Upon Further Review: One good half not enough for Badgers to spring upset of Ohio State
It was one heck of a first half for Wisconsin against Ohio State. The second half, though, was pure hell.
The Badgers had the college football world in a bit of a tizzy after taking a 21-7 lead over Ohio State, ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
It was a rare time the Buckeyes had trailed – coming into the game had been behind for just 9:37 all season.
But Wisconsin couldn’t pull off handing Ohio State its first loss as the Buckeyes overwhelmed the Badgers in the second half to win the Big Ten championship 34-21.
Wisconsin came out the aggressor, scoring on an opening drive which included a 27-yard pass to Quintez Cephus on the game’s first play, a Jack Coan run for a first down on third-and-7 and finished off with a 44-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor.
Coan would add two rushing TDs in the second quarter, the first a 14-yarder in which he made it to the end zone untouched as Ohio State swarmed to Taylor off a zone-read fake handoff. The second occurred after Wisconsin allowed its first score only to march right back down the field despite getting the ball back with only 42 seconds, Taylor keying the drive with a 45-yard run and Cephus making a great catch to put the ball at the half-yard line, setting up a Coan sneak.
The touchdown quelled the Buckeyes’ momentum. But Wisconsin couldn’t stem the tide in the second half.
Ohio State scored on the opening possession of the third quarter then got a field goal after a muffed UW punt. The Buckeyes got points on five consecutive second-half possessions, including three TD drives of 65+ yards.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin had just 80 yards of offense on its first five possessions of the second half, two of which included the muffed punt, two three-and-outs and a missed 48-yard field-goal attempt. Taylor, who finished with 148 yards on the ground (he had 93 in his first two games against Ohio State), had only 13 yards in the second half (minus-9 in the fourth quarter). Ohio State had 260 yards in the second half.
Add it all up and it was a loss for Wisconsin. Probably one that was expected beforehand, but disappointing based on how the first half went.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jonathan Taylor gets the headlines but one has to wonder where the Wisconsin offense would be without Quintez Cephus. He’s become option A, B and C for quarterback Jack Coan. Against Ohio State, Cephus had 14 of Coan’s 34 targets – in the first half he had nine of 13 – finishing with seven catches for 122 yards. The targets were the most for a Wisconsin receiver since 2015 and he was the first Badger to top 100 yards since 2013. Cephus helped open things up for the UW offense all day – or at least in the first half – by catching passes downfield. Six of his receptions went for 15+ yards. His catch at the end of the first half setting up Wisconsin near the goal line was incredible, even more so because he was being interfered with.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
With how poorly things went in the second half it’s easy to forget how good Coan was in the first half – often with his legs. On two separate drives he converted two third-and-longs with runs of nine yards. Each drive-extender would end with a Wisconsin touchdown, including his above-mentioned 14-yard run. Coan became the first Badgers quarterback to have two games with multiple-rushing TDs since Brooks Bollinger in 2002. The game turned into a slog for the Badgers in the second half as Ohio State stepped up the pressure – the Buckeyes had eight tackles for loss in the final two quarters – but Coan still finished with 232 passing yards, the second-most allowed by OSU this year (kind of amazing considering all the blowouts and teams having to pass against the Buckeyes).
Ohio State had seized momentum – and the lead – late in the third quarter after driving down for a touchdown following Zach Hintze’s missed 48-yard field-goal attempt. Wisconsin went three-and-out on its next possession (on third-and-7, the Badgers elected to hand the ball off to Taylor, who got five yards) but had a chance to seize back control early in the fourth after Isaiahh Loudermilk sacked Justin Fields to set the Buckeyes up with a third-and-18 on their own 38. A scrambling Fields found Jashon Cornell, but the receiver was yards short of the first down. A few moves and jukes and four missed tackles later, Cornell had a 28-yard gain. The play summed up how things were going for Wisconsin in the second half and four plays later Fields hit K.J. Hill for a 13-yard score to put Ohio State up 10 – although it felt like a lot more than that. Bluntly, this game felt over despite there being roughly 12 minutes left.
Just how impressive was Wisconsin’s performance against Ohio State? The Badgers were the first team to eclipse 400 total yards (432) against the Buckeyes this season. The Badgers had 14 chunk plays (rushes of 10+ yards, passes of 15+ yards), the same amount that Ohio State pulled off. The Buckeyes had allowed only 41 pass plays of 10+ yards in their first 12 games (average of 3.4 per game); Wisconsin had 10. Jonathan Taylor had runs of 44 and 45 yards – Ohio State had allowed just two rushes of 30+ yards all season (and just one of those topped 40). Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it just couldn’t keep up that kind of production for a full four quarters.
THEY SAID IT
“They made more plays than we did, they won the game. I said we came out here with one purpose and that was to win it and we didn’t. I get that, but I’m also proud of the way our guys played and as a coach you appreciate that, and you appreciate the fact that this isn’t the last game with this group.” — head coach Paul Chryst
“I feel like in the first half we did a really good job spreading the field, gave us the opportunity to create one-on-one matchups, open up lanes; I think we did a good job doing that … We missed a lot of pressures in the second half. Just some miscommunication, and then it came down to some one-on-ones match ups. We won our fairs share and lost our fair share as well.” — running back Jonathan Taylor
“Oh – yeah. I played with these guys throughout the season to earn the right to have a bowl game. And so especially after today, I want to make sure that I help these guys finish out right.” — Taylor on if he’ll play in UW’s bowl game
“I’m not really sure exactly how we’re feeling. I think I can speak for all of us and say that we’re disappointed with the loss, but thankful to play the game we love.” — quarterback Jack Coan
“It sucks. You know, you want to score but sometimes it’s not that simple. That’s just the game. It does suck when you can’t score, can’t get a drive moving, can’t get them on their toes. Three and outs are hard to overcome and that’s on us as an offense, too. We were putting our defense back out there and putting ourselves in punting situations. It can always be prevented but we have to play better, gain yards for a first down, and we were struggling with that the second half.” — center Tyler Biadasz
There’s one final game for Wisconsin – and Taylor has said he’ll play in what will likely be his final game as a Badger – and a potential 2012 Rose Bowl rematch against Oregon looms … as long as UW can remain ahead of Penn State in the College Football Playoff rankings. If not, another Jan. 1 bowl game seems likely.