All season long Ohio State kept its poise as the finish line approached. But on Saturday night, the Buckeyes finally cracked. Clinging to a 14-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin finally scored on its third chance in the final minutes.
Still, it wasn’t enough.
In overtime, the Ohio State offense, after being held without a first down in the fourth quarter, needed just four plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. Continuing a role reversal, Wisconsin sputtered, gaining just four yards. Christian Bryant broke up Curt Phillips’ desperation pass on 4th-and-6 to lift Ohio State to a 21-14 overtime victory and an outright Leaders Division title.
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“It was extremely disappointing,” Phillips said. “There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score there. It was the same as a two-minute drive. I thought we left some plays on the field that we definitely should have made.”
The unthinkable is now increasingly attainable. Entering Michigan week, Ohio State – postseason-less Ohio State – is 11-0.
“We have a saying, `A team that refuses to be beat won't be beat,'” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Somehow, someway.”
Carlos Hyde led the Buckeyes’ offensive output with 87 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Ohio State was limited to a season-low 236 total yards, 124 less than Wisconsin.
Braxton Miller’s Heisman hopes took a detour south, as he struggled all game with multiple defensive spies keying on him. He completed 10-of-18 passes for 97 yards while only gaining 48 rushing yards on 23 carries, an abysmal two-yard average.
“They’re No. 1 in the Big Ten versus the rush, and we couldn’t get that going,” Meyer said. “We’re certainly not a finished product on offense and it showed. I think we need to give (Hyde) the ball a little bit more. Usually we are a team that when we block someone, we have a chance to win and I don’t feel like we blocked them like we have in past, and we have to get back to that especially for this week coming up.”
In his second career start, Phillips completed 14-of-25 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. But he missed several open passes that could have gone for big gains and even touchdowns.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball carried the ball 39 times, gaining 191 yards and scoring a touchdown. He tied the NCAA career touchdown record but fumbled on the play that could have lifted him to the top spot alone.
At the time, it looked like a game-swinging play. Ohio State took possession of the ball with under three minutes remaining. Wisconsin, though, buckled down on defense and forced a punt.
With a 1:33 left, Wisconsin took over at the Ohio State 41-yard line. On the first play, Phillips was sacked by John Simon for an 11-yard loss. The sack, Simon’s fourth of the game, tying a school record, looked to end Wisconsin’s hopes of avenging a painful loss in 2011. But starring at 4th-and-3, Phillips found wide receiver Jared Abbrederis open at the 20. Five plays later, Wisconsin scored to tie the game with eight seconds left in regulation.
As all the momentum swung to the Badgers, the Ohio State sideline was busy rallying to keep its dream season alive. Suddenly, the final two possessions – one on offense and one on defense – went as designed.
“I can’t tell you our emotion was high, but we rallied them back,” Meyer said. “That’s leadership on our team, and our coaches did a good job getting the guys going because we were sucking our thumbs after they scored with eight seconds left. It’s over, no timeouts, the game is over. But I liked the way the offense just went in and attacked it. Carlos got a big run, Braxton Miller ran like Braxton Miller, we got him in some space and then we pounded it in there.”
Twenty-five years ago, Meyer came to Camp Randall Stadium as a graduate assistant for the Ohio State Buckeyes. On a cold, rainy November day in 1987, hapless Wisconsin, winless in the Big Ten at the time, gave Ohio State its second of what would be three-consecutive losses. A week later, Meyer’s mentor, Earle Bruce, was relieved of his head-coaching duties. That loss was partially avenged today in a rivalry that has continued to grow over the past 30 years.
Ohio State entered Saturday as an underdog despite its perfect record. When the Buckeyes took a 14-0 lead less than 20 minutes into the game, it looked like the suspense and buildup would be extinguished before halftime.
The scene and situation were remarkably similar to two seasons ago. Undefeated Ohio State waltzing into Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin poised for the upset. But this wasn’t 2010, when the No. 1 Buckeyes were ambushed in Madison, losing 31-18 and allowing the opening kickoff to be returned for a touchdown.
Instead, it was the Buckeyes who seized the early momentum with a special teams highlight. In 2010, Wisconsin kick returner David Gilreath sent Camp Randall into a frenzy with his shot across the bow. But on Saturday, Ohio State’s Corey Brown took a punt back 68 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. It deflated a stadium that was giddy with an opportunity to pay back the Buckeyes for last season’s late-game heroics.
“We knew we'd be able to break one on these guys this week because of the scheme,” Brown said. “Those guys out there, they gave 110 percent. Anybody could have ran through the hole.”
Hyde scored his first touchdown of the game in the second quarter much the same way as Brown on his punt return – untouched. Hyde burst through a hole in the middle of the field and raced 15 yards to the end zone. But Ohio State’s offense sputtered until overtime.
The 80,112 in attendance finally made noise when Wisconsin answered on its next possession. Phillips engineered an eight-play, 69-yard drive, though most of the work involved handing off to Ball. Phillips attempted one pass on the drive, an incompletion intended for tight end Jacob Pedersen. Ball carried the ball five times, including the touchdown run. He accounted for 45 yards on the drive.
In two previous games against the Buckeyes, Ball had never finished with 100 yards rushing. He surpassed that mark before halftime on Saturday. Ball went to the locker room with 112 yards and a touchdown.
After a scoreless third quarter, Wisconsin had several chances to cut into Ohio State’s lead or tie the game in the fourth. The Badgers badly missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left on the first play of the final quarter. They advanced to Ohio State territory on the next possession, as well, but the drive stalled.
It was during that series that Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier appeared to suffer a serious head or neck injury. He was motionless on the field, having just collided violently with Ball. After traipsing off the field, Shazier only wanted to be one place – back in the game.
That’s where he was on the next possession.
Ohio State punter Ben Buchanan gave Wisconsin excellent field position after a 29-yard punt from deep in Buckeye territory. The Badgers took over at the Ohio State 46 and immediately started marching toward the end zone.
Ball ripped off a 25-yard run to the 21 on the first play. After a rush by Phillips and five more carries by Ball, Wisconsin found itself at the one but not necessarily needing to score. It only needed to get the ball inside the one-yard line for a first down.
On 4th-and-1, Shazier, who finished with a team-high tying 12 tackles, knew what was coming: Ball leaping over the line of scrimmage. The linebacker’s thoughts proved to be prophetic as Ball went airborne. He was met short of the goal line by both Shazier and Etienne Sabino. The ball never touched the ground, landing right in the outstretched arms of safety Christian Bryant.
“Once he jumped, I knew I was going to jump,” Shazier said. “Whatever was in my face, I hit it. It could have been him. It could been anyone.
“We knew that he needed two to break the record. We were not going to allow him to break it on us.”
But what looked like a game-saving play ended up being an afterthought after Wisconsin forced overtime.
With 2002 bouncing around in fans’ minds, though, Ohio State capped off another exciting finish and authored Chapter 11 in a season to remember.