With a spot in the college football playoff on the line, Wisconsin made too many mistakes in losing to Ohio State 27-21 in the Big Ten championship.
Missed tackles, missed throws, spotty offensive line play and no running game plagued the Badgers. Yet somehow Wisconsin still had a chance to win this game -- or should we say chances. The Badgers had the ball twice in the final five minutes but couldn't get the go-ahead score, an interception on fourth-and-20 finishing off UW.
Big plays, something Wisconsin had done a good job of not giving up during the regular season, haunted the Badgers. Ohio State had four plays of 50+ yards, each directly or indirectly leading to a score as the Buckeyes took a 24-13 lead.
But Wisconsin got back in the game after a Leon Jacobs interception gave the Badgers the ball at midfield. A touchdown and subsequent 2-point play got the Badgers within three, but they could get no closer.
Ohio State concentrated on shutting down Wisconsin's run game, which it did successfully, and overpowered the Badgers' offensive line. Alex Hornibrook couldn't take advantage, sometimes rushed into bad throws and at other times just making poor decisions or passes, the worst being a red-zone interception and missing a wide-open Troy Fumagalli on a third-and-3 play.
The game was a reminder of some of Wisconsin's faults, and their low margin for error, but also just how oh-so-close the Badgers came to making the playoff.
Andrew Van Ginkel nearly single-handedly kept Wisconsin in the game in the first half. The linebacker's interception return for a touchdown got the Badgers on the board and tied the game in the first quarter. Then late in the first half, with Ohio State up 21-7 and with the ball, Van Ginkel stripped Buckeyes running back Mike Weber of the ball and recovered the fumble at the OSU 11. The Badgers could only get a field goal out of it, but all 10 points in the opening two quarters were the result of Van Ginkel turnovers. With the way Wisconsin played in the first half, i.e. not well, one shudders to imagine where the Badgers would have been without those two big plays.
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DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Statistically, there weren't a lot of standouts for Wisconsin. But how can't you be encouraged by the play of wide receiver Danny Davis? He had three catches for 50 yards -- that total actually leading all Wisconsin receivers -- which included a big catch for a first down and a great grab downfield for a 33-yard gain. Badgers receivers had trouble getting open all game, but Davis was the most consistent getting a little daylight between him and Ohio State cornerbacks as well as being Wisconsin's only legitimate downfield threat. And he's only a freshman.
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Late in the fourth quarter, Ohio State, which led 24-21, had a fourth-and-1 from the Wisconsin 13. The Buckeyes ran a play which probably everyone expected. Using J.T. Barnett in a shotgun formation with an empty formation, the quarterback kept the ball -- and Wisconsin was ready. Three Badgers crashed the middle, but all were sprawled out and couldn't tackle Barnett, who bounced away and made a slight deke on Ryan Connelly, which allowed him to just get the first down. The Buckeyes would drive to the 3 and kick a field goal, both using precious time and making it a six-point game, meaning Wisconsin had to get a touchdown. A stop, and it's still a three-point game, perhaps changing the Badgers' offensive strategy in the final 5+ minutes.
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40 -- Pass attempts for Alex Hornibrook, easily a career high. Hornibrook had never thrown more than 28 passes in a game previously. Wisconsin is not built for Hornibrook to have to throw, but that's exactly what Ohio State forced the Badgers to do as they stacked the box, holding Wisconsin to 60 yards rushing, its lowest total in two years. Jonathan Taylor had a season-low 41 yards on 15 carries, with a long of seven. Hornibrook also had a 7-yard run, which was the longest for UW. Everything in this paragraph were big reasons for Wisconsin's loss.
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THEY SAID IT
"They've got a good offense and they're going to spread you out. And there's times when you've got to make those one-on-one plays. Credit to them. They made the plays." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"Well, we've had some experience against some top-five teams. That's a top-five football team. Excellent team. Excellent defense. And our defense really did a nice job shutting their running game down. But their defense is outstanding. We think they're a top-five team." -- Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on Wisconsin
"That's what hurts the most, being able to get this far and then come up short, and seeing them celebrate on the field aferwards and thinking that could've been us -- that definitely hurts." -- quarterback Alex Hornibrook on how close Wisconsin came to making the playoff
"This was a great opportunity for us, and it sucks that we didn't get the opportunity to win, but our story is far from being over, and I'm happy to have one more game left with these seniors." -- running back Chris James
With the college playoff out the window, Wisconsin will have to "settle" for one of the major non-playoff bowls. There are three likely scenarios: Orange vs. Miami, Fiesta vs. USC or Peach vs. Central Florida. We'll find out soon enough.