Big Ten: Badgers-Buckeyes-102911


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- About the only thing more surprising than Braxton Miller's on-the-run, nearly-past-the-line-of-scrimmage, 40-yard touchdown heave with 20 seconds left on the clock was what he had done moments earlier.

Ohio State's rocky season was on the brink. A Buckeyes team that had controlled play against No. 15 Wisconsin and dominated stretches of the second half found itself trailing 29-26 with 1:10 left. A defense that had stifled Wisconsin's high-powered offense had suffered a breakdown at the worst possible time, leading to the Badgers' go-ahead score.

A third Ohio State loss would essentially eliminate the team from the Big Ten title chase. It would mark another blow for a proud program that had taken so many shots during a miserable eight-month stretch. It would heighten questions about coach Luke Fickell's future and bring back the doom and gloom that enveloped the team during an 0-2 start to Big Ten play.

Unless a quarterback who had completed one pass in Ohio State's previous game against Illinois could work some magic in a likely passing situation, the Buckeyes would go down in defeat.

The Shoe was deflated. Miller wasn't. Before Miller took the field for the decisive drive, he let Fickell know things would be OK.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith
Greg Bartram/US PresswireWisconsin lost for the second week in a row when Devin Smith caught a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game.
He winked.

"I gave him a little, you know, 'We got it, man. Don't worry about nothing,'" a smiling Miller recalled. "I knew we had it."

He might have been the only one. A Wisconsin team that had rallied the week before at Michigan State, only to lose on a Hail Mary, surely wouldn't allow any openings for Ohio State.

But as Miller rolled to his right, he spotted classmate Devin Smith in the end zone and let it fly.

"Once I looked back, I expected him to run because that's usually what he does," Smith said. "And I saw him look directly at me. And I saw him launch the ball. The ball was up there forever and I was like, 'Will it come down?' They all said it looked like a punt."

Best punt of Ohio State's season.

Miller said it was "50-50" whether he ran or passed on the play, and made the decision to throw a split second before crossing the line of scrimmage. He even asked Fickell whether he had crossed the line (officials reviewed the play and correctly ruled it a legal pass).

"I just had to let it go," he said.

Miller didn't wink at center Mike Brewster before the final series. He just told the senior All-America candidate to give him some time on the final drive.

An Ohio State line that spurred the team to 268 rush yards and three touchdowns in the 33-29 victory obliged.

"He just made a play," Brewster said of Miller. "When we needed him to do it, he made something happen. That's what he does best."

Fickell elevated Miller to a starting role in part because Ohio State's anemic offense needed more plays to be made. After a rocky start to Big Ten play against Michigan State (5-for-10 passing, 56 yards, 1 INT), Miller showed a spark the next week against Nebraska before leaving the game with an ankle sprain.

Saturday night, he came of age.

"It's a confidence thing," Fickell said. "I've talked about it all year long or as long as Braxton has been the quarterback. It was about confidence. He's learned to grasp things a lot more.

"And we know he can throw it."

Running back Jordan Hall was on the sideline for the decisive play, shielding his eyes.

"I just looked down," Hall said. "And when I heard the crowd, I was like, 'Must be good news.'"

Turned out to be very good news for Ohio State, which remains alive in the Leaders division race entering November. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin sit 2.5 games behind division leader Penn State, which ends the season with trips to Columbus (Nov. 19) and Madison (Nov. 26).

Although the Buckeyes need help from the Nittany Lions -- and the NCAA's infractions committee, which likely will rule on Ohio State's case next month -- their once-improbable goal of reaching Indianapolis with a chance to continue a streak of Big Ten titles remains on the table.

"This is for this team, this is for this program, this is what we expect," Fickell said. "But it is that same thing. It's about confidence. It's about momentum. And you can learn and learn and learn from all different ways.

"But until you do it, there's no other way to learn it."

Wisconsin learned a tough lesson for the second consecutive week, as the Badgers once again saw a valiant comeback on the road go up in smoke in the final seconds. Considered the class of the Big Ten two weeks ago, Wisconsin now sits at 2-2 in league play, needing a lot of help to reach Indianapolis.

Like last week, the Badgers made uncharacteristic errors, including another blocked punt that led to an Ohio State touchdown. And yet they put themselves in position to win. They simply needed to stop a quarterback who hadn't thrown a 40-yard pass all season.

"It was another heartbreaking loss for us," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "... Our kids never quit. They're going to be tested in an unbelievable fashion after the last two weeks. I can't describe the feeling of having to face those guys after all they've put in."

The feeling inside the stadium was pure elation, as fans rushed the field to celebrate. The entire student section in the south end spilled onto the field.

Was Buckeye Nation waiting for this moment? After the past eight months, absolutely.

