When you go 3/11 on third downs, are held to 187 yards of total offense and lose the time of possession battle nearly two to one and you still beat a 5-0 Wisconsin by 18, you kind of just have to shake your head, graciously accept the win and start working on what ails the offense.
Well, technically, you might want to take a minute and admire the stellar performance out of a Buckeye defense that is looking like the best unit to fly around the Horseshoe in a long, long time.
While Terrelle Pryor was upsetting stomachs across Ohio, the defense, led by the play of Kurt Coleman, dominated the Badger offense. The Big Ten's leading rusher, big John Clay? Held to 59 yards on 20 carries (under three per carry) with a long of just eight yards. Scott Tolzien, the league leader in passing efficiency? Well, he did put it up 45 times, but he only connected for two touchdowns. And both of them went to Buckeyes. The first, an 89 yard pick-six by Coleman in the first quarter slammed shut a promising Wisconsin drive that had reached the Buckeye 31. Coleman's quote on his sideline moves is worth passing along:
"I was tip-toeing down the line there for a second; I thought for sure I’d step out of bounds. Had to put on my dancing shoes."
Coleman is developing this Polamalu-esque ability to become the type of ballhawk and playmaker that can take over games from the safety position. His return was the 5th-longest in school history and came at a crucial time in a scoreless game when it appeared as if Clay was settling down a little and the Buckeye defense might have been a bit winded from the offense generating some quick three-and-outs to start the game. In a larger sense, Coleman's story might remind us to have some patience with some of the pups. After all, his sophomore season is probably best remembered for all of the interceptions he dropped. Now, he appears to be sweating Stickum.
Jermale Hines was the beneficiary of the other Tolzien interception return and like Coleman's, his couldn't have come at a better time. With the Buckeyes nursing a four point lead, the Badgers came out and picked up a first down on their opening drive of the second half. Two plays later, Tolzien faced some pressure in the pocket and threw a ball that was tipped into the air by Hines before he then pulled it down and took it 32 yards for the score. Special recognition goes to Homan who blasted the Badger quarterback so hard on the return that he drew a penalty on it. Some dudes just love to hit.
A big reason for both of the picks is the pressure the Buckeyes were able to establish from the opening snap. Having neutralized Clay, they were able to force advantageous down and distance situations and bring the rush. The Wisconsin offensive line that color guy Matt Millen had such a big crush on at the beginning of the game had only surrendered two sacks on the season, but they gave up six to the Buckeyes. Contributions came from everywhere. Homan had 15 tackles including two TFLs and two sacks. Coleman had 14 tackles, same with Hines. Rolle had 11. Experimenting with a new nickel package that featured Gibson and Williams at ends, both delivered with sacks. As did Heyward and Wilson. Denlinger plugged the middle admirably, filling in for Larimore.
When the Badgers did manage to orchestrate drives, they often came away with nothing to show for them. They put together 14 and 15 play drives that each came up empty, milking valuable time off the game clock on each one. Wisconsin was an impressive 20/20 in the red zone coming in, but were twice stopped inside the 20 by the OSU defense.
The Badgers had some early successes running end arounds, but the Buckeyes adjusted to that, too, at halftime. The only thing you could really ding the defense for would maybe be the fake field goal Wisconsin turned into an early touchdown, but even then, it took a block in the back and a helluva play by the holder. Just a beautiful defensive effort, really.
The play of the offense is another story. Pryor was about as bad as he's been in his time at Ohio State. Granted, it was the first real defense he's faced in a month, but I count myself among those that thought we were seeing signs of growth this season and now, I'm not so sure. From the game's opening play, a pass that landed at Dane's feet, it was a unit that was painful to watch.
Pryor started 1/7 with an interception inside his own 20. That was part of an opening five series that also featured four three-and-outs. Passes were high, low and just off. Finally, after Wisconsin had taken a 10-7 lead with 1:53 remaining in the first half, Pryor improvised on a first down and picked up 27 yards on a scamper. After picking up six more on a second down run, he hit Ballard on a sideline pass that was definitely a trap, but wasn't reviewed by the Badgers (credit the Buckeye offense for snapping the ball so quickly on the next play). Pryor then hit Posey on a 22 yard gain across the middle to move the ball to Wisconsin's 27. After an illegal shift penalty and two incomplete attempts to Duron Carter, the Buckeyes faced a third down and 15. Pryor dropped back, locked in on his primary like he'd done for much of the game, and fired the ball to Posey streaking down the right sideline. Twisting in the air, Posey opened his other shoulder to the ball and came down with it in the endzone. After a review upheld the call on the field, the Buckeyes were back in front 14-10. The offense had moved 88 yards on 7 plays in 1:12. Impressive to say the least and vital for seizing momentum back, but that was about it in terms of production for the afternoon.
Saine effectively got the start by getting the first handoff of the game and at times he played well, including a nifty 31 yard run at the start of the fourth quarter, but he ended the afternoon with just 55 yards on 14 carries. Boom, trying to get back into the action after sitting out last week, was hurt on OSU's disastrous fourth drive of the game. He didn't return and finished with just two attempts for eight yards.
But back to Pryor, which is all anyone will want to talk about after this game. For the first time in his Buckeye career he was booed by the home crowd. This came right about the time when, right after throwing the pick to give the Badgers the ball in scoring position, he followed it up with what should have been another pick after he threw into coverage on his very next attempt of the game. His first four passing plays of the day were two at the feet of receivers, a sack and a completion to Small that was short of the sticks. Further, outside of the 27 yarder, he didn't look all that elusive running the ball. Throw in the weird grounding call he had late in the game, which was a weak throw over his shoulder while going down for a sack and it's all pretty puzzling. When you crush Toledo, Illinois and Indiana the people are fine for a bit, but when he has afternoons like the one he did Saturday, you have to start wondering about how well the people around him are actually developing him.
That's about all I can stomach to say about the offense at this point in time. I'm sure it will all be dissected this week. I guess one positive is that the Buckeyes were oh-so-close to breaking their false start streak until Mike Adams came through in the fourth quarter. There's hope yet in that area.
Special teams play was generally solid. Small got his first kick return opportunity of the season and took it to the house for 96. He looked pretty fast on that runback and it's plays like that the remind you of why he might have a long leash sometimes. The fake field goal Wisconsin scored on is slightly troubling, especially when you hear Bielema say that they had seen something on film and worked on that in practice leading up to the game. As was the short kick at the end of the first half. Thoma had a decent afternoon, though he didn't put any of his punts inside the 20 for once. And Pettrey didn't miss a chip shot, so that's a win.
Like I said in the intro, it's a head-scratcher, but a win we'll take. And when Matt Millen compares the play of your defense to that of Jack Nicklaus, that's a good thing. I think.