It was one of those hot-and-cold mid-fall days in Ohio when the temperature drops 15-20 degrees between noon and nine and you’ve never quite sure how to dress. Consequently, there are moments you feel warm enough to work up a bit of a sweat but that only makes you feel a greater chill later.
That turned out to be appropriate for the game.
Ultimately, Wisconsin got punked, but the Badgers almost won anyway as errors trumped the Buckeyes’ earlier opportunism. Yet Ohio State fought back and finally caught a break.
The first Wisconsin scoring drive showed why I thought Ohio State would have a hard time getting stops. They had the defense off balance, and then Russell Wilson hit Montee Ball over the middle and Ball made a phenomenal play to put the ball in the end zone. Both have done that a lot this season, so that came as little surprise. But Wilson was not sharp for long stretches of the game, and the Silver Bullets rose to the occasion.
The linebackers who I thought might be a liability again played well for a second straight week, and the entire defensive line stepped up. Unsung Garrett Goebel held strong in the middle while John Simon and Johnathan Hankins continued to dominate and Adam Bellamy pulled out a spin move to notch a big sack. Safety C.J. Barnett continued to evolved into one of the best players at his position in the conference, but the rest of the defensive backfield had its ups and downs. Of course, since no one else can throw the ball in the Big Ten, they’ll have some time to get better.
I say the Badgers got punked because a year after physically dominating Ohio State and reveling in the aftermath with their head coach talking about how he expected it to happen, they showed the Buckeyes a lot of respect. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst generally does a great job, but he never found any type of rhythm. He seemed a bit too eager to be balanced, calling Wilson’s number more than Ball’s early, and that hurt them. Then I was very surprised to see them try to run outside on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Was this the big, bad Badgers who could not impose their will? Indeed.
Wilson threw three touchdown passes, but he seemed far more erratic than his stat line indicates. They Buckeyes made him uncomfortable in the pocket and he made a number of poor throws. He rarely found any room to run when things broke down, either, a key difference from the week before in East Lansing.
Zach Boren came into the post game interview room sporting two things indicative of the type of night it was: a big. blue and yellow bump under his right eye and a smile that wouldn’t go away. The win was as satisfying as you’ll ever see, the Buckeyes rising to the occasion in the rare role of underdogs. Although he is still longing for that first carry, Boren was one of the main cogs, too. He blew up Wisconsin linebackers repeatedly, clearing the way for Boom Herron to bob and weave his way for 160 yards. Herron has provided an almost unbelievable spark, firing up the front to make holes for him and creating things when they aren’t there. The offensive line was outstanding, taking advantage of a completely average Wisconsin front and creasing it time after time. That kept the down and distance manageable much of the night, helping a surprising 11 for 20 performance on third downs.
And what can you say about Braxton Miller? As his confidence grows, his football sense just seems to flow. He has an uncommon agility in the open field, and he can wing it when he gets a chance. He’s still got plenty of kinks to work out, but how amazing was his game-winning touchdown pass? He has gone from looking like he was two steps behind the defense most plays to two steps ahead in the tightest spot of his career. Not only did he escape the pocket to buy himself some time, he pointed Philly Brown to run to the corner to clear out the safety, then stopped to chuck one for classmate Devin Smith, who was open despite not knowing what the play call exactly was. He saw it and executed it, and the Buckeyes are back in the Big Ten race.
I would not have thought Ohio State could make that many mistakes and win, but the defense played at a championship level for about the middle 50 minutes of the game. And when that group blinked and the beleaguered Buckeyes looked ready to crumble again as they have too many times in similar situations in the past five years, a couple of guys too young to know what pressure is came through and produced a win for the ages.
Ohio State improved to 5-0 all time when unranked and facing a ranked Wisconsin team. All of the previous such meetings took place while Woody Hayes roamed the sidelines but before he had been talked into installing the I formation to supplement his believed Robust T offense. Hayes was 27-1 against the Badgers, who enjoyed a great decade of the 1950s but fell off the map for most of three decades that followed. Halfway through this season, I think they had started to believe they were not only again a Big Ten power but also a national player. Now they’ve blinked twice in the face of adversity, although they deserve credit for coming back in both games. Where do they go from here? Well they have to get help now to reach the Big Ten championship game because the Buckeyes hold the tiebreaker on them.
I don’t think Ohio State exposed Wisconsin. Michigan State handled that. The Buckeyes just further proved the Badgers aren’t very good on defense as long as you can withstand the blows from the offense. I don’t think Wisconsin’s rebuilt offensive line was overrated. I think Ohio State just happens to have a very good and still improving defensive line with two future first-round draft picks who are not yet even seniors. Guys good enough to make a team that thinks it hangs its hat on power offense run laterally when it needed two yards on a fourth down while trailing in the fourth quarter.
The Big Ten’s bullies switched hats again. The Buckeyes decided one year was long enough for Wisconsin to be able to lay claim to that title. Now we might be in for a fun little ride as a young group that has endured more than its share of mental anguish looks to harness the good vibes from consecutive wins over ranked teams and ride it all the way to Indianapolis, where they might get a rematch with one of the teams that beat it during its incubatory stage.