Columbus, Ohio — Jalin Marshall was the problem last week and the solution on Saturday for No. 7 Ohio State.
The freshman returned a punt 54 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and then added three late insurance scores to carry the Buckeyes past Indiana 42-27, the Hoosiers’ sixth loss in a row.
Marshall lost two fumbles in the Buckeyes’ 31-24 win at Minnesota seven days before, but more than made up for those mistakes on a sunny and chilly day.
“If it’s an effort problem, Jalin Marshall won’t play. And it’s not an effort issue with him,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s a talented guy. That was good for his confidence.”
Marshall was ripped by Ohio State fans on social media after the fumbles.
“It’s very satisfying but I’m not satisfied with the season yet,” he said. “But it does feel good to kind of get that bear off my back — all that negative stuff — toward me.”
The surprisingly tight game for most of the day could impact the playoff hopes of the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten), ranked sixth in the Coillege Football Playoff, who clinched the East Division title and a berth in the conference title game.
“We’re conference division champions, we’ve won a bunch of games (nine) in a row,” said Meyer, whose team also has won a conference record 23 straight regular-season games heading into next week’s game with rival Michigan. “We have some work to do. Sometimes in college football, things don’t go exactly as scripted.”
The Buckeyes will play the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.
They trailed the 34-point underdog Hoosiers 20-14 after Tevin Coleman sped 90 yards for a TD midway through the third quarter. A week after rushing for 307 yards, Coleman went for 228 yards on 27 carries for three scores for the Hoosiers (3-8, 0-7).
The Hoosiers’ last chance at a tying score ended with Tyvis Powell picking off a pass from Zander Diamont with 4:25 left, deep in Indiana territory. Marshall caught two more scoring passes after that to pad the lead before Coleman rumbled 52 yards for a score with 1:13 left.
“We kind of (had) them where we want them, 4 minutes to go in the ‘Shoe and it’s 28-20,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “We were trying to make a play and came up short.”
Despite the up-and-down day for the Buckeyes, J.T. Barrett set the school mark for touchdown passes (33) in a season and Ezekiel Elliott, who had 107 yards on 13 carries, topped 1,000 yards. Barrett completed 25 of 35 passes for 302 yards and four scores with two interceptions, and ran for 78 yards on 20 attempts.
On IU’s second possession of the second half, Coleman took a simple handoff, bounced outside and streaked down the left sideline. The 210-pound sophomore was pulling away from two Ohio State defensive backs over the last 50 yards, too.
Once in jeopardy of being run out of the chilly stadium, the Hoosiers were up 20-14. A crowd of 101,426 at Ohio Stadium sounded more like 426.
But that all changed late in the quarter after an anemic 35 minutes by Ohio State when Marshall took a low, line-drive punt, avoided an early tackle and then sidestepped punter Erich Toth for the 54-yard return.
Marshall scored on a 6-yard shovel pass, made a one-handed grab of a 15-yard Barrett pass to swell the lead to 35-20 with just over 4 minutes left, then added a 54-yard catch-and-run.
The Buckeyes, favored by 34 points, cruised down the field for touchdowns on their first two series, taking just three plays and 1:11 off the clock before Elliott burst untouched through a chasm up the middle for a 65-yard TD. Barrett hit Jeff Heuerman for a 4-yard TD that seemed to portend a rout.
Then Diamont, who completed 11 of 27 passes for 114 yards, helped turn the tide with a 53-yard scramble that set up Coleman’s 2-yard touchdown. The Buckeyes then turned the ball over on their next three possessions and, suddenly, it was a game.
“You win a division championship, you put 500-some yards on the board, and you still feel like you didn’t play very well,” Meyer said.