MADISON, Wis. — Well, at least Wisconsin’s football team knows how to make things interesting in defeat.
Ohio State edged Wisconsin, 21-14, in overtime Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium, marking the Badgers’ second straight overtime loss at home this season. The margin actually represents Wisconsin’s most lopsided loss of the year because the Badgers had lost their three other games by three points apiece.
The Badgers showed some resolve in battling back to tie the game in regulation with eight seconds remaining, but it wasn’t enough. And the feeling among players was bittersweet.
Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 in the Big Ten) won’t win the Leaders Division, but it will play in the Big Ten championship on Dec. 1 as a result of NCAA sanctions to Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) and Penn State (7-4, 5-2).
Handing out grades for Wisconsin’s 11th game of the season:
Passing offense: B-minus
Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips deserves major credit for keeping his team in the game while making his first career home start. Phillips completed 14 of 25 passes for 154 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He also led the Badgers down the field in the final minutes to tie the game.
Wisconsin trailed 14-7 with 1:33 remaining in the fourth quarter when the Badgers took possession at Ohio State’s 41-yard line. Phillips was promptly sacked for an 11-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage. But he completed a 9-yard pass to slot receiver Kenzel Doe, a 9-yarder to tight end Jacob Pedersen, a 14-yard to receiver Jared Abbrederis and another 11-yarder to Abbrederis. That set up Phillips’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Pedersen, which tied the game.
Still, there were some plays that Phillips and his receivers probably left out there. The first play of the game was a home run toss to tight end Chase Hammond, who likely should have caught the ball despite a defender at his feet. Abbrederis, the team’s standout receiver, had just three receptions for 40 yards, and two came on the final drive.
And the final play of the game in overtime is one the Badgers certainly wish they had back. Phillips tried to connect with Pedersen, but Ohio State’s Christian Bryant stuck his hand in to bat the ball away.
Rushing offense: B
The run game starts with tailback Montee Ball, and he produced quite a show in his final home game. Ball carried a career high 39 times for 191 yards with a touchdown. His score tied the all-time NCAA FBS career touchdown record of 78, which Ball now shares with Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice.
But Ball had a crucial goal-line fumble when he tried to leap over Ohio State’s entire defense for a touchdown late in the game. Ohio State recovered at the 6-yard line, and fans in Camp Randall Stadium were stunned into silence.
Ohio State has the No. 17-ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing 116.8 yards per game. So Wisconsin did well to gain 206 yards rushing as a team. The Badgers also registered 56 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt.
Passing defense: A
Wisconsin’s pass defense has improved throughout the season, and the Badgers were particularly good on Saturday against Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
Miller completed 10 of 18 passes for 97 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. His longest completion was 18 yards, and he was also sacked three times. The 97 yards represented Ohio State’s fewest passing yards in a game this season.
Badgers junior safety Dezmen Southward said containing Miller and staying on the Buckeyes’ routes was key.
“I thought we did a pretty good job,” Southward said. “Any time you play somebody with that type of skill set, that type of speed, quickness, he’s going to get some yards. And he got some yards, but he worked for every yard he got. If you can say that after a game, then I think you did a pretty good job.”
Rushing defense: B-plus
It should be noted right off the bat that Ohio State’s 139 rushing yards were a season low for the Buckeyes. So Wisconsin certainly performed well on Saturday. But the goal is to keep the opponent out of the end zone, and Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde scored twice — including the game-deciding touchdown in overtime.
Hyde carried 15 times for 87 yards. Miller, who has terrorized defenses with his rushing ability all season, was held to 48 total rushing yards on 23 carries.
This season, Wisconsin ranks ninth in the country in rushing defense, allowing 106.6 yards per game. Michigan State is next among Big Ten teams at No. 13 nationally.
Special teams: C-minus
Special teams play was an absolute disaster on Saturday, and it can be traced specifically to one play.
With the game still scoreless late in the first quarter, Ohio State’s Corey Brown returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown. He busted right up the center of the field, juked punter Drew Meyer and scored to give Ohio State a 7-0 lead.
“I know he was trying to drive the ball,” Badgers coach Bret Bielema said of his punter. “I thought they were trying to set up an edge. They creased it up the middle.”
Later in the game, kicker Kyle French missed a 40-yard field goal attempt that would have cut Wisconsin’s deficit to 14-10. French’s range isn’t particularly deep, which is why Bielema punted from Ohio State’s 30-yard-line in the first half rather than have him attempt a 47-yard field goal.
Defensively, Wisconsin couldn’t have done much more to contain Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to season lows in rushing and passing yards. But the Badgers’ offense was unable to take advantage of multiple drives that crossed into Buckeyes territory.
Given the opponent — an undefeated Ohio State team that would probably be No. 2 in the BCS rankings this week if not for NCAA sanctions — Wisconsin has a lot of positives to take from the game. Just not a victory.
“That’s the thing that hurts the most is we all played well and still fell short,” Ball said. “We’re going to watch the film and get better.”
Wisconsin plays its regular-season finale at Penn State and then travels to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. In as strange of a year as any, Wisconsin could be 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten, then win the conference championship and play in a third straight Rose Bowl.
Somehow, everything is still in front of the Badgers.