In sports, you never know what you are going to see, but there is always a chance you are about to witness an all-time great game or all-time great individual performance. For those who watched the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, they got the latter.
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon set an OSU record with 331 yards rushing in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game win over Northwestern, moving Eddie George’s historic 314 yards against Illinois in 1995 to second place.
While Sermon’s talent has never been denied, nobody could have expected such an explosion in a game against one of the nation’s top defenses.
In fact, despite 60 yards rushing on just seven carries in the first half, it seemed as though head coach Ryan Day was still in denial regarding Sermon’s growing effectiveness in the game.
It wasn’t until the second half when things really got rolling.
Sermon carried the ball 22 times in the second half, gaining 271 yards rushing. His second-half performance would have been good for the fourth-best day in Buckeye rushing history.
Sermon was so dominating in the second half that he had rushes of 13, 12, 65, 33, 28, 25, 12, and 23 yards, all of which featured broken tackles, cut backs, hurdles, jukes, and plenty of wows along the way. It was arguably the greatest individual performance in Ohio State football history.
After the game, however, Sermon wasn’t interested in taking all of the credit. He recognized his offensive line and what they did to make his day much easier.
“It was amazing, man. I mean, those guys played their tails off today and they fought hard from start to finish,” he said. “I mean, I’m just grateful that they made my job easy. Just moving the line of scrimmage and controlling it. Just dominating up front.”
Sermon certainly had large holes to run through on the day, but he also made his own way on a number of carries. He made defenders miss and never seemed to go down on first contact. And, to be honest, second contact didn’t seem to have too much success either.
Sermon found himself having one of those games where everything went well. They call it “the zone.” When the baseball appears as large as a beach ball, and the rim as large as a child’s swimming pool. Sermon was in the zone on Saturday, and he knew it.
“Well when I’m in the zone, I just feel like, personally, everything just really slows down and the game really just slows down, “he said. “And I’m able to just see everything develop and continue to be decisive and just make the right reads and make the right cuts.”
This was not the game that people have been expecting from Sermon, but it may not have been far off of his own expectations. He has gotten better with each game, despite never carrying the ball more than 13 times in a game this year prior to Saturday.
Two weeks ago, Sermon rushed for 112 yards on just 10 attempts against Michigan State, and over the couple of games before that, you could see a comfort level setting in him for him.
And then on Saturday, he stepped in when starting running back Master Teague went down, and carried the ball 29 times and led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship.
“He ran hard,” Day said after the game. “Ran with a different look in his eye. Sometimes when you come off of an injury it takes a little while to get into a rhythm. And then Master went down and he kind of just stepped up in a big, big way. And I’m really happy for him. This is another guy who overcame adversity.
“There was a time probably after Week Two or Week Three where we really weren’t sure what was going on. It was just maybe not hitting the hole right or he 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 and play the way he did in this game and break records like that, that’s tremendous. Against a really good run-stopping defense.”
Knowing now what they have in Trey Sermon, it probably means more carries for the graduate transfer the next time the Buckeyes take the field.
And Sermon knowing himself, he isn’t planning on doing anything differently the next time out. All he’s ever needed for success was simply the opportunity.
“My mindset is just to make the most of my opportunities,” he said. “I mean, I’m aware of my ability and I know I’m more than capable of making plays. So just playing my game, which is making guys miss and winning at the second level.”