Cardale Jones came to play football.
After a long week of questions and hand-wringing by Buckeye faithful far and wide, the young man who'd achieved infamy through social media walked onto the field in Indianapolis and rewrote his own legacy.
I'll be the first to admit I didn't see it coming. After all, Jones had thrown 17 passes in his OSU career. The OSU offense had looked spotty in the past few weeks, even with Barrett at the helm. Wisconsin's defense was a statistical giant. Anyone who says they predicted this outcome is either lying or prone to wild guesses born of unbridled homerism and willful ignorance.
Whatever Urban Meyer and his staff did this week, it worked. It would be foolish, however, to think that this was the result of one week's work. No one puts 59 points on Wisconsin with a mere week of prep. Clearly the Buckeye staff has been giving Cardale a season's worth of reps in the expectation that he might someday be needed. Like a mothballed B-52, he'd been perfectly preserved for the moment when his particular capabilities were crucial to the survival of Buckeye Nation's hopes and dreams. The return on that investment was nothing short of incredible.
Consider, for a moment, the numbers. Jones went 12-of-17 for 257 yards and 3 TDs. All three of those TD throws went for at least 40 yards through the air. This wasn't a case of backup making the dink-and-dunk throws for 5 yards. This was a backup QB who launched the ball downfield like a veteran. As everyone expected, the turf got chewed up by a talented running back, though few thought that back would be Zeke Elliott. Ohio State generated over 550 yards of offense against the B1G's best defense (a defense ranked third in the country in total yards). This marked the 6th time this season the Buckeyes hung more than 500 yards on a B1G opponent. The 59 points the Buckeyes put on the board more than tripled the Badger defense's average.
Conversely, the seemingly unstoppable Badger offense looked anything but. Melvin Gordon, once the B1G's dark horse for a Heisman Trophy, saw his campaign crash burn in a 76-yard performance. The nation's best runner mustered a meager 2.9 yards per carry. His worst moment of the night was undoubtedly his backbreaking fumble before the half. Joey Bosa scooped the caroming pigskin off the turf and extended the Buckeye lead to 38-0. Whatever momentum the Wisconsin offense might've mustered evaporated in Bosa's characteristic shrug in the endzone. Wisconsin finished the night with a paltry 90 yards rushing (sack adjusted).
Cleveland Plain Dealer / Marvin Fong
Speaking of evaporating good fortunes, Joel Stave's season-long progress toward becoming a feared passing threat was wiped away by the Buckeye secondary. All week long, the throng of football experts called for an OSU strategy of stopping the run first. This, in turn, should have theoretically left the passing game wide open for Stave to drive the Badgers down the field. Instead, the Badger signal-caller was an atrocious 17-of-43 for 187 yards. More importantly, after a season where he seemed to shake the turnover bug from last year, Stave hucked three passes to Buckeye defenders. The Badgers found no refuge in their passing game.
There is no denying now that the depth of talent at QB at Ohio State far surpasses that of any other B1G team. The depth of talent at other positions may well exceed that of the rest of the B1G, too. The Badgers were absolutely stymied by the Buckeye defensive front, and the swarming of Melvin Gordon recalled memories of the great Silver Bullet defenses of yore. Whatever it is that he does to prepare his team for big game, Urban Meyer does it as well as anyone. In just his third season, he has already cemented his place among the conference's coaching greats. He has still yet to lose a regular season conference game, and now has an outright B1G title to his name.
More important, though, is the new reality he imposes on the league. Meyer is here to win, and to do so in a way that eschews the stultifying habits that drove the B1G into also-ran status in the BCS era. This mentality seems to be slowly metastasizing throughout other programs (hey, it only took 15 years!). Recruiting and talent development, along with the league's appetite for paying competitive salaries, should continue to improve. This is certainly the year of the Buckeyes, but I personally hope it's not so much a step toward dominance but another salvo in a growing conference arms race.
Are the Buckeyes playoff material? They certainly looked the part. Then again, there's significant question as to whether Wisconsin was ever that good. The Badgers hold no victories over the current top 25. Add in a loss to Northwestern and tight games at Iowa and against a fairly one-dimensional Minnesota offense, the Badgers' body of work left more than a little room for doubt. After suffering first shutout in any of CFB's 55 conference championship games, the detractors of both Wisconsin and the B1G certainly won't be quieted.
Ohio State's own record is far from unblemished. The hammering of Wisconsin is all the more shocking after the lackluster performances against Michigan and Indiana. While the improvement of the team over the season is undeniable, a loss is a loss. A loss to VT is an albatross that hangs more heavily than most.
In the end, it would seem that the biggest problem the Buckeyes face is that the committee painted themselves into a corner by releasing weekly rankings. Instead of waiting until now to announce the top 4, the committee faces the question of whether they could feasibly drop the #3 team to #5 in the face of a 55-3 win. I don't know that TCU's resume is that much better than Ohio State's in terms of how each team is playing right now, but thanks to the tyranny of precedent, it doesn't have to be.
Either way, the B1G belongs to the Buckeyes. The B1G finishes with two teams in the Top 10. The B1G has gone from a league on life support in Week 2 to a league with a shot at the playoffs and a chance to get some suffering programs back on track.
It's week 15 and it's still great to be B1G.