Have you come down from your Saturday high yet? I haven’t. Since I couldn’t be in Columbus for the game, I watched more footbaw and then rode the Twitter waves until about 2:30 in the morning. And even then I had to force myself to go to bed. I didn’t want the feeling to end. Ohio State’s 33-29 win over Wisconsin was a better roller coaster than anything you’ll find at Cedar Point or Disney World. Going from comfortable lead, into what seemed like a sure loss, then back into an improbable win was the perfect example of the greatness of college football. I love this game. It’s faaaaan-tastic! (And other assorted slogans.)
The Buckeyes were in beast mode defensively all night long. A year after being abused like Quagmire’s sister on Sunday night’s episode of Family Guy, the Ohio State defensive line stepped into manhood and shut down the much-ballyhooed Wisconsin running game. (Note: I’m not even sure how to ballyhoo something, but every member of the national sports media figured out a way to ballyhoo the Badgers’ running attack.) After a tense, defensive first half, the Buckeyes built a second-half lead and continued to shut down the Wisky attack until a couple of breakdowns late helped the Badgers make life difficult. That’s when Braxton Miller turned on the magic. You know the rest. How did I see it? Well, read on.
Stuffing, instead of potatoes: To me, the biggest key of the game was the defensive line stuffing Wisconsin and abusing Bucky’s big, bad offensive line. John Simon, Jonathan Hankins, Adam Bellamy, Garrett Goebel and sometimes Michael Bennett did what last year’s defensive line couldn’t do. The D-line blew up the stretch play, smothered everything up the middle and brought multiple hats to the ball nearly every time Wisconsin ran. Then they collapsed the pocket on passing downs and forced Russell Wilson to throw the ball early or out of rhythm. The defensive squeeze by the Buckeyes kept the game close throughout the first half, allowing the offense time to catch up. Until the intermission, Ohio State mostly just moved the chains enough to flip the field behind Ben Buchanan’s booming punts. They didn’t force any turnovers, but the defense – especially the line – was responsible for keeping the Buckeyes in the hunt.
Run, Runaway: The offensive line played like it didn’t want to be upstaged by its defensive counterpart. Ohio State’s O-line, including the bulldozer named Zach Boren that’s been masquerading as a fullback, knocked the Badgers around and allowed Boom Herron to do his thing. Herron piled up 160 yards on 33 carries against a defense that knew he was coming every time. They stacked the box but it mostly didn’t matter. And when Herron galloped for 57 yards to open the second half, the game started to change for the Buckeye offense. Even if you take away that long run, Herron still rushed for more than 100 yards against a team that knew he was getting the ball. That’s impressive. By being able to run the ball, Ohio State moved the chains, ran clock and kept Wisconsin’s offense on the sideline. The Buckeye offense allowed the defense to rest and the D responded by being relentless on every down. To put things in perspective, if someone told you before the game that the rushing yards would be 268-89, which team would you assume had the 268? Exactly.
Chain gang: The Buckeyes were an impressive 11-of-20 on third down against Wisconsin. Not all of those were gimmies, either. Braxton Miller made some plays with his feet and his arm, and the Buckeyes converted time and again, wearing out the Badgers on defense. Who can forget the effort of Miller stretching the ball out as he was tackled, getting just enough yardage to move the chains? The Buckeyes played with urgency on important downs and it paid off in the end.
Rejected: There are few plays in sports that can change momentum as suddenly as a blocked kick. Ryan Shazier slashed to the ball and practically took it off of punter Brad Nortman’s foot. Curtis Grant fell on it and slid into the end zone for an apparent touchdown, which was later spotted at the 1-yard line. Jordan Hall carried in from there and the Buckeyes had a two-score lead in the third quarter. Wisconsin managed to answer, but only because Hall muffed the punt that Ohio State’s defense forced. Regardless, the cushion of that score made life a lot more difficult for Wisconsin.
“The Pass”: Braxton Miller grew up on Saturday night. A true freshman quarterback, Miller is only a few months removed from high school. But there he was on national television in a game that could decide the fate of Ohio State’s entire season. After Hall atoned for his muffed punt with a kickoff return to the OSU 48, the offense needed three plays to eke out a first down, then set up on the Wisconsin 40. Miller dropped back, eluded pressure to his right and then had a decision to make. With his speed, Miller could have picked up a good chunk of yards before scampering out of bounds and setting up Drew Basil with a chance to tie the game. But Miller kept looking for a receiver and he eventually spotted Devin Smith, who had slipped behind a blown coverage. While running at full speed to his right, Miller launched the ball back across his body, off of one foot, side armed. That ball seemed to hang forever, but in actuality it was about three and a half seconds. Eventually it came down in the waiting arms of Smith, five yards deep in the end zone. The strength and accuracy it took to get the ball to Smith was amazing. Buckeye euphoria ensued, and then the defense closed it out. Miller was very good in that game, hitting 7-of-12, but he was not helped by a couple of drops. He also ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Our boy became a man right before our eyes, and it was glorious.
Other random thoughts/observations:
- Though he made up for it on his last touch, Jordan Hall seemed a bit off to me. His running was largely snuffed out, aside from the determined third-down touchdown run, but what troubled me most was his play on punt returns. Hall seemed to make the wrong choice on whether to call for a fair catch every time. His muff threw the Badgers a lifeline and nearly proved fatal in the end. Let’s hope a good week with Doc Tressel fixes that.
- Etienne Sabino made a huge play on Wisconsin’s fourth-and-two play, and credit to analyst Todd Blackledge for pointing it out on the broadcast. Sabino kept outside leverage on the stretch play and forced it back inside, where Andrew Sweat helped him clean up. It was a huge play at the OSU 37, with the Buckeyes holding onto a 20-14 lead. A score there for Wisconsin changes everything. Instead, Miller bolted for a 44-yard touchdown six plays later. Huge swing.
- We’ll see if it sticks, but the Buckeyes looked to have their swagger back. The body language on the field and on the sidelines was good all night, even when plays weren’t working. I love watching the players on the sideline bouncing along to the music with their helmets held high. Confidence is a huge part of the game, especially for a young team.
- Seriously, how good was Ben Buchanan? He averaged almost 42 yards on his punts and still pinned three of them inside the 20. Our punter is doing work.
- A lot has been made about rushing the field, including a whiny tweet from Bucky’s Fifth Quarter. Ordinarily, an OSU crowd would obviously not rush the field after beating the #15 team. But this was different. First of all, Ohio State had to endure watching Badger fans rush the field and the basketball court last year. Yes, Ohio State was top ranked both times. But Saturday’s game transcended rankings. It was the first time all year that it didn’t feel like the shadows Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and forthcoming NCAA sanctions were hanging over the field. It felt like a real game day for maybe the first time all year. The joy was real and needed to be expressed. I approve the field rushing. Nobody who hasn’t gone through what Ohio State fans have gone through would understand, so maybe the whining is forgiveable. Then again, they can deal with it.