Saturday's Big Ten football: Ohio State runs over Northwestern for conference title
Indianapolis — Ohio State running back Trey Sermon got the message Saturday.
He’d heard coach Ryan Day preach about everything the Buckeyes overcame to reach this season’s Big Ten championship game. He also heard Day urging players to overcome more obstacles in the second half.
So Sermon delivered – with a record-breaking performance.
He ran for 331 yards and scored two second-half touchdowns, helping No. 3 Ohio State rally past No. 15 Northwestern 22-10 for its fourth straight conference crown and a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
“I’m aware of my ability and I know I’m more than capable of playing my game, which is making guys miss and playing at the second level,” the Big Ten championship game MVP said. “When I’m in the zone, I feel like the game just really slows down and I can see everything develop, make the right reads and make the right cuts.”
Sermon used the combination of vision and speed to average 11.4 yards on 29 carries against one of the nation’s top defenses, breaking Eddie George’s single-game school record and the Big Ten championship game mark.
The former Oklahoma back did it all when the Buckeyes (6-0) needed him most, too.
Quarterback Justin Fields said he couldn’t throw the ball late in the game because of a sprained right thumb. Starting running back Master Teague left in the first half with an undisclosed injury, and star receiver Chris Olave was inactive and didn’t make the trip.
With Ohio State struggling and down 10-6 at halftime, it had a familiar feel to Day.
“This game was a microcosm of what this whole season has been,” Day said. “These guys, they’ve been gritty, they’re tough. They’ve been through so much and they just don’t flinch.”
For Northwestern (6-2) it was agonizing.
The Wildcats led from the moment Cam Porter scored on a 9-yard with 4:03 left in the first quarter until the moment Sermon answered with a 9-yard run to give the Buckeyes a 13-10 lead with 2:41 left in the third.
In between, Northwestern settled for a field goal on one drive and blew another scoring chance when Peyton Ramsey was picked off in the end zone to open the second half.
Ramsey was 24 of 37 with 224 yards and ran effectively, too. But he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble – all in the final two quarters.
“I’m just hurting for our seniors,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We didn’t come down here to play hard, we came down here to win, and not to get the job done is bitterly disappointing.”
Ohio State added a 26-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and Sermon, fittingly, sealed the win with a 3-yard scoring run with 4:03 to go.
“We wanted to throw early, wear them out and run in the second half,” Day said. “That’s how it kind of played out.”
More Big Ten
►(At) Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 17, OT: Collin Larsh kicked a 30-yard field goal in overtime to give Wisconsin a victory in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the most-played rivalry in the FBS.
Minnesota failed to score on its first possession in overtime when Anders Gelecinskyj’s 36-yard field goal attempt from the left hashmark sailed just outside the left upright.
It was the 130th game between the programs. This season’s game on Nov. 28 was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the Gophers program.
Wisconsin (3-3, 3-3 Big Ten) had lost three consecutive games, not scoring more than seven points in any of them. The Badgers entered without their two leading rushers, Jalen Berger and Nakia Watson, top receivers Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor, and left tackle Cole Van Lanen.
Senior Garrett Groshek, who entered with 105 total yards rushing this season, carried 24 times for 154 yards with a career-long run of 39 yards for a touchdown for the Badgers.
Minnesota (3-4, 3-4) tied it at 17 on Tanner Morgan’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Mike Brown-Stephens with 4:40 remaining. Morgan kept the 12-play, 75-yard drive alive on fourth-and-4 with a 4-yard keeper to the Wisconsin 4.
After Gelecinskyj’s 38-yard field goal put Minnesota up 10-7 midway through the third quarter, Graham Mertz completed 3 of 4 passes to move the Badgers from their own 25 to a first-and-goal at the Gophers 10.
Mertz carried to 4-yard line on second down, but was hurt on the tackle. Sophomore Chase Wolf came on and, under heavy pressure, rolled left and hit Jack Dunn for the score to put Wisconsin up 14-10.
Collin Larsh added a 38-yard field goal on Wisconsin’s next possession to make it 17-10 with 11:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Gophers capitalized on field position for their first score after Morgan’s pooch punt pinned Wisconsin at the 1-yard line. The Badgers went three and out and Minnesota responded with a six-play, 53-yard touchdown drive.
Morgan hit Cam Wiley on a wheel route to the right side for a 16-yard touchdown to put Minnesota up 7-0 with 2:04 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin countered on its next possession with a 39-yard touchdown run up the middle by Garrett Groshek, whose previous long run this season was 13 yards.
►(At) Penn State 56, Illinois 21: Jahan Dotson caught six passes, scored twice and racked up 239 all-purpose yards to lead Penn State.
The junior wideout opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown catch, added a 70-yarder in the second quarter and returned a punt 50 yards, taking it deep into Illinois territory to set up Penn State’s go-ahead touchdown before halftime.
Sean Clifford tossed both touchdowns and added 285 yards on 16-for-22 passing. Will Levis threw a touchdown pass to Brenton Strange and ran for one while Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee combined for three rushing scores in the Nittany Lions’ (4-5) fourth straight win.
This one came in the latest game ever played at Beaver Stadium with the sprawling, 107,000-seat facility blanketed in more than a foot of snow from lower decks to upper grandstands.
It looked like it would be a high-powered shootout from the get-go as neither defense showed up for the first quarter when the teams combined for 355 yards and 42 points.
After Dotson’s opening score, Illinois turned a Clifford fumble into its first points when Isaiah Williams found Brian Hightower for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
A minute later it was 14-all as Lamont Wade returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards and Illinois’s Chase Brown scored on a 12-yard touchdown run that capped a three-play drive opened with Williams’ 64-yard run deep into Penn State territory.
The Illini (2-6) jumped ahead 21-14 when Williams tossed a 38-yard touchdown to Daniel Barker on their next possession. Will Levis added a 4-yard touchdown run that tied it at 21. Penn State’s special teams seized momentum moments later when Dotson opened the second quarter with a 50-yard punt return to the Illinois 10. It set up a 3-yard run from Holmes two plays later that put Penn State up 28-21.