INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett had arthroscopic knee surgery Sunday to repair an injury suffered in a 31-20 victory at Michigan on Nov. 25.
Six days later, he helped the Buckeyes capture their 36th Big Ten Conference championship in school history.
Barrett was 12 of 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns as No. 8 Ohio State defeated No. 4 Wisconsin 27-21 on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Barrett was determined to play, and that his faith in the veteran signal-caller never waivered in the days leading up to the game.
“It never does,” Meyer said. “That’s just because I’ve had (Tim) Tebow and this kid’s a lot like him. How you keep him out of a game, I just don’t know how it happens.”
Barrett downplayed the injury and said he was back to taking practice reps by Thursday afternoon.
“It wasn’t really like I had an option for it,” Barrett said of his surgery. “I really couldn’t straighten my leg out being my meniscus popped out. So I had to have the surgery, but I mean it was a small procedure, really.”
Ohio State (11-2, 9-1 Big Ten) rushed 42 times for 238 yards despite utilizing only three ball carriers, and snapped Wisconsin’s 13-game winning streak — the longest active run in the nation.
J.K Dobbins rushed 17 times for 174 yards and was named the game’s MVP, becoming the first freshman to win the award. Dobbins also set Ohio State’s freshman single-season rushing record, eclipsing Maurice Clarett’s total of 1,237 yards and finishing with 1,364 total yards.
“I was really surprised,” Dobbins said of the honor. “I didn’t know I was going to do that ... It’s a blessing.
“It hasn’t hit me as much yet. Right after the game it hit me that we’d just won the Big Ten Championship. I let out a few tears, but right now, I’m just trying to go enjoy it with my teammates.”
Wisconsin (12-1, 9-1) managed only 60 yards on 32 carries after averaging 243.3 yards per game through its first 12 contests. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, the conference’s leading rusher at 150.5 yards per game, was held to 41 yards on 15 attempts. Ohio State averaged 5.7 yards per carry to Wisconsin’s 1.9.
“Those guys did a great job of covering the whole field,” Taylor said of Ohio State’s defense. “They definitely did a great job of filling gaps, and definitely played fast sideline to sideline.
The Badgers looked unfazed in their first two drives, marching into the red zone after forcing a three-and-out on the Buckeyes’ opening series, but all momentum was erased when Denzel Ward intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook at the Ohio State 4-yard line. Hornibrook finished 19 of 40 for 229 yards and two interceptions.
The ensuing drive was the longest in the history of the Big Ten championship.
After avoiding a third-down sack near the goal line, Barrett scrambled for the first down, then found Terry McLaurin over the middle for an 84-yard touchdown pass on the very next play, capping a four-play, 96-yard drive. McLaurin finished with two catches for 92 yards in addition to the 84-yard score.
“He’s a heck of a quarterback,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said of Barrett. “We expected to see the best that he was and hats off to him, obviously. For him to do what he’s done, nothing but respect.”
After a 34-yard punt pinned Ohio State at its own 2-yard line, Wisconsin tied the game at 7-7 on a 9-yard pick six by Andrew Van Ginkel with 2:08 remaining in the first quarter.
Barrett, whose 37 wins are the most by any quarterback in school history, shook off the turnover and responded with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Parris Campbell, giving the Buckeyes a 14-7 lead with less than a minute remaining in the quarter.
A 77-yard rush by Dobbins set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Barrett, who finished with 19 carries for 60 yards, extending the Buckeyes’ lead to 21-7 with 11:05 remaining in the first half. Dobbins’ run — the second longest in Big Ten championship history — was initially ruled a touchdown, but an official review deemed him out of bounds shy of the goal line.
Following a three-and-out by Wisconsin, Van Ginkel came up with his second turnover of the half, forcing and recovering a fumble at the Buckeyes’ 11-yard line, but the Badgers were forced to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone.
Ohio State’s 21-10 halftime lead could have been larger, as the Buckeyes drove 49 yards to set up for a field goal on the final play of the half, but Wisconsin defensive back Nick Nelson blocked Sean Nuernberger’s 43-yard attempt as time expired.
The Buckeyes slowed the tempo in the second half, riding Dobbins’ big day while scaling back Barrett’s involvement to that of a game manager.
Wisconsin cut the deficit to three after a roughing the passer penalty extended its drive, setting up a 1-yard touchdown rush by Chris James. A successful two-point conversion attempt cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 24-21.
Nuernberger’s 20-yard field goal with 5:02 remaining was the final scoring play after Wisconsin’s failed conversion attempt on 4th-and-20 allowed the Buckeyes to kneel for the final three plays.
“That’s what hurts the most is being able to get this far and come up short,” Hornibrook said. “Seeing them celebrating on the field afterward, just thinking ‘that could’ve been us’, that definitely hurts.”
The loss eliminates Wisconsin from College Football Playoff contention, while Ohio State will await the committee’s decision regarding a two-loss team.
“We deserve a shot,” Meyer said of playoff contention. “I think our strength of schedule — quality wins — is phenomenal. And we’re conference champions. Once again, two wins over top four. I don’t know if anyone’s done that.”
NOTES: Wisconsin’s No. 4 ranking was its highest since October 1963, when it was No. 2 in the polls. ... Entering the game, 47 percent of Ohio State’s completions allowed were to running backs and tight ends, the highest such mark in the nation. ... RB Jonathan Taylor accounted for 36.3 percent of the Badgers’ yards for scrimmage in their first 12 games, trailing only Heisman-hopeful RB Bryce Love of Stanford (39.8 percent) in that category. ... Ohio State’s offense ranks fourth the nation, while its defense ranks eighth, making the Buckeyes the only FBS team to crack the top-10 in both categories. ... The Badgers entered the game with the second-best third-down conversion rate in the nation (50.7 percent) but converted only 5 of 16 against the Buckeyes. ... Urban Meyer improved to 5-2 against top five teams at Ohio State (13-5 all-time).