5. J.T. Barrett will be the deciding factor.
This season, the Bucks won’t have Jones or Elliott but they will have something that was missing last time these teams met in thre title game. Barrett will be playing in his first ever Big Ten Championship game.
It’s hard to believe Barrett has not competed for a conference title with all of the accolades he has. This will be his last opportunity to prove himself in a conference title game.
The Badgers’ run defense is tough, so Barrett will have to trust his ability as well as his receivers. Their defense ranks first in the Big Ten against the run allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and four total rushing touchdowns.
For perspective, the Bucks’ rushing touchdowns against the Badgers in a single game in 2014 is equivalent to how many they have given up this entire season.
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Barrett’s abilities will be crucial in this match up with the Badgers. He has a knack for ball security and has made a living on not turning the ball over often. He will have to be extra careful in this game as the Badgers make their hay from creating turnovers. The Badgers defense is tied for second most in the Big Ten in interceptions and is tied for most defensive touchdowns with four.
One problem that Barrett has had is trusting his receivers. This becomes especially problematic in big game scenarios. He tends to clam up and not get the ball out quick enough which tightens the defense even more with each snap.
It was clear that Barrett’s receiving corp was lacking before and especially last season but now there is no excuse. Barrett must get into rhythm early if the Badgers predictably attempt to shut down the run early and manage to succeed.
Barrett has not looked particularly great over the last few weeks. He hasn’t thrown for over 210 yards since Penn State. A big part of this has to do with the Buckeyes going back to their bread and butter. Keeping Barrett’s attempts down while increasing efficiency is more of the current mindset as the run game has been extremely hot as of late.
However, it would not be surprising to see the Bucks’ passing game ignite just in time to startle the Badgers while impressing the playoff committee at the same time. Barrett is still capable of lighting it up through the air especially with the weapons he has.
Also, the run game will contribute to his success by creating clean play-action opportunities. Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill have been great safety valves underneath while Austin Mack, Binjimin Victor, and Johnnie Dixon are great options down the field.
Marcus Baugh has been quietly a great receiver as well at the tight end position. Just when the opposing team thinks they have all of their bases covered, Baugh is wide open up the seam. Another sneaky key for Ohio State to boost their playoff chances is to flaunt just how much of an advantage they have at the quarterback position over Alabama.
Barrett has thrown circles around Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, as Barrett has 2728 yards and 33 touchdowns compared to Hurts’ 1940 yards and 15 touchdowns. Barrett’s 33 passing touchdowns are the fifth most in the nation.
Barrett will have a chance to end on a high note in what may be his final game as a Buckeye. Expect Barrett to play a key role in the Buckeyes’ success against the Badgers.