The rain spit down momentarily Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, long enough to allow the ball to slip out of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s hand and almost spoil one of the most anticipated matchups of the season.
This game was pretty darn good, of course. And in the end, No. 2 Ohio State woke up and made enough plays to pull off a 30-23 comeback win in overtime over No. 8 Wisconsin.
And while the victory kept alive the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff hopes, it also saved the drama of arguably the must-see game of 2016, which sits at the end of Ohio State’s schedule: Michigan, Nov. 26.
Saturday night was a reminder that the perfect narrative rarely takes shape in college football and that someone in the deep Big Ten could ruin the long-awaited drama of the Wolverines and Buckeyes colliding in Columbus, both unbeaten, with a likely playoff bid on the line.
The last time such a scenario played out was in 2006 when No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan in an epic clash, 42-39. That sent the Buckeyes to the national championship game. That perfect story ended with a thud, as Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators smacked around the unbeaten Big Ten champs.
This season, No. 1 Alabama, fresh off its 49-10 clinical win against Tennessee, appears on a level above everyone else and ready to wallop whomever the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12 sends to the playoff.
The good news for Meyer’s Baby Buckeyes is they still have almost three months to catch up and right some of the wrongs we saw Saturday.
Meyer has the benefit of riding an experienced quarterback, and Barrett showed on Saturday that he has some guile even when it doesn’t appear to be his night.
Dating back to the Indiana game, Barrett had completed just 18 of 41 passes between the two contests at one point Saturday. But he finished on a hot streak, completing eight of his final nine pass attempts against the Badgers, including a perfect 4-of-4 in overtime and the game-winning touchdown throw to Noah Brown.
“He’s a soldier,” Meyer told ESPN’s Samantha Ponder after the game. “He’s a warrior, and he’s a guy that fights through adversity, and I knew at some point he was going to go win the game for us like he’s done many, many times.”
Still, Ohio State’s offense lacks the crispness we’re used to seeing from a Meyer unit. The young receivers still appear to be learning the ropes, and Ohio State has to rely a little too much on Barrett’s legs.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Meyer has one of the best offensive minds in football and an ability to adapt throughout a game.
Meyer deserves credit for making adjustments against Wisconsin’s disciplined defense and for gambling twice on the game-changing drive. Trailing 16-6 in the third quarter, he went for it twice on 4th-and-short, and the drive resulted in a touchdown. Most coaches would have settled for a field goal. Meyer sensed his team needed a touchdown.
That seemed to change the approach of Ohio State’s defense as well. The Buckeyes looked to be on their heels and guessing in the first half. They were aggressive and utilized their team speed to swarm to the football in the second half.
“At halftime, there wasn’t a lot of yelling,” Meyer said. “We just didn’t play great, but a lot of people don’t play great in this stadium on the road. But we hung in there, hung in there and that’s a young team that’s getting older. They’re maturing.”
Meyer and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh do not have perfect teams, particularly offensively, but they have enough talent and coaching savvy to get through the Big Ten unscathed.
They also both have Wisconsin behind them. Neither team should apologize for not winning in style against the Badgers, who are arguably the best two-loss team in the country with a legitimate championship-worthy D.
October and November are about survival. Just get to the playoff, and see what happens.
Unlike Clemson, Ohio State could have lost on Saturday and still had a shot at getting to the playoff. Go 11-1 with a win over Michigan—presumably undefeated at that point—and the Buckeyes would have a resume that would likely put them in the conversation.
But any teams in the Big Ten or SEC that go undefeated control their own fate, and the Buckeyes are still in that boat.
They’ve survived Madison and a perfectly-timed rainstorm. Home against Nebraska and a trip to East Lansing are still out there as potential spoilers. (Sure, Sparty is down this year, but it’s also scary at home.)
Michigan also has a trip to East Lansing and another to Iowa City as potential slip-ups.
This season has not gone ideally for some of the sport’s blue bloods like Oklahoma, Notre Dame, LSU and Florida State—all preseason darlings who ranked in the Top 10 to start the campaign and bowed out of playoff contention quickly with early losses.
As much as the Buckeyes and Wolverines loathe each other, the fanbases should be rooting for both to keep their undefeated seasons alive. As are the TV execs at ESPN and ABC, who own the rights to the rivalry game.
This college football season is sure to give us a few treats until then. Ohio State-Wisconsin did not disappoint. But Nov. 26 has the potential to be college football at its best, and it cannot get here soon enough.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News