Rapid Recap: No. 4 Ohio State 22, No. 14 Northwestern 10

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(Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern) Peyton Ramsey runs the ball.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Football


INDIANAPOLIS — It was simple. A loss and the purple-and-white go home with no hardware. A win and No. 14 Northwestern travels back to Evanston with its first outright Big Ten Championship since 1995.

It potentially looked like the latter could happen as the Wildcats held a 10-6 lead at halftime. But in the last 30 minutes, No. 4 Ohio State’s defense rose to the occasion and their running game was unstoppable.

Led by running back Trey Sermon — who finished with 331 yards and two touchdowns — the Buckeyes (6-0, 5-0 Big Ten) defeated the Cats (6-2, 6-1 Big Ten) 22-10 in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. NU, who played in their second Big Ten title game in three seasons, fell short of a conference title at the hands of Ohio State once again.

Even though he threw for 224 yards, graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey finished with three turnovers and NU’s running game struggled, averaging only 3.1 yards per rush.

Ohio State received the opening kickoff and methodically moved down the field. Quarterback Justin Fields found wide receiver Julian Fleming three times for 30 yards as the Buckeyes racked up 51 yards. But, on a crucial third down, redshirt freshman cornerback Cameron Mitchell and senior linebacker Chris Bergin sacked Fields for a 15-yard loss, forcing a Buckeyes field goal.

NU responded immediately. The Cats’ offense was fast and efficient during its seven-play, 75-yard drive. Ramsey scampered for 34 yards into Ohio State’s red zone before true freshman running back Cam Porter scored from nine yards out to give NU a 7-3 lead.

The teams then traded punts before the Cats got the ball back at their own six. Ramsey drove down the field with big throws to senior wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and redshirt freshman Bryce Kirtz, but the team had to settle for a 47-yard field goal from senior kicker Charlie Kuhbander. The Buckeyes responded with a field goal of their own on their ensuing drive.

Ohio State got the ball back with around two-and-a-half minutes left. They marched down the field to the Cats’ nine yard-line behind a 21-yard rush from running back Trey Sermon, a 24-yard scamper from Fields and a pass interference call on sophomore cornerback A.J. Hampton.

However, redshirt freshman safety Brandon Joseph stopped Ohio State in their tracks with less than one minute remaining in the first half. On a fade to Wilson, the Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of The Year snagged a one-handed interception in the end zone while falling backwards. The play resulted in NU taking a four-point lead into halftime.

The Cats came out of the break fast, as Ramsey dropped a 31-yard dime to Chiaokhiao-Bowman and Porter rushed for 16 yards to put NU on the doorstep. However, Ramsey ended the promising drive by throwing his seventh interception of the season to Buckeyes linebacker Justin Hilliard in the end zone.

NU’s defense came up clutch directly after — three plays later when Fields, who rolled out to the right, was intercepted on the sideline by Mitchell. However, the drive quickly ended in a punt.

Ohio State took advantage, as Sermon took a 65-yard rush into Cats territory. However, a 42-yard Buckeyes field goal would sail wide left a few plays later.

The same result would occur on NU’s following drive: Kuhbander’s 46-yard kick sailed wide right.

On the next drive, Sermon rushed for 56 yards, 9 of which came on the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the day. Up 13-10, Ohio State soon made another big play when Ramsey threw his second interception of the game to safety Josh Proctor.

But the Cats forced a punt thanks to great coverage in the end zone by senior safety JR Pace. However, Ramsey would lose a fumble on the ensuing possession, allowing the Buckeyes to extend their lead to six with another field goal from Haubeil.

Sermon later added his second touchdown of his game with 4:03 remaining to ice the game for Ohio State.

Takeaways

1. The defense locked down Justin Fields.
Justin Fields had an incredible regular season campaign. He was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Quarterback of the Year heading into the Big Ten Championship Game. He showed why on a few plays at Lucas Oil Stadium, such as his 24-yard rush and a 21-yard pass to Wilson in the second quarter.

But today, the Cats had his number. NU sacked Fields three times and for the most part prevented big plays outside of the pocket, as he only threw for 114 yards. Additionally, Joseph and Mitchell’s interceptions marked the third multi-interception game of Fields’ career. Even though the run defense was porous in Indianapolis, the Cats found a way to shut down the Big Ten’s top passing offense by slowing the Buckeyes’ top player.

2. Ramsey’s second-half performance haunted Northwestern.
NU needed a strong first half from Ramsey and they got it on plays such as his 34-yard first-quarter sprint into the red zone. He finished the first half 12-for-14 with 90 passing yards.

But Ramsey’s struggles soon started minutes in the third quarter. He threw an end-zone interception and was sacked for a loss of eight on the following possession. Two drives later, he threw another interception that was followed up with a fumble on the ensuing possession. Three turnovers in one half is never a good thing to have, especially for Ramsey, who was brought in from Indiana to provide stability and consistency in one of 2019’s worst quarterback rooms. He showed improvement throwing the ball after Ohio State took a 16-10 lead, but he was sacked on third down once again, forcing a punt. His turnovers and inability to sustain drives allowed the Buckeyes to score 16 unanswered and win their fourth-straight Big Ten Championship.

3. A mid-tier bowl game is the likely destination for the Wildcats.
The Cats, with their second loss of the season, will not be headed to the New Year’s Six. However, NU showed their progress as a team by not only playing with the Buckeyes throughout most of the game, but also cutting its 2018 deficit in the conference title game by nine points. A destination like the Citrus Bowl or the Outback Bowl is likely in store for the purple-and-white, who currently stand at 6-2.

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