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Snap Judgments: Ohio State rallies for Big Ten crown, earns playoff berth

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields worked through a knee injury to win the Big Ten title. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Snap Judgments: Ohio State rallies for Big Ten crown, earns playoff berth

INDIANAPOLIS — The Ohio State throne wobbled a bit, but it’s definitely still standing.

The Buckeyes are Big Ten champions yet again. And they are a dead-solid lock to return to the College Football Playoff.

All that’s left for the current No. 1 team in the nation is to wait and see exactly where it will be seeded on Sunday afternoon. But it arguably was at its most impressive this season in the second half when it proved exactly how well it can handle adversity, overcoming a two-touchdown deficit with an absolutely dominant second half to beat No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

So, the reign continues for the Buckeyes, this time with Ryan Day in charge. And now the chase for more hardware begins.

There’s much more coverage of the championship-winning effort for Ohio State coming at Lettermen Row. But as always, it starts right here with Snap Judgments.

Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State answered the challenge from a tough Wisconsin team in the Big Ten title game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State leaves no doubt about championship heart

The biggest dose of adversity Ohio State has faced all season arrived. It never blinked, and Wisconsin again brought out the best in the Big Ten champions. Whether it was Justin Fields battling through an injury, a defense adjusting on the fly to early problems or even overcoming self-inflicted wounds, the Buckeyes earned everything as they punched a ticket to the College Football Playoff. It would have been easy for Ohio State to fold the tent and believe it had already done enough to to earn a spot without digging deep to rally from a 14-point deficit. But Ryan Day has a bunch of fighters on his roster, and that outing might mean more than any that came during the regular season.

Justin Fields handles injury fine, knee not to blame

Justin Fields stayed out a little longer during warmups to test the knee brace on his left leg, and he clearly wasn’t thrilled to be wearing it. The Ohio State quarterback was still able to run, still delivered a few pinpoint throws and didn’t seem to be all that significantly bothered by the sprain. But he appeared a little hesitant in the pocket in the first half and coughed up another costly fumble in the red zone, making for probably the second mixed-bag start of his career with the Buckeyes. Wisconsin deserves credit for ramping up the pressure on him, but it didn’t appear to be all that different from what he had faced previously this season and he was really just a touch off on a couple plays that could have changed the game — most notably the overthrow of Chris Olave in the first half and missing a wide-open Luke Farrell in the red zone. Just like he’s done all season, though, Fields proved he was a warrior with a gritty effort to lead the comeback.

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Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning helped the Buckeyes rally in the second half. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Defensive intensity, tackling slipped for Ohio State

The message on the way to the locker room from a couple Buckeyes at halftime: Too many one-person tackles. All season, the Silver Bullets have prided themselves on the collective effort of the defense, arriving to the football with multiple players all ready to make the play and bring a ball-carrier to the ground. That wasn’t quite the case during a sloppy first half, and the Badgers had a game plan and the kind of athletes who could exploit any mistakes by Ohio State. The strange development for the Buckeyes was the relative lack of a pass rush after hanging their hat on that presence up front all season, and it lowered the degree of difficulty for Wisconsin and dug the two-touchdown hole. The Buckeyes woke up in the second half, the effort returned and everything flipped with the intensity roaring to life.

K.J. Hill remains Mr. Reliable for the Buckeyes

The redshirt senior is going in the record books because of his remarkable consistency. But he shouldn’t be overlooked for his knack for delivering in the highest-pressure situations for Ohio State, answering the bell with tough grabs, athletic runs after the catch and momentum-swinging touchdowns. His go-ahead score on Saturday night was emblematic of Hill’s entire career, and then he went out and topped it with the clincher. He might never be the flashiest guy on the depth chart for Ohio State, but he’s always there when the program needs somebody to make a big play for the passing attack.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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