|UPDATE: According to Coach Meyer, Senior Captain Christian Bryant has broken his ankle on the next to last play of the game, and will require surgery. It is likely that his Ohio State career is now finished. More information as it becomes available.|
As has been typical for these teams in recent years, the Buckeyes and Badgers met on the gridiron in a memorable fight. The Badgers struggled to keep up with the OSU offensive attack, falling 31-24 in a vaguely field-position game. Braxton Miller came back from his injury and put together a solid game throwing the football, hitting 17/25 for 198 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also added 83 yards on 22 carries. Joel Stave responded with an excellent day 20/34 for 295 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.
On the ground, the Buckeye running corps was led by Carlos Hyde’s 80 yards on 16 carries. He was followed by Dontre Wilson’s 21 yards on 2 carries. Wisconsin went primarily to Melvin Gordon for their ground attack, gaining 15 carries for 74 yards. The story of the day however was Jared Abbrederis and his 207 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown.
There were a couple streaks on the line for the Buckeyes. The first, and most obvious was the 16 game win streak, which was extended to 17. The second was a streak of 4 straight games for the Buckeyes scoring at least 21 points in the first quarter, which did not continue as OSU scored “only” 14. The third was a similar streak for the Bucks scoring over 40 points per game, another that the Buckeyes couldn’t extend.
Braxton Miller got the start for the first time since the first quarter of the San Diego State game. The Bucks started by distributing the football, hitting a strong run in the teeth of the defense from Carlos Hyde, and followed by a great pass to the edge to TE Jeff Heuerman. Ultimately, the Buckeyes only needed four plays to find Evan Spencer over the middle for the perfectly thrown touchdown pass. Interestingly, the Buckeyes employed a play that forced Wisconsin to defend both Evan Spencer and Corey “Philly” Brown with a single defender, allowing Braxton to pick his target and hit Spencer for the TD.
Wisconsin struggled to move the ball early in the game. While they were getting solid blocks on the line, the Corners and Linebackers did a fantastic job stuffing the run in the first two possessions, both of which ended in three-and-outs.
Despite the great start for OSU, the Buckeye offense failed on their second drive. Wisconsin’s defense stiffened quickly against the pass, getting great pressure through the OSU offensive line. While Braxton showed his usual good wheels in evading the pressure, demonstrating that he was healthy, he struggled to turn it up the field. A lot of that had to do with great defensive coverage from the Badgers.
Things started to pick up on the offensive side of the ball for the Badgers. A couple solid passes from Joel Stave forced the Buckeye defense to spread out, and that quickly opened up holes for the running game. Stave showed great pocket presence, getting out when he needed to and stepping into his throws. Wisconsin’s first touchdown came on a strike to Jared Abbrederis for 36 yards down the right side. Abbrederis hauled the pass in despite having Bradley Roby on his left hip the whole way. It was a short jaunt into the endzone after Jared shed Roby.
Braxton Miller was ready to work on the second drive. Carlos Hyde started things out, continuing to running hard up the middle. He seemed nearly impossible to bring down, partly because of his toughness, and partly because Wisconsin had so many offensive weapons to worry about. Miller demonstrated that perfectly on the last two plays of the drive, hitting Dontre Wilson on a sweet play-action wheel route to the left side, followed by a 26 yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith.
The Badgers were finding success in the passing game by keeping 7 men home to block the OSU d-line, and using only 3 to gash the OSU secondary with the play-action pass. With the Buckeyes playing a zone coverage, Abbrederis was more than up to the task. On the first play from scrimmage of their third drive, Stave found #4 over the middle for a 64 yard gain. The Buckeye defense responded, stopping Wisconsin and forcing a 32 yard field goal that Kyle French hooked too far left.
The game briefly turned into a field position battle. Both teams showed some skill moving the ball, but bogged down due to mistakes and nice defensive plays. The Buckeyes ultimately won the battle, moving the ball down close enough to allow Drew Basil kick a 45 yard field goal and open up the first two score lead of the game.
It wasn’t long to last. Wisconsin went back to Abbrederis, their most successful attack plan. Twice he abused Roby in coverage, working the Badgers into scoring position. A couple plays later, Stave hit Sam Arneson over the middle for their second touchdown of the game. That closed the gap to three points with a minute and a half left in the second quarter.
The Buckeyes had one last chance before the half to put points on the board. Miller and Hyde methodically moved the Bucks down the field in the waining moments. On several occasions Miller had to save the drive on his feet after his coverage broke down. On third and six from the 40 yard line, Miller made a poor decision, throwing to Devin Smith in the endzone that was nearly picked off. He followed that up with an excellent decision, hitting Philly Brown on the left side, splitting the defenders with a laser beam for a touchdown. The score gave the Buckeyes the 10 point lead going into the locker room with the option to receive in the second half.
The strategy changed slightly for Ohio State heading into the third quarter. Tim Herman gave the Badgers a steady diet of Miller and Hyde on several different looks. The strategy smartly moved the ball down the field until a couple long incompletions forced the Buckeyes into a punt that was downed on the four yard line. That resulted in great field position for the Bucks on their following drive, but they weren’t able to convert a 4th and 1, flipping the field for the Badgers and giving them the ball at their own 40.
The Badgers responded in the usual way. They went to the run much like the first half, with the hope of eventually going to the pass. When they did go to the pass, bad things suddenly started happening. First, Curtis Grant finally got to Stave in the backfield, notching OSU’s first sack of the game. On the very second play, Stave tossed a pass under pressure straight into the arms of Bradley Roby.
With the flipped field position, the Buckeyes went into attack mode. Dontre Wilson made some shifty moves to make a 15 yard gain out of a well defended play. Miller added in a few plays, including a high pass to Devin Smith, to put the Buckeyes in scoring position. The drive ended with a short pass to Philly Brown for his second touchdown of the game.
Wisconsin wasn’t ready to go away quietly. Stave came out and lead a scoring drive helped partially by OSU penalties. A good push on 4th and 1 maintained the possession, and James White was able to break free on the edge for a 17 yard touchdown run. That was the first touchdown of the game on the ground for either team – a surprise considering how blessed each team is with running weapons.
With the Buckeyes busy running clock, Wisconsin was able to get a few possessions to attempt to score. Another great drive from Stave put the Badgers in scoring position, but the drive stalled near the 20. The Badgers knocked in a field goal with two minutes left in the game, bringing the score to a single possession, but with precious little time left.
A poor snap on second down set the Buckeyes back and enabled Wisconsin to get the ball back with a minute and a half left to go and 90 yards to score. Two bad plays, a near interception and a strange pitch play to prevent a sack, put the Badgers in terrible position on third and long with the clock running. A dump pass on third down gained good yardage, but wasn’t enough for the first. On fourth down, Stave’s pass fell imcomplete as it slipped through the receivers hands.
This was ultimately an excellent clash between two very good football teams. Jared Abbrederis repeatedly victimized the OSU coverage, repeatedly finding a soft spot in OSU’s coverage. That’s not surprising considering how good of a receiver he is, and should not be taken as some kind of overall indictment of OSU’s defense.
The Ohio State defensive line and linebackers, despite their youth, played a fantastic ballgame. They have certainly grown this season, and this game is a huge learning lesson in their back pocket. Good things will come of this battle, and there’s no question that the front seven will be ready for any challenges they face in the future.
The Buckeyes will next face the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday, October 5th. You’ll be able to see the game at 8:00 PM Eastern Time on ABC.