Ohio State overcame its own offensive challenges and withstood a late Wisconsin comeback to earn a hard-fought 21-14 overtime victory Saturday evening in front of 80,112 fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Safety Christian Bryant swatted away a fourth-down pass attempt by Wisconsin to preserve the victory and the Buckeyes' undefeated season. OSU has a chance to finish only the sixth perfect season next week against archrival Michigan.
The victory also cemented an outright Big Ten Leaders Division championship for the Buckeyes, who are banned from playing in the conference title game or a bowl contest.
"I thought our defense did a fantastic job," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said. "Wisconsin was No. 1 (in the Big Ten) against the rush and we just couldn't get that going. But we played hard against a very good team in a hostile environment and we got the win."
Meyer, who has steadfastly refused to talk about his team's chances for a perfect season, finally allowed a smile to cross his face when he was asked again about the prospect for a 12-0 finish.
"We can talk about that now," he said. "We have one more – obviously a big one – and this is the one I've thought about since I was growing up."
That Meyer's team pulled off its 11th victory was an exercise in perseverance.
For example, Ohio State managed only 236 total yards in the contest – a season low – while Wisconsin piled up 360, including 41 in the final minute and a half to send the game into overtime. But somehow, the Buckeyes still managed to make a statement on defense.
Linebackers Ryan Shazier and Zach Boren had 12 tackles each, while Shazier had three tackles for loss and forced a crucial fumble on UW running back Monteé Ball at the goal line late in the fourth quarter.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon contributed four sacks among his six tackles and tied the OSU record for most sacks in a single game.
Still, Ball managed to get his yards. The senior running back carried 39 times for 191 yards and a touchdown. Ball's carries total represented a career-high, the yardage figure was the most yielded by an Ohio State defense to a single ball-carrier since Eric McCoo of Penn State had 211 in 1999, and the score tied the NCAA record for most career TDs.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were stuck in second gear for much of the game. Quarterback
Braxton Miller had his most pedestrian performance of the season as Wisconsin keyed on his constantly. He completed 10 of 18 passes, but for only 97 yards and no touchdowns. Miller was also sacked three times which led to only 48 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Tailback Carlos Hyde was much more effective with a team-high 87 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Each team mounted mini-threat with their opening two possessions.
The Badgers got a 36-yard return from Kenzel Doe on the game's opening kickoff to set up shop on their own 43, but went three-and-out when QB Curt Phillips failed to connect with a couple of receivers deep. WR Chase Hammond dropped a first-down pass at about the OSU 20, and then Phillips overshot a wide-open Jared Abbredreis on third down.
Phillips finished the game 14 for 25 in the passing department for 154 yards and one touchdown.
After Wisconsin punted away its first possession, Ohio State started at its own 16 and got three first downs before Miller was stopped for just 1 yard on a third-and-7 at the Wisconsin 36.
The Buckeyes downed Ben Buchanan's punt at the 1-yard line, but the Badgers came roaring out of their own territory behind the running of Ball and fellow running back James White. But after getting to the OSU 28, White was stopped for a 2-yard loss by Shazier and Phillips threw incomplete on second and third down to force another punt.
Starting at its own 20, Ohio State moved quickly back into Wisconsin territory, thanks in part to an 18-yard pass from Miller to Corey "Philly" Brown and another highlight-reel run by Miller during which he somehow spun out of a tackle by Wisconsin defensive end Tyler Dippel and turned a loss into an 8-yard gain.
But the Buckeyes again bogged down and Miller was thrown for a 4-yard loss on third down.
Wisconsin failed to do anything with its third possession, but lightning struck for the Buckeyes when Brown returned Drew Meyer's punt 68 yards for a touchdown. Brown fielded the ball, found a tiny crease up the middle and took off. Meyer was waiting for him about midfield, but Brown put a hip-fake on the UW punter and then galloped the rest of the way for the touchdown.
That gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead at the 1:58 mark of the first quarter.
OSU struck again early in the second quarter – this time on offense – with an eight-play, 69-yard march capped by a 15-yard touchdown bolt from Hyde. The big plays during the possession included a pair of Brown receptions, one for 8 yards and other worth 14, and a personal foul penalty against Wisconsin for a late hit on Miller.
That put the ball at the UW and on the next play, Hyde blew through a huge hole in the middle of the defense for a 15-yard touchdown run to give the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead with 11:27 showing on the second-period clock.
It was the first time all season the Badgers had trailed by as many as 14 points and they responded by moving 82 yards on eight plays. The only non-running play during the march was a big one – a 29-yard completion from Phillips to tight end Jacob Pedersen that gave Wisconsin a first down at the Ohio State 11.
Two plays later, Ball bounced off a couple of OSU defenders to power into the end zone from 7 yards out. That allowed the Wisconsin senior to tie the NCAA record for career touchdowns and cut the Buckeyes' lead in half at 14-7 with 7:30 left until halftime.
Neither team seriously threatened again until Wisconsin got to the Ohio 23 as the third quarter came to a close. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, UW kicker Kyle French yanked his 40-yard field-goal attempt wide to the left.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes were stuck in neutral offensively. They gained only 33 yards in the entire third quarter and had only 24 in the fourth period when they were forced to punt deep in their own territory and Buchanan could muster only a 29-yarder to the Wisconsin 46.
From there, Ball strapped the Badgers on his back and did most of the work himself. The senior running back broke off a 25-yard run around left end on the first play of the drive and then carried five more times to put the ball just outside the 1-yard line.
Then with the clock winding under three minutes, Ball tried to dive over the goal to set a new college football record for touchdowns and tie the game. But he was met in midair by Shazier, who popped the ball loose and into the arms of Bryant at the 6-yard line.
Ohio State took over with 2:46 remaining and forced Wisconsin to use its final two timeouts. But the lack of the ability to muster any kind of offense came back to bite the Buckeyes, who were forced to punt the ball away from their own 10 with 1:39 remaining. Buchanan's kick traveled only 34 yards, Abbrederis returned it 3 yards and the Badgers had only 41 yards to travel to tie the game.
Simon recorded his record-tying fourth sack on the first play of the possession to give Wisconsin a second-and-21, but Phillips completed three straight attempts – for 9 yards to Doe, 9 yards to Pedersen and 14 yards to Abbrederis on fourth-and-2 to give the Badgers a first down at the Ohio State 20 with 44 seconds remaining.
Three plays later, Phillips connected with Abbrederis again on a third-down conversion, putting the ball at the OSU 5 with 13 seconds left. Then after Phillips spiked the ball to stop the clock, he found Pedersen in the end zone, and despite Ohio State linebacker Zach Boren draped all over him, the Wisconsin tight end made the touchdown catch with 0:08 showing on the clock to tie the game at 14 and send it into overtime.
The Badgers won the coin toss to begin overtime and Ohio State immediately went to work with Hyde weaving his way for an 11-yard pickup. Miller gained 4 on an up-the-middle keeper and then tried to throw on second down. But with all of his targets covered, he skirted around the left and picked up 8 yards to put the ball at the 2-yard line.
From there, Hyde powered his way over the goal line to give the Buckeyes a 21-14 lead.
Wisconsin tried to answer, but on fourth-and-6 from the 21, Bryant swatted away Phillips' throw to Pedersen and the Buckeyes had remained perfect.