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What We Learned as Buckeyes defended B1G crown, earned CFP bid

Binjimen Victor-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State wide receiver Binjimen Victor and the Buckeyes are heading to the College Football Playoff. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned as Buckeyes defended B1G crown, earned CFP bid

INDIANAPOLIS — The real adversity finally arrived for Ohio State.

Turns out it can handle it just fine.

The Big Ten title game brought the kind of challenge that the Buckeyes have talked about all season but never actually faced. Yes, it played games in bad weather. Sure, there was a quarter or two over the course of the year that didn’t meet the program’s high standard. And even last week it got punched in the mouth on the opening drive and had to respond.

But the top-ranked Buckeyes hadn’t found themselves reeling at any point like they were at Lucas Oil Stadium after Wisconsin unloaded everything it had in the first half on Saturday night. And at least from that perspective, the way Ohio State rallied to eventually accelerate through the finish line with a 34-21 win over the Badgers might be the most informative performance of the season.

“Just what a gritty win, and we knew it was going to be like this,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “To beat a well-coached Wisconsin team twice in one year, both in the top 10 when we played them, that’s not easy to do. Then the way that we came off of these last two games, they were both emotional wins. Three back-to-back wins like this, it shows you what this team is made of.

“But then to go down the way we did, come back and play in the second half — yeah, I think you’ve seen our talent, our execution, a lot of things. But today showed our team’s heart. I think that’s what makes this the best win of the year.”

Now the Buckeyes are going to have a chance to potentially win two more and chase another major trophy. But before Ohio State turns the page to the College Football Playoff, here’s what Lettermen Row learned from the win over the Badgers.

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields hasn’t lost a game as the starter for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Justin Fields earned invitation to Heisman ceremony

At this point, it’s clear that Justin Fields isn’t going to pass LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in the voting for the most prestigious individual award in the sport. That’s surely just fine with the Ohio State sophomore for a couple reasons, starting with the fact that he’ll get to chase it again next season — and he’s still alive in the national-title hunt, which means more to him anyway. What Fields has done to prove his toughness down the stretch has been truly incredible to watch, and he clearly wasn’t completely healthy against a tenacious Wisconsin defense that was also making life tough for him and his injured knee. But Fields made all the huge throws the Buckeyes needed down the stretch, finishing with 300 total yards of offense and three touchdowns in a performance that should send him to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Ohio State coaching staff answers challenge

The focus is always on the players, and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn’t want any credit for the work the coaching staff did in adjusting to what Wisconsin was doing in the first half. The same was true in the big picture for Ryan Day, who is going through the postseason pressure-cooker as a head coach for the first time and showed he wasn’t afraid when he dialed up a fake punt to swing the momentum. But Day and his staff obviously deserve a lot of credit for the unbeaten run to the Big Ten title, and the defensive turnaround both from last season to now and from the first half to the second on Saturday is downright remarkable.

Jeff Hafley-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley helped make key adjustments for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Brendon White no-shows for Buckeyes

After starting the calendar year with an MVP performance in the Rose Bowl and then spending the entire offseason getting hyped up as the man to handle the new Bullet role in the Ohio State defense, Brendon White was nowhere to be seen at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s been a staggering fall from the spotlight for White, who appeared to be struggling with the move away from safety to a position that required more linebacker-type skills and hadn’t played much even before staying home over the weekend. White was never listed by the program as being unavailable for the Wisconsin matchup but also wasn’t on the travel list, which would certainly seem to suggest that his days with Ohio State are numbered. As of Saturday night, White didn’t have his name in the transfer portal, but not appearing in Indianapolis was obviously a warning sign.

Jeremy Ruckert ready for his big moment

The tight ends still aren’t seeing many targets, but those guys are certainly ready when the football does come their way — even for throws that require a little extra effort to reel in for touchdowns. Jeremy Ruckert has already proven that he can be a dangerous red-zone weapon, but he threatened to steal the show entirely with his ridiculous one-hand grab to help swing the momentum in favor of Ohio State on the first drive of the second half. The expectations for the sophomore have been enormous since he arrived as the top-rated recruit at his position last year, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s growing into his role and capable of helping as much as the Buckeyes need.

