Ohio State grade card: Sermon, defense go to the top of the class


Grading Ohio State’s 22-10 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game:

OFFENSE: B

Trey Sermon and everyone who had a role in the running game played at an A+ level when he set an Ohio State record with 331 yards rushing, which broke Eddie George’s 25-year-old school record of 314 yards. The offensive line gets an A for its overall efforts. It dominated Northwestern’s defense in the last 20 minutes of the game after a slow start, which included allowing three sacks in the first half and a holding call that took a touchdown off the scoreboard.

The passing game struggled without No. 1 receiver Chris Olave against a good Northwestern defense. Justin Fields was 12 of 27 for 114 yards, was intercepted twice and did not throw a touchdown pass after having at least one in every other game he has played at Ohio State. He suffered a thumb injury late in the game but said he wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

DEFENSE: A

Northwestern’s only touchdown came on its first possession of the game. One field goal was all it could score in the last 49 minutes of the game. Seventy-one of its 105 rushing yards were on its opening drive.

Two defensive starters, linebacker Baron Browning and safety Marcus Hooker, were among the 22 OSU players who were listed as unavailable for the game. Their replacements — Justin Hilliard and Josh Proctor — both had interceptions on a day when Ohio State forced three turnovers. Hilliard’s pick was a huge momentum swing because he made it in the end zone after Northwestern had marched to OSU’s 9-yard line on its first drive of the second half.

The defense has forced 11 turnovers in its last three games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Kicker Blake Haubeil made three field goals, two of them in the first half, but he was overshadowed by back-up punter Zach Hoover. Hoover, a senior from Toledo Central Catholic, replaced Drue Chrisman, who was one of OSU’s unavailable players and was flawless, averaging 39.3 yards on his three punts.

OVERALL: A-

Ohio State struggled at times offensively and defensively against Northwestern but it accomplished its goals — win a Big Ten championship and get into the College Football Playoff.

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