Many of the homespun adages coined by College Football Hall of Fame coach Paul “Bear” Bryant have long outlived him, including one of Bryant’s favorites: “Offense sells the tickets, but defense wins the championships.”
That could very well be the motto for the 2009 Ohio State football team which put on another virtuoso defensive performance Oct. 9 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes returned two interceptions for touchdowns and held a powerful Wisconsin team to only one touchdown – and that came on a fake field goal – to post a 31-13 victory.
The OSU defense constantly harassed Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, forcing him to throw a career-high 45 times while sacking him six times. The previously unbeaten Badgers entered the game as the nation’s best team in terms of protecting the quarterback. UW had surrendered only two sacks in its previous five games.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes snuffed a Wisconsin running attack that had been averaging 217.2 yards per game. The Badgers finished with 118 yards on the ground led by tailback John Clay, who had 59 yards on 20 carries. Clay came into the battle against the Buckeyes as the Big Ten’s leading rusher, averaging 163.0 yards in his previous two conference games and 116.4 yards overall.
It was somewhat surprising the Ohio State defenders were even standing at the end of the game. Because of a dearth of offensive support, the final statistics showed lopsided advantages for Wisconsin in first downs (22-8), total yardage (368-184) and time of possession. The Badgers had the ball for 89 plays and nearly 43 minutes of the game while the Buckeyes ran only 40 offensive plays and had the ball slightly more than 17 minutes.
“It was a different type football game,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. “Our defense came after them, and Wisconsin is a very good offensive team. But our defense came after them and any time you get two defensive scores … that is more than you can hope for.”
There were star performances turned in by a number of OSU defenders. Junior linebacker Ross Homan collected a career-high 15 tackles and had two of the Buckeyes’ six sacks. Coleman added 14 tackles – also a career-high total – to go along with his interception return.
Junior middle linebacker Brian Rolle matched Coleman with 14 stops, a career-best total, while Hines gave Ohio State four players with double-digit tackles. He also set a career high with 11 stops to go with his pick six.
In addition to Homan, defensive linemen Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Wilson, Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams each had a sack.
Neither team did much of anything offensively in the early going. The first four offensive possessions of the game – two by each team – netted a total of 25 yards.
The Badgers finally got something going late in the first quarter but OSU safety Kurt Coleman ended the threat with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was the fifth longest interception return in school history and the longest since Will Allen ran one back 100 yards in 2003 against San Diego State.
Coleman’s pick-six gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead at the 3:48 mark of the first quarter.
That was the way it stayed until Wisconsin middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean stepped in front of a Terrelle Pryor pass and returned it 13 yards to the OSU 12. The Buckeyes rose to the occasion on defense and forced the Badgers into what appeared to be a short field goal attempt.
But holder Chris Maragos took the ball and swung wide to the left on the fake. Maragos was able to stretch the football just past the end zone pylon as OSU linebacker Austin Spitler was pushing him out of bounds, and the Badgers had a tying touchdown at the 10:20 mark of the second quarter.
UW kicker Philip Welch added a 50-yard field goal with 1:53 remaining until halftime to give the Badgers a 10-7 lead.
Evidently, trailing in a game for the first time since the USC contest in week two provided the sort of wake-up call the Ohio State offense needed. Pryor engineered an 88-yard drive that covered seven plays in only 72 seconds, capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver DeVier Posey.
That gave the Buckeyes a 14-10 advantage at halftime, and to say they were fortunate to be leading at the break was being generous. The Badgers had possession of the football for nearly 21 minutes while OSU had it only nine.
It was more the same in the third quarter with Wisconsin keeping the ball all but one minute and 40 seconds in the period. But while the Badgers got only a 46-yard field goal from Welch at the 10:06 mark, that three-pointer was sandwiched by a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior safety Jermale Hines and a 96-yard kickoff return by senior Ray Small.
Hines gave the Buckeyes a pair of pick-sixes in the same game for the first time since 2006 when Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith turned the trick against Penn State. Small’s kickoff return was Ohio State’s first since Ted Ginn Jr. went 93 yards with the opening kickoff of the 2007 BCS National Championship Game against Florida.
The Buckeyes tacked on a 37-yard field goal from senior kicker Aaron Pettrey at the 12:32 mark of the fourth quarter to account for the final 31-13 count.
Tolzien completed a career-high 27 of his 45 attempts for 250 yards and was intercepted twice. He also ran 11 times, mostly out of self-preservation, as a relentless Ohio State rush prevented the junior signal-caller from establishing any kind of rhythm.
Meanwhile, Pryor was 5 for 13 in the passing department for 87 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while junior tailback Brandon Saine was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with 55 yards on 14 carries.
Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) will be back in action next Saturday when the Buckeyes travel to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) dropped a 35-20 decision at Minnesota earlier in the day. Kickoff next week will be shortly after 12 noon Eastern with the game being televised by the Big Ten Network.