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Trey Sermon keeps No. 4 Ohio State's playoff hopes alive in Big Ten title game win over No. 14 Northwestern

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Trey Sermon might have just carried Ohio State into the College Football Playoff.

Sermon set an Ohio State rushing record with 29 carries for 331 yards as the Buckeyes came back to beat No. 14 Northwestern, 22-10, in the Big Ten championship game.

Sermon surpassed Eddie George’s single-game rushing record of 314 yards with less than two minutes to go. He juked, knocked over and hurdled defenders on the 23-yard carry as Ohio State clinched its fourth consecutive Big Ten title.

Ohio State and coach Ryan Day realized in the second half that the passing game wasn’t nearly as productive as usual with wide receiver Chris Olave out for the game and QB Justin Fields sporting a taped right thumb.

“I think it might be sprained,” Fields said of his thumb after the game. He added that he could have a precautionary X-ray.

The passing game’s struggles meant Sermon was pressed into duty. And he was dominant. Northwestern couldn’t contain him and he frequently burst into the second level. Sermon averaged over 10 yards a carry and was the reason why Ohio State was able to flip a halftime deficit into another Big Ten title and a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon (8) runs for the end zone to score past Northwestern defensive back Cameron Mitchell (21) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon rushed for an Ohio State record on Saturday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Ohio State should stay at No. 4

Ohio State has been the most vulnerable team inside the top four of the playoff rankings because of its lack of games. Saturday’s title game was just the Buckeyes’ sixth game of the season.

And with No. 5 Texas A&M easily beating Tennessee on Saturday, Ohio State had a team right behind poised to jump into the playoff with a loss.

A&M will finish the season at 8-1 but it’s hard to see how the Aggies will jump over an undefeated Ohio State. Especially after the way that Ohio State closed the game. The Buckeyes’ defense pitched a second-half shutout and Sermon had one of the best rushing performances by any running back this season.

A playoff appearance by the Buckeyes will be a win for the Big Ten. It was the first top-level college football conference to postpone the season in August and was one of the last to start the season in October. The Big Ten’s schedule of eight games in eight weeks proved fallible as COVID-19 caused the cancellation of numerous games and forced the conference to change a rule to allow the Buckeyes to be in the conference title game.

Ohio State had three games canceled due to COVID-19 over the first eight weeks of the season. That dropped the Buckeyes a game below the Big Ten’s established season minimum. But as Ohio State was undefeated — and Indiana, a team it beat, was set to take its place in the Big Ten title game — the conference’s schools voted to wipe away the rule and give Ohio State a chance to play for the title.

Justin Fields struggled

Fields threw two interceptions against the Wildcats. And one of them cost Ohio State a potential halftime lead.

The Buckeyes were driving for a go-ahead score just before halftime but Brandon Joseph’s incredible one-handed interception kept the halftime score at 10-6 in favor of the Wildcats.

Fields then threw an interception on Ohio State’s first possession of the second half after he clearly wasn’t on the same page with Jameson Williams. Fields finished the game 12-of-27 passing for 114 yards and also rushed for 35 yards.

Peyton Ramsey’s 3 turnovers

Northwestern couldn’t hold the lead in the second half because of turnovers.

QB Peyton Ramsey had three turnovers on the Wildcats’ first three drives of the second half. He opened the third quarter with an interception and then threw his second interception after Northwestern had punted and missed a field goal on its next two drives.

Ramsey then followed that second interception with a fumble on a scramble. Ohio State capitalized on the fumble to kick its third field goal of the game and moved out to a 16-10 lead that proved insurmountable.

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