Ohio State struggled with Northwestern in the first half of the Big Ten Championship Game, but running back Trey Sermon ran them to the title with a school-record 331 yards rushing in a 22-10 victory.
Sermon’s 331 yards were the most rushing yards in any conference championship game in FBS history and broke Ohio State’s single-game record, previously held by 1995 Heisman Trophy-winner Eddie George.
“He ran with a different look in his eye,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Sometimes when you come off of an injury, it takes a while to get into a rhythm. … This is another guy that overcame adversity. There was a time probably after Week 2 or Week 3 that we really weren’t sure. You know, what’s going on? Just maybe not hitting the hole right, didn’t have a lot of confidence — and we didn’t know Trey.
“So we weren’t sure exactly what we had there. And then to see him persevere again through all that to play the way he did in this game and break records like that, it’s tremendous.”
Northwestern led 10-6 at the half, forcing a pair of otherwise successful Ohio State drives to end with field goals. But the No. 4 Buckeyes looked like a different team in the second half, relying on the run as quarterback Justin Fields said he believes he sprained his thumb.
“Our mentality was just to make the most of every opportunity and execute,” said Sermon, whose 271 rushing yards in the second half were the most in any half in Ohio State history. “I feel like we came out and did that in the second half.”
The victory was Ohio State’s final opportunity to make a case to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Day said the game was a microcosm of their season because of the obstacles they faced with injuries coming into Saturday’s game, as well as their second-half comeback.
“People can say whatever they want [about the CFP]; they have their opinions. I’m not going to talk about other teams because I think we have enough to talk positively about our program,” Day said. “But I’ll say this, if we have an opportunity to play anybody in the country in one game, I’m going to take the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“I feel strongly about this team, we’re made of unbelievable character, and they’ve been through so much, and I think there’s a lot of people in the country that would agree with me.”
Fields was also asked if Ohio State should be in the playoff.
“Yes,” Fields said after repeating the question. “Because we’re one of the top four teams in the country.”
Fields, who was 12-of-27 with 114 yards and ran 12 times for 35 yards, said the thumb on his throwing hand was stiff, and he was having trouble moving it.
“I think it’s just a sprain,” Fields said after the game, “so I probably just need some ice on it and it will be good in a few days.”