"We've faced so much adversity, whether it's on the field or off the field," said linebacker Andrew Sweat, who sealed the win by pressuring Wisconsin's Russell Wilson on the final play. "We didn't quit, where some people would think we would.

"We've gotten stronger as a team. We've gotten better. And we'll continue to get better."

Video: Ohio State's Andrew Sweat

October, 30, 2011
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Adam Rittenberg talks with Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat following the Buckeyes' 33-29 win over Wisconsin.

Video: Ohio State's Braxton Miller

October, 30, 2011
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Adam Rittenberg talks with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller following the Buckeyes' 33-29 win over Wisconsin.

Final: Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29

October, 29, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another week, another Saturday night thriller and for the Wisconsin Badgers, another deflating loss.

No Hail Mary heartbreak this time, but Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller spoiled the Badgers' furious comeback with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds remaining. Miller, who completed one pass all game Oct. 15 against Illinois, rolled to his right and released the ball just before crossing the line of scrimmage.

Wisconsin's defense left Smith wide open in the end zone, just as Ohio State's defense had left Jared Abbrederis open for a 49-yard score moments earlier. Two HUGE defensive breakdowns by two normally sound teams in the final minutes.

My goodness.

For the second consecutive week, Wisconsin mounted a dramatic comeback on the road in a raucous environment. The Badgers scored twice in the final 3:48. An Ohio State defense that had been so solid all night had a breakdown at the worst possible time, as safety Christian Bryant helped on the wrong receiver and left Abbrederis wide open.

But Miller rescued the defense and made the biggest play of his young career.

Ohio State's victory keeps its hopes alive in the Leaders division race and possibly ends Wisconsin's chances. The Badgers will have a tough time recovering from this one, which might be more painful than what happened last week in East Lansing.

Penn State is the only team unbeaten in Big Ten play and sits two games ahead of both Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions must still visit both Columbus and Madison.

3Q update: Buckeyes take lead

October, 29, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We've got a good one brewing here at Ohio Stadium, as Ohio State leads No. 15 Wisconsin 17-14 after three quarters.

Some quick thoughts:
  • Ohio State grabbed momentum right away as Dan Herron raced 57 yards on the first play of the third quarter. It's clear how much Herron means to Ohio State, both as a running back and as an inspirational leader. The Buckeyes' offensive line also has stepped up twice in goal-line situations.
  • How can Wisconsin have a punt blocked two weeks in a row? You know coach Bret Bielema emphasized punt protection after last week's disaster against Michigan State, and yet Wisconsin had another breakdown as Ohio State's Ryan Shazier raced in for the block. If Wisconsin falls short, it will once again look back on a special-teams disaster.
  • Wisconsin's offense seemed to gather itself late in the quarter after Ohio State's Jordan Hall fumbled a punt when the Buckeyes had all the momentum. The Badgers' offensive line hasn't been bad, but it needs to impose its will down the stretch against an Ohio State front four that has been brilliant, led by John Simon.
  • Ohio State needs to design easier passes for freshman QB Braxton Miller to execute. The Buckeyes get behind the chains too much and don't show the short to midrange passes that could help Miller get into a better rhythm.

Halftime: Wisconsin 7, Ohio State 3

October, 29, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Quick thoughts at halftime at Ohio Stadium, where Ohio State is giving No. 15 Wisconsin all it can handle.

Turning point: Wisconsin led 7-0 and faced third-and-1 from its own 26-yard line. Typically a formality given the Badgers' running backs and offensive line, Wisconsin failed to pick up the first down as S Christian Bryant stopped Montee Ball for no gain. Ohio State changed field position on the next possession and kept Wisconsin from doing much offensively.

Stat of the half: Wisconsin entered the game ranked eighth nationally in rushing (252.1 ypg). The Badgers have rushed for 200 yards in each of their previous six games. Ohio State held Wisconsin to only 10 rush yards on 12 carries in the first 30 minutes. John Simon and Adam Bellamy recorded sacks of Russell Wilson.

What Wisconsin needs to do: Rush. The. Football. It seems absurd to suggest for a Wisconsin team, but the Badgers' biggest strength has vanished tonight. Ohio State's defensive front has controlled the line of scrimmage extremely well. Wisconsin must get Ball and James White going and create more manageable down-and-distance situations. The defense has contained the big play well but must keep an eye on QB Braxton Miller, whose speed and elusiveness make him a threat to take off on every snap.

