The Wisconsin Badgers chance at a berth in the College Football Playoffs disappeared with a 27-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. The loss ended a perfect season and Wisconsin’s 13-game winning streak, which dated back to their Cotton Bowl victory over Western Michigan last season.
The College Football Playoff committee will release its final top four teams at 11am CT on Sunday morning. The Badgers, with their soft schedule, won’t be among the final four teams. But the Badgers could still secure a spot in a New Years Day bowl game.
Wisconsin (12-1) fell to Ohio State (11-2) for the sixth straight game and dropped their third Big Ten title game since 2014.
The Buckeyes beat the Badgers with the big play. Quarterback J.T. Barrett tossed touchdown passes of 84 and 57 yards and running back J.K. Dobbins added a 77-yard run that set up a 1-yard touchdown keeper by Barrett.
The Buckeyes, who entered the game averaging 43.8 points and 529.8 yards a game, racked up 309 yards in the first half alone and took a 21-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Badgers put together a much better second half and had the ball for one final chance, but Alex Hornibrook was picked off on fourth and 20 from the Wisconsin 47 yard line with less than a minute to play.
Hornibrook finished 19 of 30 for 229 yards and two interceptions. Barrett went 12 of 26 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes defense did a number on the Badgers running game and running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor entered the game averaging 150.5 yards a game, but managed just 41 yards on 15 carries. As a team, the Badgers had 60 yards on 32 carries.
Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel put the Badgers on the board when he picked off a J.T. Barrett pass and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown. Van Ginkel also forced a fumble which the Badgers turned into a field goal.
Wisconsin’s offense was rolling early. They used play action and started their second drive at the 27, moving all the way to the Ohio State 18 before Hornibrook threw the first of his interceptions. Hornibrook tried to hit tight end Troy Fumagalli along the right sideline but underthrew the pass and was picked off by Buckeyes corner Denzel Ward.
Facing second and 7 from his 5, Barrett tried to throw into the right flat but linebacker Van Ginkel drifted into the throwing lane, snared the pass and raced 9 yards to the end zone with 2:08 left in the quarter.
The Badgers eventually drew within three points at 24-21 on Chris James 1-yard touchdown run and Hornibrook’s two-point conversion pass to Fumagalli with more than 12 1/2 minutes left.
The Buckeyes answered with a field goal to close out the scoring.
Several things led to the Badgers first loss of the season. They missed on some red zone opportunities and struggled to find the end zone. Not being able to run the ball effectively took away the effectiveness of play action. Hornibrook saw a steady pass rush coming at home for most of the game.
When Hornibrook did have time to throw, he was off target much of the night. In the teams first 12 games, the Badgers were able to win even when their quarterback didn’t play well. In the Big Ten title game, there was no hiding Hornibrook’s turnovers and inaccuracy.
Throw in the fact that the nation’s best defense, couldn’t get much pressure on J.T. Barrett and then gave up several big plays on top of that, and it was a recipe for defeat.
The Badgers just didn’t play well and Ohio State had a lot to do with it. But the Badgers have been a strong second half team all season and they almost pulled off another comeback. Unfortunately they fell short this time and Wisconsin fans will have to wait to see their team compete in the college football playoffs. The question is, will they get that opportunity again or did the perfect storm end in the 2017 Big Ten title game?