Enokk Vimahi will stick around for Ohio State

The original plan for Enokk Vimahi has changed, and the talented young offensive lineman will stay in school instead of taking a two-year Mormon mission after the season. For the Buckeyes, that might not seem like a major storyline heading into the College Football Playoff since the freshman is heading for a redshirt and unlikely to play in either of the next two games. But knowing that Vimahi will be around for the next two years shapes how Ohio State will recruit and provides a safety net in case center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis decide to leave early for the NFL while left guard Jonah Jackson graduates. That decision and the confirmation from Vimahi in Indianapolis could wind up being a big deal for the Buckeyes.

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mcs
mcs

the only people that were hyping Brendon White was the OSU news media and journalist …not fans not coaches not players ….

Jeff
Jeff

After the rose bowl, the compliments were widespread

Buck68
Buck68

“the only people who were hyping…”? LOL

buckerew
buckerew

Yep, I read on another site that White may not be with the team next year. Feel bad for him. His father William White was a very good player at OSU and an excellent DB for the Lions.

Buckeye since 1952.
Go Bucks!

Steven Borysiak
Steven Borysiak

I wish I knew what the deal was with White, but I guess it’s none of our bidness?

Kid Buckeye
Kid Buckeye

JK needs to work on his pass protection.They pushed him around all game and then when he went low to block he still didn’t get the job done.

Steven Borysiak
Steven Borysiak

JK may be strong, but he’s only about 5’9″ and slightly over 200lbs., trying to block a 275 bull-rushing lineman or 250lb linebacker.

Buck68
Buck68

the coaches need to provide more schemes & adjustments rather than keep asking someone to execute on the downside of a physical mismatch. We who NO SO MUCH about how bigger #s “dominate”… sometimes we…don’t? ;-{)}

MarkW
MarkW

I wish White the best he played good 2nd half of 2018 on bad defense. Ruckert appears to be a mismatch in every game but not used odd? Vimahi coming back is huge improves depth. Difficult 3 games great wins in each. Now the fun starts!

Buck68
Buck68

1-“What we learned” is as usual – we prefer denial, avoidance, and so froth. Some info ought to be kept in-house… yet ‘narratives’ don’t go with character or honesty. For ex, “JF is good to go” is… neither necessary nor accurate. Brendon White MIA mystery another. 2-Does Vimahi staying [huge] ~ to Davis leaving early? 3-The Comeback was… unusual as the ‘adjustments’ we needed immediately… might not have ‘occurred’ until halftime. On OZ a poster inferred Hafley was being interviewed during the first half. Accurate? 4-JF has plateaued/slightly regressed over the last 4 games in [a] holding the ball well past 3 sec, and [b] not throwing it away under pressure/receivers not open. Scrambling ~5 + sec attracts a lot of flies and our OL/TEs do not know where to keep blocking. The SPIN announcers saying “JF had no time” to execute was accurate… once or twice. The rest was more on JT than our OL. 5-At start of 3Q flashed back to Whisky winning the toss & taking the ball. Aggressive and bold move… and glad for the exchange of 7 points of an early ‘wake-up call’ for ‘changing the momentum’ right away in the 2H. That immediate opportunity…… Read more »

Buck68
Buck68

Agree the Defensive turnaround from last year to this is “remarkable”. And much more than statistics, even cherry picked & omitted!

That’s the good news.

Regressing from the recent coaches’ comments about ‘adapting’ to gain advantage every play …back to ‘halftime adjustments’ is… not something to be proud of.

If you’re in a fight and the enemy is breaking down your front gate… do you slip into your outhouse and say to your men ‘call me back in 30 minutes’?

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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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