This may not be the greatest team to ever take the field for Ohio State, but you have to admit this: they give you a lot to talk about after a win. Only two weeks removed from an epic "Puntageddon", where OSU completed only 1 of 4 passsing attempts in a win at Illinois, the Buckeyes roared back from near-death to a claim a resounding victory over the visiting Wisconsin Badgers in a rare Saturday night game in the Horseshoe.
In a play reminiscent of Troy Smith's famous Heisman-showcase touchdown pass against Penn State, Braxton Miller hit fellow freshman Devin Smith with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds remaining in the game to give OSU a 33-29 lead. Andrew Sweat deflected a last second desperation pass by Russell Wilson from midfield to seal the win.
Ohio State's defense held Wisconsin to only 104 yards rushing, almost half of that on one run by Montee Ball in the 4th quarter. Ball finished with 90 yards on 18 carries for the night, but he was generally held in check by OSU's swarming tacklers. Forced to throw often, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson completed 20 of 33 passes for 253 yards and 3 TD's with no INT's. Wilson's heroics almost allowed the Badgers to escape with a win, but Miller was having none of it.
After Wilson found Jared Abbrederis all alone on the right sideline for a 49-yard TD pass to put Wisconsin up 29-26 (2-point conversion good), it seemed like all was lost for the Buckeyes. With only 1:18 remaining, UW kicker Kyle French teed it up and kicked a line-drive to Jordan Hall at the OSU 6. Hall, whose fumble had let Wisconsin back into the game earlier, partially redeemed himself by taking it upfield and, after a few nifty moves, was finally tackled at the Buckeye 48.
The excellent return, followed by three plays to get a first down at the Badger 40, set the stage for Miller's last-minute heave. For a while though, it seemed that such amazing plays would not be necessary. OSU seized control of the game in the 3rd quarter, only to lose control in the 4th. It was a wild night in Columbus, and this is how it unfolded.
At the start of the game the crowd was raucous and ready to welcome Brett Bielema and company in a very hostile manner. Looking sharp in their 1961 throwback Nike Pro Combat uni's, the Buckeyes kicked off to start the game just like last year at Madison, but the result was dramatically different as Nate Ebner tackled Abbrederis at the 16 yard line. No Gilreath, no touchdown, no instant 7-0 deficit, things were going to change some this time.
Wilson dropped back to throw on the first play, catching OSU by surprise. The resulting 18-yard completion gave them a first down at their own 34. But from there, the Buckeye defense set the tone for what would be a tough night on the ground for the Badgers. First, Montee Ball was stopped for only a 2 yard gain on 1st down. A 2nd down pass netted another 5 yards, but then Wilson was forced out of the pocket on 3rd down and the resulting scramble left them a yard short of the first down. The first of many UW punts gave OSU the ball at their own 10.
Ohio State's first play was, predictably, a run. But good blocking out of the pistol formation allowed Dan Herron to scoot 12 yards for a first down. Herron had been in tears earlier during the National Anthem, and it appeared that he was ready to have a big game against UW.
On 1st down from the OSU 22, Miller dropped back and heaved a long pass down the left side for Philly Brown. Brown fought off the defender (holding, anyone?) but could not get his hands up in time to grab the pass and it bounced off his facemask. A run by Herron and a scramble by Miller yielded nothing, and so OSU punted on thier first possession.
After receiving the punt at their own 32, Wilson and the Badger passing offense got to work. Passes of 8 yards to FB Bradie Ewing (where is this play in OSU's playbook?), 14 yards to 12th year senior Nick Toon, and another 14 yards to Ewing set them up with a first down at the Buckeye 25 yard line (sandwiched around a pair of short runs from Ball).
Ball carried for 3 yards on 1st down, and then Wilson threw incomplete to the end zone. On 3rd down, Wilson spotted Ball open as an outlet 5-6 yards down the field. As he threw, OSU safety Christian Bryant appeared to have a bead on the interception, but he whiffed on it and Ball grabbed the ball and scooted into the end zone for the initial score of the night. After the PAT, UW was up 7-0.
The defenses settled down after that, and it became a battle of field position into the 2nd quarter. OSU got the better of it, forcing Wisconsin to start at their 8, and then held the Badgers to a 3-and-out (with a little help from the crowd in the closed end of the stadium). So the Buckeyes started their 4th possession on their own 47, and they moved methodically into position for a field goal, with Drew Basil getting a favorable bounce off the left upright to close the lead to 7-3. The drive went 31 yards on 10 plays, as Walrus-ball was in full force. Three punts and lots of futility later, it was halftime with the same score.
Ohio State received the ball to start the 2nd half, and they got it going very quickly as Herron broke off a 58-yard run all the way to the Wisconsin 18. After a comical fumbled snap and busted-play QB keeper lost a yard, Herron got loose again, this time bouncing the play outside to the right and was finally pushed out of bounds at the Badger 2. After gaining nothing on first down, Herron appeared to score on 2nd down, only to have the TD overturned on review (his knee was down at the 1 foot line). Another run by Herron gained nothing, and it was decision time for Luke Fickell. Turns out the decision was an easy one, as they went for it and Braxton Miller scored on a bootleg keeper to the right side, juking a Wisconsin DE along the way and then walking in with a bit of a swagger. After the PAT, OSU led 10-7.
More great special teams coverage forced UW to start at their 19 on the next series, and the OSU defense rose up and forced another 3-and-out (aided by a false start penalty). On the resulting punt, Ryan Shazier soared around the "shield" blockers on the right side and blocked the ball high in the sky behind the punter. Curtis Grant, getting his first significant action on the year, recovered the ball on the Wisconsin 1 yard line and OSU was in business again.
