The last time Brian Rolle
could recall something like this happening, he was a sophomore in high school. Dexter Larimore
searched his memory banks for a file that did not exist.
Needless to say, it has been a long time since Ohio State has experienced anything like the way Wisconsin was able to pound the ball down its throats in Saturday's 31-18 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. The Buckeyes entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in rushing defense allowing an average of 78.7 yards per contest, and the Badgers piled up 184 yards on 43 carries to power their way to victory.
There was no secret to what Wisconsin was doing, and yet OSU was powerless to stop it.
"The run game, they just overwhelmed us with it," said Rolle, a senior captain. "They just ran the ball, ran the ball, ran the ball. They didn't trick us or run reverses or try to do too much. They just ran the ball and that's something we've got to be able to stop."
It was the duo of John Clay and James White that did the damage for the home team. One year after being held to 59 yards on 20 carries in an OSU win a season ago, Clay became the first back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Buckeyes since a 2008 road loss to USC in the second week of the season.
Clay finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. The shiftier White put up 75 yards on 17 carries.
"They're great," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said of the duo. "They're a great tempo change – a big power guy and then the quickness with White. We were saying that the whole week as we prepared."
Clay wasted no time showcasing his talents. Wisconsin's first scoring drive – and its second score of the game after returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown – went for 58 yards. The junior was responsible for 51 yards on the drive alone, nearly surpassing his complete-game total from a year ago.
The Badgers boasted a talented offensive line that averaged 6-5½, 320 pounds and had a combined 110 games started entering the game against the Buckeyes. Their rushing offense ranked 11th in the nation and second in the Big Ten at 240.8 yards per contest.
However, the Buckeyes have prided themselves on stopping the run. In addition to the aforementioned stat about allowing 100-yard rushers, OSU was allowing an average of 78.7 rushing yards per contest. That ranked fourth in the nation and second in the conference.
Larimore said he would have to look at the film to see why the Badgers were so effective at running the ball.
"They just kept running and running and running," he said. "We didn't seem to have an answer for it. the bottom line is you need to beat them up front. You need to get penetration so they can't cut back."
Tressel said it simply came down to execution: Wisconsin did and OSU did not, and he was surprised by that fact. In all, the Buckeyes had two tackles for loss in the defeat.
"It's one thing to talk about football and another thing to draw it on the board, but the real part is execution and they executed," he said. "I never thought anyone would run on us."
The third quarter was another story, however. Trailing 21-3 at the half, the Buckeyes held the ball for 11:29 of the third stanza and limited Wisconsin to four rushes for eight yards. But once the visitors had pulled to within three at 21-18, Wisconsin picked up the first 37 yards of its subsequent drive before gaining the final 12 yards on the ground to push the lead back to two scores.
In the win, the Badgers threw the ball 16 times and carried it 43 times. Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien completed 13 of his throws for 152 yards, but he also tossed an interception. He was effective, but not tasked with doing much other than handing the ball off.
And the way Wisconsin was able to be successful in that area, why deviate from the script?
"We didn't do a great job of all," a red-eyed senior lineman Cameron Heyward said. "Myself, I didn't do a great job at all. I think our whole defense has to get back to the drawing board and learn from this."
This was not a script Ohio State was accustomed to following. Playing on the road against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes had no answers for a Badgers team that featured two talented running backs. Afterward, the OSU defense found itself searching for answers after suffering its first loss of the season.
The Buckeyes had no answers for Wisconsin's rushing attack.
Heyward had four tackles in the loss.