Quarterback Braxton Miller threw a career-high tying four touchdown passes and accounted for 281 yards of total offense as No. 4 ranked Ohio State survived a late scare from Big Ten rival Wisconsin to post a 31-24 victory Saturday night in front of 105,826 fans at Ohio Stadium.
Miller returned after missing nearly three full games with a sprained left knee and showed no signs of rust, rushing a game-high 22 times for 83 yards while completing 17 of 25 pass attempts for 198 yards and four TDs. On the receiving end of eight of those passes was wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, who totaled 85 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wideout Devin Smith added four catches for 50 yards and one score, while fellow junior Evan Spencer had a 25-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Carlos Hyde returned to the starting lineup at tailback and was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with 85 yards on 17 carries. Senior Jordan Hall, who had started the first four games at tailback, got only one carry for 5 yards.
Defensively, Ohio State effectively stopped the nation’s top running attack. Wisconsin entered the game having averaged 349.8 yards over its first four games, but was limited to only 104 against the Buckeyes.
The OSU pass defense left something to be desired, however, as QB Joel Stave and WR Jared Abbrederis each had career games for the Badgers. Stave completed 20 of 34 passes for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while Abbrederis grabbed 10 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought we stopped the run very well, but gave up too much in the passing game,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer told ABC Sports following the game. “The best part is that we’re 5-0 and get the chance to go after No. 6 next week.”
The Buckeyes drew first blood and they drew it early when Miller tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Spencer to give his team a 7-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.
But the Badgers, who had gone three-and-out on their first two offensive series, cashed in on their third possession, marching 90 yards in eight plays to tie the score. Stave threw a perfect pass that Abbrederis gathered in despite blanket coverage from OSU cornerback Bradley Roby and then ran the rest of the way to the end zone. The 36-yard touchdown play knotted the game at 7 with 3:52 remaining in the opening quarter.
OSU wasted no time answering as Miller engineered a six-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a 26-yard touchdown to Smith. That made it 14-7 with 0:44 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin came right back on the very next play when Stave hooked up with Abbrederis on a 64-yard pass play as the opening period came to a close. But the Badgers squandered that scoring opportunity when Abbrederis dropped a third-down pass and kicker Kyle French pulled his 32-yard field-goal attempt outside the left upright.
The Badgers threatened again midway through the second quarter, but shot themselves in the foot on two separate occasions. On the first, Stave found Abbrederis on a third-and-11 play for a first down, but the play was nullified by a holding call. Then when Wisconsin was forced to punt, Brown tried to jump on the ball as it squibbed along the ground and the Badgers were able to recover deep in OSU territory. However, an illegal formation penalty wiped out that play, and the Buckeyes were able to retain possession on the ensuing punt.
That possession led to a 45-yard field goal from senior kicker Drew Basil that pushed Ohio State’s lead to 17-7 at the 4:33 mark. But that triggered a wild finish to the opening half when Stave marched his team 76 yards in just over three minutes to cut the Badgers’ deficit to 17-14, and Miller responded by driving the Buckeyes 71 yards in just under a minute and a half, connecting with Brown on a fourth-and-7 play for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 0:01 remaining.
The last-second score gave Ohio State a 24-14 advantage at the break, a lead the Buckeyes would carry through most of the third quarter until a 1-yard touchdown pitch from Miller to Brown made it 31-14 with 2:18 left in the period.
Wisconsin never went away, though. Tailback James White rolled around right end for a 17-yard touchdown run to make it 31-21 with 13:47 remaining in the game, and then the Badgers got a 42-yard field goal from French at the 2:05 mark to make it a one-score game at 31-24 to go.
Ohio State failed to kill the final two minutes and gave the Badgers one final possession, but thanks to punter Cameron Johnston’s 55-yard punt, Wisconsin was faced with going 90 yards in the final minute and a half, a mountain that proved too high to climb. Stave threw incomplete on fourth-and-3 with 20 seconds remaining, and the Buckeyes were able to escape with the victory.
Johnston was one of the unsung heroes in the game for the Ohio State. The freshman punter from Australia averaged 39.8 yards on six attempts, with all six of his kicks landing inside the Wisconsin 20-yard line. Five of the six were inside the 10.