Left for dead just three weeks ago following an epic collapse at Nebraska, Ohio State resurrected its season Oct. 29 with a 33-29 pulse-pounding victory over No. 15 Wisconsin, treating a primetime homecoming crowd of 105,511 in Ohio Stadium to one of the most fantastic finishes in Horseshoe history.
After the Badgers had erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of quick-strike touchdown drives to take a 29-26 lead with 1:10 remaining, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller moved his team 52 yards in only four plays, hitting fellow freshman Devin Smith with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 0:20 showing on the game clock.
Wisconsin still had a last-gasp chance, thanks mostly to the Buckeyes. Sophomore kicker Drew Basil’s squib kickoff went out of bounds to give the Badgers the ball at their own 40, and then OSU safety Christian Bryant was called for a facemask penalty on what should have been the final play of the game.
That gave UW an untimed down at the Ohio State 45 with 0:00 showing, but Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat got to Wisconsin senior quarterback Russell Wilson and hooked the QB’s arm just enough that the final pass fell harmlessly incomplete.
That triggered a wild celebration with fans rushing the field in celebration, armed with the fact the Buckeyes were back in the chase for a seventh consecutive Big Ten championship.
Miller came of age with a performance that included 7 completions on 12 pass attempts for 89 yards and the touchdown. The 40-yard score was the longest TD pass of the freshman’s young career.
He added a career-best 99 yards and a pair of touchdown runs on the ground, pretty good numbers except rushing honors belonged to senior tailback Boom Herron, who gouged the Badgers for 160 yards on a career-high 33 carries.
Meanwhile, the final score might not indicate it, but the Ohio State defense was also one of the stars of the game. The Buckeyes stoned the vaunted Wisconsin running game, holding the Badgers to only 89 yards on the ground. UW entered the contest as the No. 2 rushing team in the Big Ten, averaging 252.1 yards per game.
Junior tailback Montee Ball, the Big Ten’s leading rusher at 109.7 yards per game, was limited to 85 yards on 17 carries for the Badgers. Meanwhile, Wilson completed 20 of 32 passes for 253 yards and three TDs. He was also sacked three times and committed a crucial intentional grounding penalty that helped to set up an Ohio State field goal early in the fourth quarter.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “The way they’ve fought and believed in each other with all the ups and downs we’ve had. I think we learned a lot from Nebraska a couple of weeks ago. If you continue to fight and not lose your focus, good things will eventually happen.”
As far as Miller’s performance was concerned, Fickell said his freshman QB had a brief message for him before taking the field for the game-winning drive.
“He looked at me and winked and said, ‘We’re all right,’” Fickell said with a smile. “We knew all year that Braxton can throw the ball. He can do things by keeping plays alive.”
Wisconsin scored first, capping an eight-play, 69-yard drive in the opening quarter with a 22-yard pass from Wilson to Ball. After senior kicker Philip Welch added the extra point, the Badgers held a 7-0 lead at the 6:58 mark of the first period.
It stayed that way until Basil knocked home a 39-yard field goal with 2:55 left in the second quarter, cutting the Buckeyes’ halftime deficit to 7-3.
OSU took its first lead of the game early in the third quarter, marching 75 yards in seven plays from Miller snuck over from the 1. Basil’s PAT put the Buckeyes into the lead at 10-7 at the 12:00 mark of the third period.
It didn’t take long for Ohio State to pad that lead. After the defense forced a three-and-out series, freshman Ryan Shazier blocked a Wisconsin punt that fellow freshman Curtis Grant recovered at the UW 1-yard line. The Buckeyes lost a yard on first down and were stopped for no gain on second, but junior tailback Jordan Hall followed junior fullback Zach Boren’s block on third down and slithered his way into the end zone from 2 yards out.
Basil added the extra point and the Buckeyes had a seemingly comfortable 17-7 lead with 9:26 remaining in the third quarter.
There was nothing comfortable about the rest of the game, however. The OSU defense quickly forced another punt, but Hall mishandled the ball and Wisconsin sophomores Jon Budmayr recovered at the OSU 27. Six plays later, Ball blew through a huge hole in the middle of the line for a 1-yard touchdown run. Welch’s PAT made it 17-14 Buckeyes at the 4:23 mark of the third quarter.
That set the stage for a frenetic fourth quarter. Basil hit a 22-yard field goal with 10:39 remaining and then Miller scrambled for a 44-yard TD on a third-and-2 play to give the Buckeyes a seemingly insurmountable 26-14 lead at the 4:39 mark. OSU went for a two-point conversion following Miller’s score, a failed try that didn’t seem critical at the time.
But Wilson rallied his team, throwing touchdown strikes of 17 and 49 yards to sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis, the second at the 1:18 mark. Abbrederis led all receivers in the game with six catches for 113 yards and the two scores.
Ball took a shovel pass on the two-point attempt after Abbrederis’ second score, giving the Badgers what looked like a safe 29-26 advantage with only 78 seconds left in the game.
That’s when Hall made up for his punt return gaffe, returning the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the Ohio State 48 and setting up the winning drive. Herron converted a critical third-and-1 with a 3-yard to set up a first down at the Wisconsin 40, and from there, Miller took the snap, scrambled away from two different defenders and heaved the ball on the run to Smith, who was wide open in the end zone for the game-winner.
Sweat led the Buckeyes defensively with eight tackles while sophomore safety C.J. Barnett and sophomore defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins had seven stops each. Barnett also had an important pass breakup in the final seconds, knocking away a pass intended for Wisconsin receiver Nick Toon at about the OSU 20-yard line.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon had three tackles, including two sacks, despite being double-teamed all night. Sophomore lineman Adam Bellamy also had a sack for Ohio State.
For the Badgers, junior linebacker Mike Taylor was credited with a career-high 22 tackles, including 2½ for loss. Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, a product of Kettering (Ohio) Alter, had 13 stops and senior linebacker Kevin Claxton added 10 tackles, also a career-best that included 2½ for loss and a sack.
Ohio State (5-3, 2-2) is back home next week to take on Indiana. The Hoosiers (1-8, 0-5) absorbed a 59-38 loss to Northwestern earlier today. Kickoff next Saturday is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.