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Second-half collapse: Wisconsin Badgers overpowered as Ohio State Buckeyes battle back for Big Ten title
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Second-half collapse: Wisconsin Badgers overpowered as Ohio State Buckeyes battle back for Big Ten title

Big Ten Championship Football

Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins goes in for a touchdown against Wisconsin cornerback Faion Hicks during the first half of the Buckeyes' win over the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. 

INDIANAPOLIS — From the first snap of the Big Ten Championship Game, the University of Wisconsin football team was determined to show that its rematch against Ohio State would be different than the first time the teams played.

The No. 10 Badgers weren’t going to be timid at Lucas Oil Stadium, even when playing against one of the best defenses in college football and one of the most talented teams in the nation. It showed no fear throwing, and throwing deep, against the Buckeyes’ vaunted pass rush and secondary on that first play, and junior quarterback Jack Coan hit receiver Quintez Cephus outside the numbers for 27 yards to spark a quick scoring drive.

But the Buckeyes were able to weather the storm. They created big plays in the second half to overcome their largest deficit of the season and came away with a 34-21 win at Lucas Oil Stadium to claim their third consecutive Big Ten Conference championship.

“We have such heart and such leadership,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “There wasn’t a guy in that room that didn’t believe. We brought the guys together and said do you believe that we’re going to win in the second half. We turned around and played the best game of our lives.”

Ohio State (13-0, 10-0), which came into the game ranked second in the Associated Press poll and first in the College Football Rankings, will wait to see which seed it receives in the playoff. The Badgers (10-3, 7-3) await their bowl invites, with the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Citrus Bowl all real possibilities.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields — dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee that he aggravated against Michigan last week — wasn’t quite the threat with his legs early in the game that he normally is.

However, Fields showed he could still buy time with his mobility and create big plays once he forced the secondary to cover longer. He rolled to his left and then uncorked a deep pass to Chris Olave for 50 yards to give the Buckeyes a spark in the third quarter. Jeremy Ruckert beat the defense to the back of the end zone and made a one-handed snag to cut into UW’s halftime lead shortly after the break.

“Fields, he’s good out of the pocket. Having to cover for a long time is pretty hard, pretty difficult,” UW cornerback Caesar Williams said. “He made a play. We just can’t let him do stuff like that. We can’t let him out of the pocket, we can’t let him extend plays. Because when it comes to extended plays, we don’t really practice that as much, and guys might be in the wrong spot and might not be where they’re supposed to be.”

UW punter Anthony Lotti mishandled a snap and gave Ohio State the ball back inside the red zone after a quick three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but the Badgers held and forced the Buckeyes to kick a short field goal and stay behind 21-17.

Ohio State moved down the field again after the Badgers missed a field goal, scoring in less than four minutes on K.J. Hill’s 16-yard catch and run to take its first lead at 24-21 with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter. A false start on Ohio State’s line was missed on the play.

A three-and-out by the Badgers was followed by another long touchdown drive for Ohio State, with Hill picking up his second touchdown after shaking loose of Madison Cone in the end zone.

UW’s defense could focus in on Dobbins with Fields’ running threat lessened by his injury, and the Badgers did a good job containing one of the best backs in the country for much of the game. But the volume of carries and Dobbins’ hard running caught up to UW in the second half, and Dobbins finished with 33 carries and 172 yards.

“That’s a good football team. Football’s always a game of momentum. How do you get momentum back? It’s executing,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “They executed better than we did on enough plays to make the difference.”

UW never found its footing offensively in the second half, and Ohio State’s field goal late in the fourth quarter increased the margin.

Being shut out in the second half dashed what was a masterful start for the Badgers offensively.

On that first drive, Coan’s feet were a crucial weapon for the Badgers — a theme throughout the first half. He juked out OSU’s Brandon Browning to gain 7 yards on a third-and-6 to extend the Badgers’ first drive. The next snap, junior tailback Jonathan Taylor ran up the gut for a 44-yard score and stunned a crowd that heavily favored the Buckeyes.

UW caught a break when Ohio State’s punt bounced into the end zone, and they took advantage of it by making plays to extend the ensuing drive on third and fourth down.

Coan hit Cephus on a slant route to convert a third-and-9 near midfield, and Chryst kept his foot on the gas three plays later by going for it on fourth-and-4 at the Buckeyes’ 36-yard line. Danny Davis picked up 5 yards on a jet sweep handoff to keep the drive alive. Coan then used his legs again on third-and-9, slipping out of a sack and sprinting to gain the needed yardage.

Coan fooled the Ohio State defense by keeping the ball on an option play and scored from the 14, putting the Buckeyes behind by two scores for the first time this season at 14-0.

“We definitely played really good football in the first half,” junior center Tyler Biadasz said. “We battled all four quarters. It came down to some simple plays, but that’s how the game works. We made too many mistakes throughout our whole team.”

UW captured momentum with more aggressive play-calling late in the second quarter.

Ohio State scored on a 10-play, 71-yard march to halve the lead and gave the ball back to the Badgers with less than a minute left before halftime. But Taylor popped for 45 yards on a delayed handoff and got UW into scoring range. After Taylor gained 5 more yards on a run and UW used its last timeout of the half, Coan connected with Cephus again. Cephus adjusted well to a high throw, and absorbed contact that drew a pass-interference flag to make the catch and get the Badgers to the 1 with 18 seconds left in the half.

Coan powered his way into the end zone with a quarterback sneak to give UW a 21-7 halftime advantage.

The Badgers made two last-gasp efforts to get within a score in the closing minutes. The first series got down to the Buckeyes’ 32, but a toss to Taylor on a fourth down play lost 6 yards. UW got the ball back with 1:35 to go and moved to Ohio State’s 3, but Coan was stopped short of the goal line on a run to end the game.

Taylor finished with 148 yards and a score on 20 carries, but had 13 yards on seven carries in the second half. Coan was 17 of 33 passing for 232 yards. Cephus was targeted 14 times, and made seven catches for 122 yards.

“I don’t know what happened in the second half, I really don’t,” junior left tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “There was a lot of miscommunication on things with other people, not just on the O-line, but as a team, and it’s a team effort.

“I’m really proud of how this team battled today. We’re on to the next game and we’re going to give everything we have for our last game of the year.”

Photos: Wisconsin Badgers can't hang with Ohio State Buckeyes in Big Ten title game

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