Buckeyes head to Indianapolis with a full head of steam
While Ohio State fans are still basking in the glow of a dominant 62-39 win over the "team up north," there is no rest for the weary as the Buckeyes have to get ready to face Northwestern in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. These two teams last faced each other in 2016, a game Ohio State won 24-20 in Columbus.
But to say much has changed since then would be an understatement. Focusing on the present instead of the past, here are five reasons why the Buckeyes will make it back-to-back Big Ten titles on Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the Big Ten Championship Game
1. Dwayne Haskins is playing superbly
With more than 4,000 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, Haskins has already set numerous Ohio State records. And this past Saturday, he broke the Big Ten's single-season record both passing yards and touchdowns, which were previously held by former Purdue signal-callers Curtis Painters and Drew Brees, respectively. With a record six Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors this season, Haskins probably has more accolades headed his way, including a potential invitation to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
But for all the damage he's done through the air, Haskins is more than just a potent pocket passer, as his ability to scramble when needed could pose even more problems for a Northwestern defense that has struggled to pressure the quarterback this season. The Wildcats are second to the last in the conference with just 17 sacks in 12 games.
2. The offensive line has improved
Part of Haskins' success is directly related to his offensive line. Michigan's vaunted defense did not record a sack, nor did the Wolverines register a quarterback hurry in last Saturday's 62-39 shellacking. The running game has come along as well, as J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber have been the primary beneficiaries. After managing just 76 rushing yards in the loss to Purdue and 120 (on 45 carries) against Michigan State a couple of weeks ago, the Buckeyes gashed both Maryland and Michigan for a total of 454 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
3. Defensive depth
It would be a stretch to say that Ohio State's defense can shut down Northwestern, considering the number of big plays and amount of damage opponents have done against the Buckeyes this season. Consider that Purdue, Maryland and TCU all put up more than 500 yards of total offense with Penn State (492) coming close as well.
But the Buckeyes' defense got the job done against Michigan State, holding the Spartans to 274 total yards and fared well against Michigan until the outcome was pretty much decided entering the fourth quarter. More importantly, Ohio State boasts tremendous depth in its front seven that will allow it to rotate fresh bodies in and out against the Wildcats, who are not an offensive juggernaut in the first place.
4. Parris Campbell has a knack for the big play
Ohio State's do-everything receiver has rare speed and tremendous acceleration in the open field. Look at the clip below and watch how Campbell effortlessly outruns the Michigan defense to the end zone. His 78-yard touchdown "catch" (via a pop pass on the jet sweep shown below) was the longest play from scrimmage for the Buckeyes against the Wolverines, as he finished with 192 yards and two scores on just six receptions. It shows that Campbell is a threat to go all the way whenever he gets the ball in his hands. Northwestern doesn't really have a similar type of playmaking threat.
5. Special teams can flip the field
It is not often that a punter is sought after a game for an interview, but Drue Chrisman was instrumental in Ohio State's win at Michigan State, pinning the Spartans deep in their own territory repeatedly throughout the game. While Chrisman only had to punt three times against Michigan, his dependable ball placement, as well as the stellar coverage play of senior wide receiver/special teams gunner Terry McLaurin, give Ohio State a decided edge in what is an often overlooked aspect of the game.