What Ohio State needs to do: The game plan is working well so far, as Ohio State has taken time off of the clock, stopped the run and kept Wisconsin's powerful offense off of the field. The Buckeyes must continue to clog the middle of the field and pressure Wilson, who looks a bit off his game and is having trouble extending plays like he typically does. Ohio State needs to start limiting the negative-yardage plays on offense and hit on some big gainers, as it's very difficult to keep Wisconsin out of the end zone for 60 minutes. It would also be good to call more high-percentage passes for Miller to throw.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some quick thoughts at the end of one quarter at The Shoe, as No. 15 Wisconsin leads Ohio State 7-0.
  • Wisconsin doesn't appear to have a hangover from its heartbreaking loss to Michigan State. The Badgers took the field with energy and avoided major lapses in the first 15 minutes. Russell Wilson, who finished the Michigan State game strong, completed 6 of 7 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
  • While Wilson gets most of the credit, junior running back Montee Ball is becoming the biggest difference-maker for Wisconsin's offense. The Badgers looked different with Ball on the field in East Lansing, and certainly lost something midway through the game with their top ball-carrier on the sideline. Ball made a terrific catch and run for a 22-yard touchdown on a pass thrown slightly behind him and nearly into the arms of Ohio State safety Christian Bryant.
  • After getting dominated at the line of scrimmage last year in Madison, Ohio State is doing a better job so far tonight. The defensive line has limited Ball and James White on between-the-tackles run and got a big stop on third-and-short to force a punt. Wisconsin had just 19 rush yards on eight carries in the quarter.
  • Ohio State already has matched its pass completions total (1) from the Illinois win on Oct. 15. The Buckeyes are opening things up more and giving Miller chances to air it out, but his first instinct often remains to run the ball. The freshman also isn't getting much help from his targets, as Corey Brown dropped a deep pass and Jake Stoneburner dropped what would have been a first-down strike on a crossing route.
  • Linebacker Mike Taylor and defensive end Brendan Kelly have stood out for Wisconsin's defense.

Wisconsin-Ohio State pregame

October, 29, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few notes from warmups here at The Shoe, as we get ready for No. 15 Wisconsin and Ohio State.
  • Ohio State running back/return man Jaamal Berry is dressed and went through warmups. Berry's status hasn't changed despite being named a suspect in an alleged assault last week and being sued by the victim. We'll see if Berry actually plays or not.
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and S Dezmen Southward, both of whom were banged up last week at Michigan State, went through warmups and don't appear to be limited.
  • Ohio State's throwback uniforms to honor its 1961 national championship team certainly have the retro look. They also look a little like pajamas. Anyone agree?

Video: Wisconsin-Ohio State preview

October, 29, 2011
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Adam Rittenberg previews the Wisconsin-Ohio State game from the Horseshoe.

It's game day at Ohio Stadium

October, 29, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greetings from The Shoe.

Ohio State hosts No. 15 on Homecoming night in a game that can't be understated for both teams. The weather is cool and the winds are calm. It should stay dry tonight.

Wisconsin must avoid a hangover after its heart-wrenching loss to Michigan State and prevent a second defeat that could knock the Big Ten preseason favorite out of the Leaders division race. Ohio State momentarily stopped the doom and gloom enveloping Luke Fickell and a beleaguered program with an Oct. 15 win at Illinois. Following a bye week, the Buckeyes can put themselves in the thick of the division race with a victory tonight.

Wisconsin beat Ohio State 31-18 last year in Madison en route to earning the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth. The Badgers won the game at the line of scrimmage, bullying Ohio State like few teams in recent memory. Once again, Wisconsin must win the battle up front, especially in the run game, which sizzled with junior Montee Ball last week against Michigan State but faces a formidable challenge up the middle with Buckeyes defensive tackles John Simon and Johnathan Hankins.

Ohio State's defense carried the team against Illinois and will need an even better performance tonight against Russell Wilson and the Big Ten's top scoring offense (47.4 ppg). But the big question for the Buckeyes is whether the offense can show greater variety after attempting just four passes and completing only one at Illinois. Coordinator Jim Bollman has had two weeks to work with quarterback Braxton Miller, and you should expect to see some wrinkles with the Buckeyes' offensive scheme. This is also a big opportunity for Wisconsin's defense, which struggled to contain Michigan State's perimeter speed last week.

Special teams loomed large in last year's game, as David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a lead it never relinquished. The Badgers must rebound in the kicking game after enduring several breakdowns against Michigan State.

This is a big moment for both head coaches. Ohio State's Luke Fickell is fairly or unfairly coaching for his future and needs a strong finish and some signature wins to impress his bosses. While I believe Fickell has handled an extremely difficult situation well, the bottom line always is wins and losses, especially at a program like Ohio State.

Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, meanwhile, must show he can get his team recharged after the most deflating loss of his head-coaching career. Bielema's record at Camp Randall Stadium speaks for itself, but a second consecutive road loss with an extremely talented team will raise some doubts.

Bottom line: We'll know a lot more about the Leaders division race after tonight's game.

Don't even think about going anywhere. This is the place to be for coverage throughout the night.

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