INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Despite a halftime lead and an admirable defensive effort, the No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats (6-2) fell to the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0) 22-10 in the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game. Ryan Day’s squad won its fourth straight conference title in its bid to be selected to the College Football Playoff.
For Northwestern, it was a game of missed opportunities and what-ifs.
Peyton Ramsey finished 24-for-37 for 224 yards on the day but was responsible for two interceptions and a fumble. Cam Porter led the ground game with 16 yards on 61 carries while Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman caught eight passes for 103 yards, but the bulk of their successes came in the first half.
Northwestern’s defense neutralized 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields, who went 12-of-27 for just 114 yards with two interceptions. However, the Buckeyes averaged a whopping 9.1 yards per carry in a dominant display on the ground. Game MVP Trey Sermon set an Ohio State single-game rushing record with 331 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, surpassing Eddie George’s 314 yards against Illinois in 1995.
The Buckeyes came out of the gate with a 16-play, eight-minute drive, throwing on their first five plays to march all the way to Northwestern’s seven-yard line. A holding penalty negated a Justin Fields rushing touchdown, and a third-down sack from Cam Mitchell and Chris Bergin led to a 41-yard field goal from Blake Haubeil to put OSU up 3-0 with 6:34 remaining in the first.
Northwestern responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 34-yard scramble from Ramsey. From the Wildcat formation, Porter punched it in for a nine-yard carry to give NU a 7-3 lead that held at the end of the first.
In Mike Hankwitz’s final Big Ten game, his unit put Fields under pressure early, as the Buckeyes failed to establish a rhythm on offense without Olave to open the second quarter. Northwestern drove into OSU territory with a 14-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 47-yard field goal from Charlie Kuhbander, a career-long for the senior kicker to extend the lead to seven halfway through the second.
The ‘Cats defense played to the bend-but-don’t-break mantra throughout the second quarter, holding Ohio State to just another field goal. The Buckeyes’ last-second effort to take the halftime lead ended with an acrobatic end zone interception from Brandon Joseph, his nation-leading sixth of the season, and the ‘Cats went into halftime up 10-6 with momentum on their side.
For the first time since its loss to Purdue in October 2018, OSU did not score a touchdown in a half. However, Greg Newsome II suffered a lower-body injury and was sidelined for the remainder of the game.
Northwestern’s offense opened the second half by driving all the way to the OSU 11-yard line, only for Ramsey to throw a pick in the end zone on third down. Though that wouldn’t directly cost them, as Cam Mitchell picked off Fields on the next drive, it encapsulated their inability to cash in.
A quick three-and-out and punt from Northwestern put the ball back in the Buckeye’s court. A 65-yard rush from Sermon flipped the field, but the Bucks still could not punch it in, and Haubeil missed a 42-yarder wide left. The ‘Cats mirrored their foes, driving into Ohio State territory only for Kuhbander to miss a 46-yarder wide right.
The Buckeyes solely utilized their run game in the second half. The ‘Cats struggled to contain Sermon, who scored on a nine-yard rush to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the contest with 2:41 left in the quarter. On the second play of NU’s next drive, Ramsey, flushed out of the pocket, threw his second interception of the game to Josh Proctor, but the defense stopped OSU once again.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, while driving, Ramsey fumbled on a quarterback run, NU’s third turnover of the half. The Buckeyes marched inside the NU 10-yard line, but the Wildcat defense kept them out of the end zone once more to keep it a one-possession gam.
The Buckeyes once more relied upon Sermon, who scored his second touchdown of the game to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive, pushing Ohio State’s lead to 22-10 after the two-point attempt failed.
The ‘Cats couldn’t muster anything up, ultimately turning the ball over on downs. The Buckeyes ran out the clock to claim their ninth straight victory over Northwestern.
Northwestern’s postseason fate will be decided Sunday, as the College Football Playoff selection committee and other bowls release their bowl matchups at 11 a.m. CT.