J.T. Barrett stood alone for a brief moment on the field Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, holding the football in the final seconds of the Big Ten Championship. Seconds before his teammates and then the media surrounded him, he showed a big smile. It told the whole story.
A week earlier, Barrett found himself at the center of one of the strangest incidents in Ohio State history — it will forever be known as CameraGate. A day after suffering a knee injury at Michigan, he underwent a surgical procedure. No one knew about that until the news leaked Thursday. Meanwhile, doubt swirled all week about whether he could play in the Big Ten Championship. Then he produced three touchdowns in the first half.
Ohio State did all it could to make and break its playoff case https://t.co/FeLDnVvJNh— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) December 3, 2017
» PHOTOS: Ohio State vs Wisconsin
The second half was about survival for the Buckeyes. The entire week was about survival for Barrett. He grinned after a 27-21 victory over Wisconsin because he was the ultimate survivor, a record-breaking quarterback who missed Ohio State’s last appearance in the Big Ten finale but earned another shot as a fifth-year senior and made the most of it.
“I was saying to myself last time I got us to the party but I wasn’t let in,” Barrett said. “So this time there’s opportunity for me to go play in this game. I was going to do whatever it takes to go out there and play with my brothers, knowing that it’s my senior year. This was one of the reasons why I came back, to play in big-time games like this.”
Here are seven takeaways from Ohio State’s first Big Ten Championship victory since 2014:
1. Barrett knew he would play: Barrett told reporters after the 31-20 victory at Michigan he would play against Wisconsin.
“If I didn’t, I was kind of going to be a liar,” he said Saturday. “And I wouldn’t lie.”
Barrett said he returned to practice Thursday and took about half the reps. He threw the football but didn’t run. On Friday, before the bus ride to Indianapolis, he tested the knee by cutting and planting on it. That gave him confidence he could play.
Earlier in the week, coach Urban Meyer was skeptical Barrett could play. He said he had only one player come back a week after an arthroscopic procedure. He compared Barrett’s competitive spirit to another famous quarterback he coached, Tim Tebow.
“How you keep him out of a game?” Meyer said. “I just don’t know how it happens.”
Terry McLaurin looked right into my eyes, as if to say, "Don't hit me with that camera, cameraman!" pic.twitter.com/uWBBEz7b35— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) December 3, 2017
2. Barrett got off to a strong start: Barrett threw an 84-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin on Ohio State’s second drive. He then threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Parris Campbell with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Finally, a 77-yard run by J.K. Dobbins set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Barrett. The Buckeyes led 21-7 early in the second quarter.
Wisconsin made a concerted effort to stop the run game, Meyer said, playing “zero coverage” to force Barrett to throw.
“We hit some early on, and we missed some later on,” Meyer said. “But the one pass to start the game to Terry McLaurin was a great pass. We caught them in zero hold coverage and it was a big hit. And Parris came out the end of the other bubble. Whenever you play zero hold coverage, if you break your tackle, you come out the other end. So we had a couple of big hits. And, like I said, in the second half we had a couple other ones. We just didn’t hit it.”
3. Dobbins was the star: Dobbins won the battle of freshman star running backs. He gained 174 yards on 17 carries. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor had 41 yards on 15 carries. Dobbins was named the game’s MVP.
On stopping Taylor, Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker said, “It was very important. We knew their running game was the main part of their offense. And as a defense, as a whole, we took pride in it, in stopping the run. We did that. That was the main focus point, as you can see.”
Big-play Buckeyes. Parris Campbell breaks a tackle and goes all the way. 14-7. pic.twitter.com/UbfhYhuDy4— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) December 3, 2017
4. Turnovers kept Wisconsin in the game: Barrett made a costly mistake in the first quarter. Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel picked him off at the Ohio State 9-yard line and coasted into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.
In the second quarter, Van Ginkel recovered a fumble by Ohio State’s Mike Weber at the Ohio State 11-yard line. The Badgers turned that into a 28-yard field goal. Ohio State led 21-10 at halftime.
5. Meyer faced a tough decision late: Instead of going for a first down on 4th-and-1 from the Wisconsin 3 with 5:20 left, Ohio State kicked a field goal, extending its lead to 27-21.
“That was a very tough call,” Meyer said. “The offensive line wanted to go for it. But we’re up by three. If we do not, that gives them life.”
6. The defense came up big at the end: Ohio State stopped Wisconsin twice in the final minutes. The final drive stalled at the Wisconsin 47. After three straight incomplete passes, Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook was intercepted by Ohio State’s Damon Webb with 1:09 to play.
“We just tried to buckle down and just play our game,” said Wayne grad Robert Landers, a defensive tackle.
7. Meyer said Buckeyes deserve a playoff shot: The Buckeyes hoped the victory was enough to persuade the committee to put them into the four-team College Football Playoff.
“It’s just amazing how important this playoff is and how the whole world revolves around it,” Meyer said. “I hope we get a shot.”