INDIANAPOLIS – For much of Ohio State’s football season, fans, coaches and even Trey Sermon himself were looking for the player who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards two years ago at Oklahoma.
They found him on Saturday when the graduate transfer running back gained an Ohio State-record 331 yards to lead the No. 4 Buckeyes to a 22-10 win over No. 14 Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Like his season, the game began somewhat slowly for Sermon, who had only 60 yards at halftime before running through Northwestern for 271 yards in the second half.
On his big day Sermon broke Eddie George’s 25-year-old Ohio State record of 314 yards set against Illinois in 1995.
“I was able to just get in a groove and get it rolling and my teammates were there to support me,” Sermon said.
OSU (6-0) wasn’t exactly rolling when it went to the locker room at halftime trailing Northwestern 10-6.
The Buckeyes left several scoring opportunities unfinished in the first half and even early in the second half.
But with the defense pitching a shutout in the second half and Sermon and the offensive line dominating Northwestern, OSU won its fourth straight Big Ten championship and hopefully put itself in position to be voted into the College Football Playoff on Sunday.
The Buckeyes took the lead for good at 13-10 on a 9-yard touchdown run by Sermon with 2:41 left in the third quarter. They increased it to 16-10 early in the fourth quarter on Blake Haubeil’s second field goal of the day, then took control of the game on Sermon’s 3-yard touchdown run with four minutes to play.
Ohio State was playing without standouts like wide receiver Chris Olave, linebacker Baron Browning and punter Drue Chrisman, possibly because of COVID-19 issues.
And it also was missing the usual contributions from quarterback Justin Fields, whose line in the boxscore read 12 of 27 for 114 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Ohio State had only 13 passing yards in the second half. Some of that could be attributed to Fields’ thumb injury in the fourth quarter, but he said he wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
“I think it’s just a sprain. I’ll get some ice on it and it should be OK in a few days. But I just have to be flat out better. I’m not going to make excuses,” Fields said.
Even after a shaky first half, Fields said Ohio State was confident. “I think when we went into the locker room at halftime guys knew we were going to win this game.”
And that was without knowing what Sermon was going to do in the second half.
Head coach Ryan Day said Sermon “ran with a different look in his eye” on Saturday. “After two or three weeks we weren’t sure what we had with Trey. He was coming off an injury. We didn’t know him.”
Sermon, whose best game at Oklahoma was 206 yards against Texas Tech in 2018, said, “They were just telling me to keep fighting. They brought me here for a reason. They knew I was a great player. My game is making guys miss and winning at the second level.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, “He (Sermon) is a very, very talented player. We had guys one on one with him and he ran through them.
“We had our opportunities but just didn’t get it done. It’s bitterly disappointing. We didn’t come here to play hard, we came here to win. But there were two Big Ten team who were here and 12 others watching on TV and wishing they were here,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.