Despite the predictions of doom in the week leading up to the game, Ohio State crushed it out of the ball park, beating Wisconsin 59-0 with Cardale Jones, a third-stringer, starting at quarterback and doing a perfect job of leading the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten Championship game and doing enough to make it into the playoff.
Obviously, the whole playoff thing is an opinion. But compared to TCU and Baylor who share the title in a conference that’s proud of the ‘one true champion’ emblem, Ohio State did the work against a very good team, and put any doubts the committee members might have had about another Ohio State quarterback to come out of nowhere and star immediately, winning with style and on the biggest stage possible for the team.
The offensive line did an excellent job of creating space and time for Jones, who completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns, including a 39-yard TD pass to Devin Smith on the first drive and finding Smith two more times on big plays to get the score, as the speedy receiver kept getting away from the secondary, while Jones had no problem staring a blitz in the face and putting the ball in the air accurately and calmly.
There was also the factor of the running game, something the Buckeyes do even better than Wisconsin, especially on this day. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 220 yards on 20 carries for two touchdowns and Curtis Samuel added 23 yards on four carries with two scores himself. Jones, unlike Miller or Barrett, didn’t show anything special when carrying the ball, finishing with 9 yards on 8 carries. When you’re throwing like that, maybe there’s no real need to try and be a dual threat quarterback.
The big threat from Wisconsin, their running game, was completely obliterated. Melvin Gordon was held to just 76 yards on 29 carries, only 2.9 yards per rush. The Buckeyes outgained Wisconsin by 300 yards, forcing four turnovers, including three interceptions by Joel Stave, completing just 17-of-43 passes. When Wisconsin are forced to try and win games by putting the ball in the air, it’s a done deal for the other team. They still haven’t found someone to replace Russell Wilson.
Wisconsin players left the field with their heads pointing towards the floor. It was the first ever shutout in a power five conference game, the second largest win in a P5 championship game (Texas beating Colorado by 67 points in 2005), the fourth largest shutout of a ranked team and tied for the second largest shout of an AP Top 15 team, with Army’s 61-0 win over Penn in 1945 being the record. Miami destroying Syracuse 59-0 in 2001 hangs level with Ohio State’s win.
If the committee wanted style of victory, the Buckeyes gave them that on offense and efficiency on defense. The arguments over conference strength are meaningless. TCU and Baylor didn’t do anything meaningful to put them over the Buckeyes. All three teams have one loss in conferences with three good teams and a lot of bad ones. The one difference that should matter is the Buckeyes performing the perfect game at the highest level available to them. TCU and Baylor can blame their conference for not giving them the chance to win it in a single decider, but that’s not Ohio State’s fault, and it shouldn’t keep them out of the playoff.