Ohio State has taken two of the Big Ten’s best shots in the past two weeks and the Buckeyes remain on top, unbeaten.
That’s 18 consecutive victories dating back to last season after Saturday’s 40-30 victory over Northwestern, and a quick peek at what’s on the slate the next few weeks doesn’t provide a reason that roll might end any time soon.
Nope, with five games to play until its trip to Michigan, Ohio State won’t play a team that has any business coming away with a victory.
Sorry Iowa and Penn State, your trips to the Horseshoe the next three weeks won’t end well. And Purdue and Illinois? Enjoy having the Buckeyes on your campus, but odds are they won’t be the most cordial guests.
That leaves Indiana, which plays at Ohio State on Nov. 23. The Hoosiers can score, but their aversion to the idea of playing defense might allow Ohio State to match the 76 points it put up against Florida A&M a few weeks ago.
While the Legends Division remains a toss-up, the Buckeyes have all but locked up the Leaders after just two conference games (Northwestern and a 31-24 victory over Wisconsin). Now the focus remains keeping that win streak intact and making a case to play in the BCS Championship Game.
It doesn’t hurt Ohio State that it avoids Nebraska and Michigan State this season, and with Wisconsin and Northwestern dispatched, it sure looks like the final regular-season road block will be in Ann Arbor, and quite frankly, that might just be a quick stopover on Ohio State’s march to the conference title game in Indianapolis.
Beyond that, who knows? But if a Big Ten team is going to play in Pasadena a week after the Rose Bowl, it looks like it’s going to be the Buckeyes.
Sure, Michigan is still unbeaten, but the Wolverines have done anything but instill much hope they can run the table, leaving Ohio State as the only legitimate threat to reach the BCS Championship Game out of the Big Ten.
Did Ohio State dominate Northwestern on Saturday? Not at all, but coming off a win last week over Wisconsin, going on the road and taking the Wildcats’ best shots, the Buckeyes proved they might have no match.
Northwestern was in control, leading by 10 in the third quarter, the crowd on its side at a soggy Ryan Field. But that’s when Ohio State proved how good it really is.
On a night quarterback Braxton Miller was far from his best, the Buckeyes turned to running back Carlos Hyde, who answered with 168 yards and three touchdowns, including the winner with 5:22 to play in the game.
It was an emotional night for Hyde, who was suspended for the first three games of the season, and it was affirmation that Ohio State has talent all over the field. Now it also has shown it has the mettle to play with the conference’s best, overcome adversity, and come out unscathed.
“Anytime you go a 12- or 15-round fight with someone and come out the other end, it builds toughness,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We toughed out a win.”
And now they’re in position to prove last season’s perfect record was no fluke.
Northwestern inches away
While Ohio State staked its claim at the top of the Big Ten on Saturday, Northwestern proved it can play with the big boys, regardless of the fact the Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season.
“There’s a team that’s getting on a bus for Columbus that knows it got into a fight,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s what I will take from this.”
It was a painfully close loss for the Wildcats, who preached throughout the offseason that they were just minutes from being unbeaten in 2012. The rallying cry might be that they were just inches away in 2013.
Sure, there is a long way to go for Northwestern — the schedule the rest of the way is no picnic — but one questionable spot of the ball could have been the difference against Ohio State.
Trailing 34-30 in the fourth quarter and needing less than a yard for a first down, quarterback Kain Colter fumbled the snap on fourth down but grabbed the ball and appeared to surge forward. However, the ball was spotted short of the first down.
“I thought I got at least a yard,” Colter said.
The play was reviewed and the spot was upheld. Ohio State then milked the clock before getting a score on the final play of the game when Northwestern’s desperate lateral attempts were coughed up in the end zone.
Northwestern could get another shot at Ohio State if it wins the Legends and gets to the Big Ten title game, and if it does, it knows it will be in for another fight.
“Very, very good players. Borderline great players,” Meyer said. “And a scheme that’s hard to defend.”
Hoosiers in the hunt
For the first time since 2000, Indiana is 1-0 in the Big Ten.
Yes, believe it or not, Indiana not only beat Penn State on Saturday, it did it for the first time. That’s right, an 0-16 skid had ended.
“Now we’ve just got to keep bringing it,” defensive tackle Bobby Richardson said. “We’ve got a lot of teams we need to beat to be champions.”
Yeah, let’s not get carried away on the champions idea just yet. There is little doubt the Hoosiers can score, as they did in their 44-24 victory over the Nittany Lions. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
For now, Indiana will simply be happy with the fact its offense continues to roll — quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson each produced two touchdowns — and the defense showed it might be getting the whole concept of stopping its opponent.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg still threw for better than 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the Lions managed only 70 yards on the ground. It all came from a performance Indiana coach Kevin Wilson hopes he sees more often.
“We’ve been very inconsistent here,” Wilson said. “Once we do it, you don’t see it. Good teams become really good because they repeat what they’re capable of doing. What we saw today is what we’re maybe kind of capable of playing like.”
If so, Hoosiers fans might be doing more than just killing time until basketball starts.