“We’ve been waiting for this for four years,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “It means so much to me to be able to do this with these senior guys.”
The Ohio State seniors struggled to a 6-7 record their first year before reeling off 24 straight wins. That streak felt hollow, however, when it came to a close last season. The 2012 team was ineligible for the postseason and last year’s squad fell in the Big Ten Championship game to Michigan State. The 42nd win for the Buckeyes’ senior class validated all that had come before it.
“It’s truly special,” tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “Your senior year, being a captain, this is what you set out to do at the beginning of the year and we accomplished it and that’s truly special. I can’t thank these guys enough on this team and this coaching staff for putting in so much work and getting us here.”
The seniors did plenty of work Saturday night. Bennett was constantly in the Badgers backfield, recording two sacks, four tackles for loss and forcing two fumbles. Devin Smith hauled in four catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Doran Grant had two interceptions.
The 59-0 beatdown took more than just the effort of the 20 seniors on the Buckeyes roster, however, and the younger players were motivated to send their leaders out with a championship.
“I love the seniors, I love all those guys,” redshirt freshman cornerback Eli Apple said. “They’re maybe the best group of seniors in Ohio State history right now, man. We just made it a mission as underclassmen – because we’re a young team – to play hard for them. It’s a great feeling.”
Junior linebacker Joshua Perry grew up in central Ohio and said that he knew Ohio State players were defined by championships. Getting one for the seniors and adding the most important piece to their otherwise impressive four years was atop his priority list this season.
“There was a lot of talk about that,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of great things, they’ve won a lot of games and they really didn’t have too much to show for it. We wanted to send them out right.”
Bennett, who played one of his best games as a Buckeye while delivering his first multiple-sack game of the season in the year’s biggest game, said that the support of Ohio State’s younger players was not something that the seniors took for granted.
“All these young guys that have contributed and take it seriously, you don’t see that in every program where the young guys look up to the seniors and respect them the way our young guys do,” Bennett said. “That just means a lot to me because it shows how close this team is and how much we care about each other.”
Winning a title wasn’t just special to the star seniors like Bennett, as every four year player felt the absence of a title weighing over them prior to Saturday’s game, each one of them relieved and elated that they are finally able to call themselves a champion.
Joel Hale has rarely seen the field this season. The senior was injured in the Kent State game and didn’t feel fully healthy the rest of the year. Hale didn’t see the field Saturday either, but he still found a way to contribute to a championship in his final Big Ten game, speaking to the team in the center of the pregame huddle.
“I had a lot bottled up today,” he said. “I was just talking about the seniors and how we haven't had the opportunity to do it and today was that time. I said a lot of things. I probably blacked out in the midst of it, but I was pretty pumped up. That's what it's about. It's about the whole team and everything, but whenever you are in a tradition-rich program, it's about sending the seniors out the right way, and I feel we did that today."