After losing a yard on 1st down and being stopped for no gain on 2nd, Jordan Hall ran the stretch play left and eventually picked his way into the end zone. After the PAT, Ohio State led 17-7 and it was looking very much like they had solved the Badgers both on offense and defense. The Buckeye front wall held on the next series, with John Simon pressuring Wilson into an incompletion on 3rd down and forcing another punt. But then the Badgers would get the one break they needed to get back in the game.
Jordan Hall set up to receive the punt at the OSU 30 and, eschewing the fair catch, he decided to field the ball with a man in his face. He took his eyes off the ball for a moment, and that caused a fumble that was recovered by the Badgers at the 29. A 6 yard run by James White and a 14 yard Wilson pass to Abbrederis gave them a 1st down at the OSU 9. On 3rd and goal from the 1, UW brought in extra blockers and powered the ball in over left tackle. The PAT closed the lead to 17-14.
The Wisconsin defense, fired up by the reversal of fortune, stiffened on the next series. OSU was able to drive the ball out to midfield, but a holding penalty and a deflected pass on 3rd down stalled the drive and forced another punt. This time Ben Buchanon dropped the ball down to the UW 8 yard line. A penalty on the return brought it back to the 4, but Wilson completed to Ewing (again!) for 15 yards and a 1st down to give them some breathing room. After a 2 yard run by White, the quarter ended with OSU still clinging to a 3-point lead.
Moving from the open end of the stadium to the closed end due to the quarter change, Wisconsin's offense took a turn for the worse. As the crowd blasted his eardrums, Wilson dropped back to pass, but was pressured by Simon and Company. As he did the previous week against MSU, Wilson threw the ball away to no one in particular and was flagged for intentional grounding. The loss of down and field position hurt and the Badgers were forced to punt again, this time giving OSU the ball at their 47. A steady diet of Herron took the ball all the way to the UW 5, but it stalled there and OSU settled for a field goal to take a 20-14 lead.
Wisconsin didn't fare much better on their next possession, and after 4 plays they were forced to punt again to the OSU 38. From there, Herron carried for 6 yards from the Wildcat, Miller rushed for 4 yards on a scramble, Hall carried for 6 yards on a Dave play to the right, Herron carried up the middle for 2, and then Miller ran the option left and kept it for a 44-yard touchdown run. The play was reminiscent of Terrelle Pryor's winning TD run against the Badgers in 2008, and Miller ran the last 20 yards with the same type of swagger that he had showed on his first TD. A 2-point conversion attempt failed, but OSU now held a 26-14 lead with 4:39 remaining in the game. It looked like the curtain was about to fall on Wisconsin.
But the Badgers' senior QB responded the same way he did against the Spartans, putting together a drive that got them back in the game in less than a minute. First, Ball broke off a 40 yard run on 3rd and 1, and then Wilson threw 17 yards to Abbrederis on a post pattern for the TD on the next play to pull the Badgers to 26-21 with just under 4 minutes to go.
Ohio State was unable to pick up a first down on the next possession, and Bielema used his timeouts to save time. As a result, UW got the ball back after a punt on their 32 with 2:36 remaining. Two pass completions and an 8 yard run from Ball took the ball to the OSU 49. From there, Wilson dropped back and held the ball, then pump-faked to draw safety Christian Bryant to the middle, then uncorked the 49 yard TD pass to Abbrederis to take the lead. A 2-point conversion on a nifty shovel pass made the lead 29-26, meaning a FG would do no more than tie the game.
I have to admit, I was pretty stunned at that point, and I'm sure most observers were. It seemed like shades of USC 2009. But Hall's return restored hope and brought the crowd back into it. As Miller completed a pass to Zack Boren (!!!) to get into Badger territory, I posted a remark on twitter "Let's get the TD here for the win". Little did I know how dramatic the fulfillment of that wish would be.
After the completion to Boren, Miller scrambled for 2 yards but did not pick up a first down. At that point, Fickell was forced to take a timeout. They must have given Miller two plays during that break, because after Herron picked up the first down on a 3 yard run, Miller immediately got the team up and into a passing formation. From there, he dropped back to pass, but saw a Badger DE moving past J.B. Shugarts into the backfield. Miller cut underneath the DE and scrambled to his right. He avoided another UW defender and, just before going out of bounds and before crossing the line of scrimmage, he suddenly pivoted and threw across his body back to the middle of the field to a streaking Devin Smith in the end zone. Smith cradled the ball and broke Badger hearts everywhere. The PAT gave OSU a 33-29 lead with only 20 seconds left.
There was some drama on the final possession. Wilson threw deep down the left side, and the pass was broken up when Bradley Roby dropped an interception. C.J. Barnett broke up a deep ball on the next play, but on 3rd down, an unnamed OSU defender was called for a facemask penalty, giving Wisconsin one more shot with no time left on the clock. From the OSU 45, Wilson dropped back deep again, but this time he was forced to scramble by Adam Bellamy on the pass rush, and as he stepped up to throw, LB Andrew Sweat closed in and hit his arm when he threw, causing the pass to flutter harmlessly to the ground. The game was over, and fans from all around the packed stadium flooded the field in celebration.
Miller finished the night with 187 yards of total offense, with 2 TD's on the ground and one big one through the air. Most importantly from the standpoint of the coaching staff, he had no fumbles or interceptions. I think it's safe to say that the questions surrounding Braxton Miller have been answered. There was a bit of a flutter on his game-winning TD pass, but again if the ball gets to the right spot it makes no difference. The young freshman quarterback has definitely "stepped into manhood" with this performance, and it should be fun to watch him for the rest of the season.