Ohio State got hit in the mouth by Wisconsin early in the second half and then responded with a series of haymakers that left the Badgers down and out on the Ohio Stadium mat, victims of a 38-17 loss to the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin erased a 10-3 halftime deficit early in the third quarter with a pair of touchdowns to take a 17-10 lead. But it was all OSU after that as the Buckeyes rode an opportunistic defense and the running of Chris Wells to score four unanswered touchdowns.
“Wisconsin came in here and laid it on the line,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “Our guys kept battling and anything that came our way in terms of adversity, our guys handled it. When we got behind 17-10 and the defense needed some time to get back on their feet, our offense answered and we had a chance to move on from there
Wells finished the game with 169 yards and three touchdowns after getting only 26 yards in the first half. He also scored second-half touchdowns of 31, 30 and 23 yards.
The Buckeyes jumped out quickly to a 7-0 lead only 12:15 into the first quarter when Todd Boeckman connected with Brian Robiskie on a 30-yard touchdown pass. The teams later traded field goals, giving OSU a 10-3 lead at the half.
But it seemed as though the Buckeyes were simply going through the motions. Their offensive attack included only 11 first-half running plays against 21 passes when it appeared that OSU could run the ball whenever it wanted to against the Badgers. Those 11 carries resulted in an average of better than 4 yards per carry.
Then in the third quarter, Wisconsin made things extremely interesting. Receiver Paul Hubbard got loose for a 50-yard reception, setting up the Badgers for their first touchdown. That came on a 28-yard pass play from QB Tyler Donovan to tight end Travis Beckum, and tied the game at 10 with 12:37 left in the third quarter.
UW was right back at it midway through the period, moving 62 yards in eight plays topped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Donovan to fullback Chris Pressley. The play gave the Badgers a 17-10 lead with 6:53 remaining in the third quarter, and threw up upset alerts all over college football.
But the Buckeyes responded as championship teams do. They took the ensuing kickoff and marched down the field on an 80-yard drive to tie the score. Wells ran six times on the 10-play march, the last one good for 31 yards and a touchdown with 2:41 to go in the third period.
In the fourth quarter, OSU simply flexed its muscles. Wells ran for a 30-yard score in the first minute of the final period, Boeckman connected with Robiskie for an 8-yard touchdown and Wells finished things off with a 23-yard scamper just one play after the Buckeyes had recovered a Wisconsin fumble.
“It all starts up front,” Tressel said of his team’s acceleration in the fourth quarter. “Our guys did a good job up front, our quarterback was making the right call, and then Beanie was breaking tackles at the second level. When you have that going for you, you’re going to seize control of the game. I thought that’s what happened there. We got things going and seized control.”
Boeckman finished the game with 17 completions in 28 attempts for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Robiskie caught both scores, part of an afternoon that included three receptions for 43 yards. Brian Hartline was the Buckeyes’ leading receiver with seven catches for 95 yards.
Ohio State was led on defense by junior defensive end Vernon Gholston, who tied a school record with four sacks in the game. The mark was originally set in 1991 by Jason Simmons against Washington State and tied two years ago by Bobby Carpenter against Michigan State.
Gholston now has 10 sacks for the season, leaving him just three shy of Mike Vrabel’s single-season OSU record set in 1995.
All told, the Buckeyes totaled 10 sacks in the contest. That was just two off the school’s single-game record of 12 set against Michigan State in 2005. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Doug Worthington, outside linebacker Larry Grant, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah, outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson and defensive tackle Todd Denlinger each had sacks for Ohio State to go along with Gholston’s four.
In addition to his sack, Laurinaitis had a career-high 19 tackles.
The Badgers suffered greatly from the absence of leading rusher P.J. Hill, who was sidelined with a bruised leg. As a result, Wisconsin – which had been averaging 205.4 yards per game on the ground – wound up with only 12 net yards rushing.
Quarterback Tyler Donovan was constantly harassed by the Buckeyes and was sacked nine times. (Tight end Travis Beckum was sacked once on an aborted option pass.) Donovan finished 17 for 29 in the passing department for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
His sack aside, Beckum had an otherwise excellent day for the Badgers with nine receptions for 140 yards and one of the touchdowns.
“There is no question that Wisconsin was here without their best running back, and our guys are going to get after you when you have to throw the ball,” Tressel said. “I thought Tyler gave a valiant effort, but our guys got after him. I’m sure he’s pretty sore right now.”
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) hosts Illinois (6-3, 2-2) next week. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern. ABC will handle the telecast.