INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern did nearly everything it could to upset Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.
The Wildcats (8-5, 8-1 B1G) couldn’t control Dwayne Haskins, however, and the Buckeyes (12-1, 8-1) topped the Wildcats 45-24 on the strength of their superstar quarterback.
To distill Saturday’s absurd game down to Dwayne Haskins feels wrong, but the Buckeye signal-caller was the answer every time the result was in doubt.
Down 17 at the half, Northwestern pulled within three late in the third quarter, but Haskins tossed two crucial second half touchdowns as a part of a 499-yard, 5-touchdown evening. He broke the Big Ten Championship game record for passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
OSU receivers ran wild through the thin Wildcat secondary all night; Northwestern was without the services of Trae Williams for Saturday’s contest, and Montre Hartage, Jared McGee and Cam Ruiz missed a couple drives as well.
After a lifeless first half, Northwestern’s offense ripped off three scoring drives early in the second half. Clayton Thorson finished 27-of-44 for 267 yards, but tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble as well. The Wildcats were nipping at OSU’s heels all night, but never quite caught up.
Ohio State wasted no time on their first drive, penetrating the NU red zone in just six plays. The Wildcats forced Ohio State into a 3rd and 11, but Dwayne Haskins danced several would-be sacks and found Terry McLaurin in the end zone to cap off a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
The two teams traded three-and-outs. Then, the game took a turn for the weird. Northwestern was involved, so that was to be expected. John Moten IV, who missed five of the last six games, broke off a 77-yard touchdown run, eluding tackles and outrunning the Buckeye defense to tie the game at seven.
The Buckeyes responded quickly with a 65-yard drive lasting less than three minutes. Haskins accounted for three more Buckeye chunk plays. He was 10-of-13 for 142 yards in the first quarter.
Northwestern was able to move the ball across midfield on its next drive, but Clayton Thorson’s deep throw towards Flynn Nagel was intercepted by Shaun Wade near the goal-line.
The Wildcats caught a break when Haskins overthrew K.J. Hill Jr. and was intercepted by Montre Hartage deep in Northwestern territory. NU picked up a couple first downs before Chase Young nearly split Thorson in half on 3rd and 10, forcing a fumble that the Buckeyes pounced on near midfield. Northwestern’s defense stood tall, allowing just a 42-yard field goal to push the Buckeye advantage to ten with 6:09 remaining in the first half.
When it looked like Northwestern was going to get to the half within striking distance, Haskins stuck a pin in NU’s Pasadena hopes for good with a 42-yard dime to Terry McLaurin on 3rd and 20. The Buckeyes led 24-7 at the half.
Thorson rebounded from a shaky first half to guide Northwestern down the field in just five plays. He was 3-of-3 for 48 yards before scampering for an 18-yard touchdown, his ninth rushing touchdown of the year.
A Joe Gaziano sack forced the Buckeyes to punt, and the Northwestern offense responded once again. Thorson converted a couple important third downs and Charlie Fessler was ruled down before he fumbled near the goal line. Two plays later, Thorson found a wide open Cam Green in the end zone to bring the Wildcats within a field goal.
Northwestern’s momentum looked to have finally crashed after Thorson was intercepted by Damon Arnette Jr. by way of Jared Thomas’s helmet, but Jordan Thompson forced a Mike Weber fumble deep in Wildcat territory. Travis Whillock recovered, and NU was able to stave off Ohio State for another possession.
NU could only hold off Haskins and Co. for so long, though. Following a shanked punt from Jake Collins, the Buckeyes drove 60 yards in six plays, capped off by a 29-yard strike from Haskins to Chris Olave.
It looked like Ohio State would bury Northwestern, but the absurdity refused to end. Fred Wyatt blocked a field goal attempt that would have pushed the Buckeye advantage to 13. Then, Thorson found Jelani Roberts, of all people, for a 33-yard completion, part of a 76-yard drive that culminated in a field goal (although NU couldn’t punch it in from the Buckeye 4).
Haskins did it one more time, though, on the strength of a 63-yard pitch-and-catch with Johnnie Dixon, who scored on a nine-yard touchdown a couple plays later to put the Buckeyes up 38-24.
The Buckeyes scored once more to seal their trip to Pasadena.