Ohio State has ‘laser focus’ on Wisconsin, not on playoff hopes

4:04 p.m Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017 Sports
Ohio State sings “Carmen Ohio” after a victory against Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. David Jablonski/Staff

Ezekiel Elliott said it best Saturday, summing up the feelings of all the Ohio State Buckeyes and their fans.

“Unlimited gold pants,” the former Ohio State running back wrote on Twitter.

It does seem as if Ohio State will keep on beating its rival from the north, Michigan, forever. The streak stands at six games. The Buckeyes won 31-20 on Saturday in Ann Arbor despite falling behind 14-0 and losing their starting quarterback, J.T. Barrett, to an injury in the third quarter.

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The Wolverines could have won the game in many ways, and the same could have been said last season when Ohio State rallied to beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. Whether the Buckeyes are wearing their normal scarlet and gray or the black-and-white alternate jerseys they wore Saturday at Michigan Stadium, they just have Michigan’s number.

Now the focus turns to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. No. 9 Ohio State (10-2) plays No. 5 Wisconsin (12-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are five things to know about the game:

1. Quarterback health: Barrett left the game Saturday with a knee injury. He said after the game he will play Saturday. Meyer provided an update Sunday.

“We won’t know for a couple days,” Meyer said, “but everything seems to be improving.”

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As for the investigation into the incident in which Barrett was hit by a photographer’s camera on the sideline early in the game, Meyer said he is letting others handle that as he prepares for Wisconsin.

Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins replaced Barrett and rallied Ohio State from a 20-14 deficit, bringing back memories of Cardale Jones replacing Barrett in 2014 and leading Ohio State to the national championship. If Barrett can’t play Saturday, the Buckeyes are confident in Haskins.

“He started off a little slow,” Meyer said. “We had a procedure penalty. Things didn’t start off perfectly. Then he hit that third-down pass, and his poise and accuracy was outstanding.”

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2. Possible distractions: According to reports, Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano on Sunday. Meyer confirmed Schiano had been contacted.

“Greg’s been a close friend for 20-plus years,” Meyer said. “He’s an elite person, elite father and an elite husband. That translates to the way he handles his players.”

3. Playoff picture: Alabama’s loss to Auburn on Saturday could open the door for two Southeastern Conference teams to make the College Football Playoff field: the winner of the SEC title game between Auburn and Georgia and Alabama. That could happen if Ohio State beats Wisconsin.

Ohio State has more top-25 victories than Alabama and has a chance to beat a top-five team Saturday but also lost 55-24 to Iowa and lost 31-16 at home to No. 4 Oklahoma. Meyer plans to talk to his team about avoiding thinking about playoff scenarios.

“The term is laser focus,” Meyer said. “The laser focus is on Wisconsin and nothing else.”

4. Wisconsin’s task: The Badgers are one of two unbeaten FBS teams remaining, along with Central Florida. A victory over Ohio State gives Wisconsin a 98 percent chance of making the playoff field, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. The Badgers would join Ohio State and Wisconsin as the only Big Ten teams to have made the playoff in the first four seasons of the playoff era.

Like Meyer, however, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is putting all the focus on the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

“This group has earned the right to play for a Big Ten championship,” Chryst said, “and that’s a huge deal. That’s what this whole week is about. That’s saying a lot. It’s a heck of a challenge playing against a really good Ohio State football team.”

5. Past history: Ohio State beat Wisconsin 59-0 in its last Big Ten title game appearance in 2014. Jones started that game for Ohio State, filling in for Barrett, who broke his ankle in the previous game against Michigan.

While Ohio State has two remaining starters from that game, Barrett and center Billy Price, the team won’t be able to use that experience as a big advantage.

“That feels like 25 years ago,” Meyer said. “This is a different year, a different team. There are different people involved. Certainly that was one of those moments you never forget, but that’s unfair to our current players to say, ‘This is what we expect out of you.’”

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