If I told you a transfer player to The Ohio State University would need to break a single-game record that has stood for 25 years to help the Buckeyes win the Big Ten Championship game, you would probably think I was talking about quarterback Justin Fields. You would be wrong.
Trey Sermon didn’t think he would get enough playing time at Oklahoma University so he transferred to Ohio State. Not many Buckeye fans thought much about it when Sermon became just another running back in a stable of great running backs.
Until the Dec. 10 game, a 22-10 come-from-behind Buckeye win over Northwestern University at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the top rushing game at Ohio State was 314 yards set by Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George against the University of Illinois in 1995. Ezekiel Elliott and Keith Byars were tied for the No. 2 spot with 274 yards. Byars did it in 1994 while Elliott did it in 2015. Now, they can all move over for Sermon – an unlikely star in the making – who blasted his way into the Buckeyes’ record books with 331 yards.
Sermon, who needed every yard he could get could have had more yards, but he was run down from behind on several occasions. In retrospect, he saved the season for Ohio State, which is the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff.
Fields who went into the season as a Heisman trophy candidate needed the run support from an offense that expected to put up huge numbers in the passing game against the Wildcats. The Buckeyes will now take on Clemson, which has had OSU’s number since Woody Hayes made the biggest mistake of his career in making contact with linebacker Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Bauman intercepted a pass and was pushed out of bounds in front of the legendary coach. Too much for Hayes to take, he punched Bauman in the chest, the beginning of the end of Hayes’ career.
The Buckeyes showed depth in the Big Ten title game, where they were without 22 players for various reasons as they won their fourth consecutive league crown. Fields will need several of his receivers back as he cannot expect Sermon and Master Teague III to have that kind of success on the ground against Clemson, but accommodation of the running game and expected passing success should make it an exciting game.
Fields also injured his thumb late in the game and the team needs him to recover quickly. He probably has lost his opportunity to win the Heisman Trophy, but there is nothing wrong with winning a national championship. You can’t ask for a better opportunity than beating Clemson in the opening round followed by a championship game against either Alabama or Notre Dame.
We are talking about college royalty here. Sermon will never have another game like he did against Northwestern, but without it, the Buckeyes would be home watching the New Year’s Day playoff games on television instead of participating in them. Missing as many players as they did in Indy might turn out to be a blessing because the return of so many key players almost makes it seem like another unit has come into play, making it difficult to prepare for.
Crown for the Crew
Congratulations to the Columbus Crew for their outstanding MLS Cup win over the Seattle Sounders, 3-0. The success of the Crew and the NHL’s Blue Jackets has made Columbus a major-league sports town, not including Ohio State.
In the Dec. 18 column, I wrote the Cleveland Browns have only played five Monday night games since their return in 1999, including the first one against the New York Jets. That number was incorrect and should actually now be nine.