Rivalry games are never easy and on Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes had to dig deep to pull out a hard fought 42-28 victory over Michigan. In the process, they showed their character.
This team continues to mirror its youth, which is both good and bad. The Buckeyes came up with explosive plays such as Ezekiel Elliott’s 44-yard touchdown run on a crucial fourth down. They also delivered a knock-out blow when Joey Bosa forced a fumble that Darron Lee scooped up and ran 33 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up 42-21. Simply, when the opportunity arose to make the plays necessary to win, the Buckeyes manned up and delivered.
At the same time, Ohio State continues to make the same mental mistakes, particularly on the defensive side. While it’s never easy to prepare for a rival that will empty their playbook, the Buckeyes’ defense has been playing mostly reactive instead of proactive. Michigan’s offense has been woefully inconsistent throughout the season and yet they were able to gain 372 total yards and had four touchdown drives that were 75 yards or more. This shows that while Ohio State’s defense can make big plays down the stretch, they are still susceptible to mental mistakes, which could be a liability against better teams.
Along with their youth, the Buckeyes continued to show their exceptional resiliency. When one of their leaders, quarterback J.T. Barrett went down with an ankle injury, the team rallied, played with more energy and made big plays to pull away. The mental toughness of this team, especially for how young they are is incredible and a testament to the outstanding leadership they have.
With the win, the Buckeyes accomplished something no other Big Ten team has ever done: they won all of their regular season conference games for three consecutive years. While some may sneer at this accomplishment considering the Big Ten hasn’t been the strongest from top to bottom, the fact is Ohio State has shown remarkable consistency during this stretch; and here’s the kicker: the Buckeyes are a very young team. What they have ahead of them they can still accomplish this season and in the future is limitless. That should give Buckeye Nation plenty of excitement.
Update on Barrett
An Ohio State spokesman confirmed on Saturday that quarterback J.T. Barrett will miss the rest of the season with a broken right ankle. Medical staff carted Barrett off the field during the fourth quarter.
Obviously, this creates a huge void Cardale Jones will have to fill. On one hand, Jones has all the traits necessary to succeed: he’s a bulldozing quarterback that can punish teams with his arms as well as his legs. On the other hand, he doesn’t have much game experience and this late in the season that could be a problem. Further, Barrett was an exceptional on the field leader who maintained a calm persona in difficult situations. Can Jones do the same?
The coaching staff did a great job adapting their gameplan in the fourth quarter by using Jalin Marshall more. Expect to see more of this during the Big Ten championship game as a way to take some of the pressure off Jones. Even with Cardale’s inexperience, the Buckeyes have plenty of playmakers they can rely on to keep the offense running at a high level.