the offensive line and into open space. A defender dove at the sophomore's legs, detaching Elliot from his right shoe and leaving him to finish the 60-yard run in a bare sock. "I couldn't get any friction on the ground," he said. "I was trying to get out."

If his shoe had stayed on, Elliot said, he might have scored. A third touchdown would have only boosted a night that needed no such enhancement. On an occasion set up for Gordon's coronation, Elliot outgained his Wisconsin counterpart 227-94.

The Buckeyes also dominated thanks to their defense, fronted by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa. The defensive end comfortably led the conference in sacks during the regular season, then tormented the Badgers' vaunted offensive line all night Saturday. He finished with four tackles and that fumble return score but wreaked havoc well beyond his stat line.

Bosa and the Buckeyes largely shut down Gordon and held Wisconsin to 258 total yards of offense. Badgers quarterback Joel Stave faced constant pressure, taking three sacks, completing only 17 of 43 pass attempts and firing three interceptions.

"We had the mindset to come out and just dominate this (offensive) line," Bosa said. "We knew they had a great big line, and we knew if we got off the ball and penetrated we could do it."

The Buckeyes dominated thanks to Smith, the deep ball threat whose three touchdowns Saturday lifted him to second place on Ohio State's all-time touchdown catch leaderboard. They dominated thanks to fellow receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith, who each caught a pass of more than 20 yards. They dominated thanks to backup running back Curtis Samuel, who spelled Elliot late in the game and extended the lead with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Heck, they dominated thanks to punter Cameron Johnston, who averaged 53 yards on his four punts -- including a 73-yard beaut -- twice pinning the Badgers inside their 20.

And they dominated thanks to Cardale Jones, the third-string quarterback forced into starting duty by an injury to Heisman candidate Braxton Miller before the season and an injury to Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett last week.

Entering Saturday night, Jones was best known for his 2012 assertion on Twitter that "we ain't come to play SCHOOL." After Jones' 12-of-17 performance against the Badgers, which included three touchdown passes, the sophomore bears another claim to fame: Big Ten Championship Game MVP.

"Everybody in this room had confidence in him," Smith said of the quarterback. "Cardale don't play like a third-string quarterback."

After the game, conversation centered on Ohio State's College Football Playoff hopes. Had the Buckeyes merely beaten the Badgers, their chances with the playoff selection committee would have been slim. But the thoroughness of Ohio State's victory had sprung new optimism. "This is without a question the most improved from start to finish team I've ever been around," coach Urban Meyer said. "To see them operate in all facets of the game at high, high level, from our punter to the way we played defense, then offense, was incredible."

Of course, Saturday night will remain meaningful for Ohio State regardless of the playoff committee's decision. No matter the Buckeyes' postseason fate, Jones' fill-in heroism will endure. So will Elliot's shoeless sprint and Bosa's well-deserved touchdown. And most of all, that dominance.

"I needed it in the worst way," Smith said of his team's championship. "This will never leave my mind, ever."


Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02
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