Buckeyes expect tougher game 2nd time around against Badgers
COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Ryan Day expects to see a much better Wisconsin team in the Big Ten championship game than the one routed by the Buckeyes five weeks ago.
In that Oct. 26 game, the Badgers stayed with Ohio State through halftime and trailed 10-7 early in the second half before the Buckeyes exploded and rolled to a 38-7 win. All-American defensive end Chase Young recorded four sacks in the game.
“We’re both different teams at this point,” Day said Sunday during a conference call with reporters. He has led second-ranked Ohio State to a 12-0 record (9-0 Big Ten, No. 1 CFP) and a berth in the conference title game in his first year as head coach.
“I’ve seen teams change and they take on different personalities as the season goes on, and they’re playing really, really good football,” Day said.
After back-to-back losses to surprising Illinois and then Ohio State, No. 10 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten, No. 12 CFP) won its last four, including Saturday’s 38-17 rout of Minnesota to lock up the Big Ten West title and advance to face Ohio State at climate-controlled Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week.
For the Buckeyes, it will be another rigorous game in an end-of-the-season gantlet that included a 28-17 victory over Penn State on Nov. 23 and a 56-27 triumph over rival Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
“I think we’re getting into the rhythm of playing four-quarter games against really good opponents in a ‘March Madness’ approach,” Day said. “And you know we’re at this point of the season playing for championships, every game is going to a four-quarter dogfight. And so I think we are getting into a little bit of a rhythm that way now.”
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and his players are eager to have another shot at the Buckeyes.
“I certainly think there’s a sense of eagerness or excitement that you’ve done all that you can and you get a right to play in this game,” Chryst said. “There’s a lot of things that had to happen, and the focus needed to be on playing the season out and you look up (at the end) and see what you’ve earned the right to do.”
Jack Coan threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota on Saturday to win back Paul Bunyan’s Axe after watching the Gophers snatch it away in the 2018 rivalry game.
“I’d say we’re definitely a resilient group,” Coan said. “That was one of the things we were preaching coming into this year, because last year we lost a few games, and it kind of went downhill. We were going to make sure that didn’t happen again.”
Chryst said the biggest difference over the last month of the season was more players getting involved in the Badgers’ success.
“I think in the last few games, some out of necessity and some out of natural growth, more guys are contributing,” he said. “Take a look back at kind of our last four games. A lot of guys made significant contributions.”
Gimpy Fields says he’s good for Big Ten Championship
Justin Fields’ first real hero moment came in the third quarter last Saturday, a display of toughness destined to live in the lore of the Ohio State-Michigan game.
The first-year starter who had led the Buckeyes to a perfect record went down and couldn’t get up after a teammate rolled onto his left leg. Ohio State fans held their breath.
All Fields was thinking at that moment was getting off the field because his father always told when he was a kid that if you get hurt, get up and get to the sideline as fast as you can. But he couldn’t, and trainers had to help.
“A little scary,” said receiver Austin Mack, who caught Fields’ pass on the play.
Once in the pop-up medical tent, Fields replaced his knee brace with a sturdier model and got ready to go again. On his first play back in, he scrambled to his left and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson in the back of the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 42-16 lead on the way to a 56-27 win, the eighth straight for the Buckeyes in “The Game.”
“Blew me away,” coach Ryan Day said. “Looking at the shot he took, how tough he was, to come back and make a play like that. One of the coolest things I’ve been a part of.”
The low-key Fields was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year this week and could end up as a Heisman Trophy finalist after leading Ohio State to a 12-0 season and another berth in the conference championship game, against Wisconsin on Saturday. Win or lose, the Buckeyes seem destined to make the College Football Playoff.
The question this week is the condition of Fields’ knee — a previous injury was aggravated a week earlier against Penn State — with potentially three games to play. Day and Fields both say it’s fine, even though he will wear the heavy brace on his plant leg for the entire game Saturday. He acknowledges it affects his mobility but not his passing.
“He’ll be playing,” Day said without hesitation. “We’ll use him all 60 minutes.”
There have been many keys to Ohio State’s success this season: The nation’s top-ranked defense featuring conference defensive player of the year Chase Young; one of the top running backs in the country in J.K. Dobbins; and an offensive line with four new starters that has been excellent.
But Fields has been the engine that powers the machine. The Georgia transfer has accounted for 47 total touchdowns (37 passing, 10 rushing). Those numbers came without him playing in the second half of blowouts, which most games were this season.
Fields seems to have an inner calmness that is never far away, despite an occasional celebration on the sideline..
He reacted to last Saturday’s injury with an almost serene approach.
“I just go about life,” Fields said Tuesday, while acknowledging that his knee still hurt. “Everything happens for a reason. God has a plan, so when bad things happen in life, I really don’t stress over it. I kind of just go with the flow and just lean on God to help me out, so I really don’t get sad or down about things. If I tore my ACL I would be the same right now. That’s just how I go about life in general, really.”