But a pair of breakdowns in the final five minutes spelled defeat for the Buckeyes as the Badgers snapped OSU's 19-game winning streak with a 17-10 win Saturday night in Madison.
The Badgers came into the game averaging 222.5 yards per game rushing, good for second in the Big Ten and ninth nationally. On a rainy night, OSU held the Badgers to 141 yards rushing on 48 attempts.
"Wisconsin does a great job running the football," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "They have an excellent plan and that was one thing that concerned me. I didn't think we had, with our situation in the preseason, given our guys much of a look at the run as we needed. We played five games where there was very little against the run. I was concerned that this was our first test and especially because it was against the likes of a Wisconsin.
"But I thought our guys did a solid job there. They just needed a little bit more help from the offense and special teams side."
It should be noted that UW was not at full strength. Starting tailback Anthony Davis missed the game with an ankle injury. Backup Dwayne Smith, also suffering from an injury, tried to go as well. He had just five carries for minus-1 yard before going to the bench. Third-team back Booker Stanley found some success, though, carrying 31 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. Stanley helped put the game away with a 24-yard run for a first down with 1:30 left.
"They found a few gaps," said OSU defensive tackle Tim Anderson. "I know we had some missed tackles. You've got to make good tackles if you're going to stop the run."
Stanley's run followed backup quarterback Matt Schabert's 79-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans. That score, with just 5:20 left, proved to be the margin of victory.
OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio discussed the defensive effort.
"We had a chance to step up there at the end and we didn't get it done, so we're disappointed," Dantonio said. "There were some situations where we think we didn't play very well. Certainly, give Wisconsin a lot of credit in what they did. Our guys played hard. I'm proud of the way our guys played. They hung in there and had a chance to win it at the end. We just didn't get it done.
"These players have won 19 straight games. They've won a lot of close games, just like this. But today we came up short. I'm very proud of our players and their effort and toughness. I thought they were pretty resilient in coming back."
Schabert Steps Up
UW starting quarterback Jim Sorgi left the game early in the third quarter after he appeared to be choked by OSU linebacker Robert Reynolds. Junior Matt Schabert replaced Sorgi and helped lead the Badgers to victory.
Schabert ended up 2 of 3 passing for 90 yards, including the long Evans touchdown, and also carried three times for 16 yards.
"He came in and stepped up when Sorgi was knocked out of the game," said OSU defensive end Will Smith, who notched a pair of sacks. "He came in and made some big plays. They're goal was to come in and run over us and I think we shut them down. But they did kind of hit us with the pass.
"They made a big play in the fourth quarter on us and they got the win. They did some things effectively against us. Obviously, everybody is mad. We came in expecting to win. Everybody is down, but we've got to move on."
Ohio State had just tied the game at 10-10 on Craig Krenzel's 6-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins with 6:09 left. That score was set up by Drew Carter's leaping, diving grab of a 46-yard pass from Krenzel.
But just two plays into the next series, Wisconsin -- which only threw 10 passes all night -- connected on a deep ball of its own. OSU cornerback Chris Gamble had Evans, who had not caught a pass all night, in single coverage. The receiver started his route by running an out pattern. Gamble, who has made a career by jumping the out, made that move.
It proved costly as Evans turned upfield near the sideline. He was several steps behind Gamble, who had no help from safety Will Allen, who was playing more toward the middle of the field. Evans hauled in the perfect Schabert pass and rolled for the game-winning score.
"That was just good execution on their part," Tressel said. "It looks like to me that we bit on the double move. Lee is great at those and they executed."
Dantonio added, "I'm sure he bit on the out trying to make a play. He's made a lot of plays for us. We have to give them a little credit. Their backup quarterback threw the ball on the money and he hit it.
"Obviously, they had confidence in him. It was either going to be a long foul ball or a great play. It ended up being a great play."
OSU cornerback Dustin Fox said the out-and-up move was not a surprise from the Badgers, even if defending it can be difficult.
"We knew they had it in their game plan," Fox said. "Against Akron, they ran the double pattern and that day it went for a 99-yard touchdown.
"It happens, man, it really does. As a cornerback, it is a tough to play a double pattern. You have to be really disciplined and sometimes they get you. I remember last year, I got burnt on a double pattern against Illinois. That's not something you want to remember, but something you want to learn from and use as a motivation to get better for the rest of the season."
Following a holding penalty, OSU had to punt the ball back to Wisconsin with 3:27 left. B.J. Sander, who put four of his seven punts down inside the 20, pinned UW back on its own 6-yard line.
But things started to unravel for the Buckeyes. On first down, defensive end Simon Fraser made contact across the line before the snap for an offsides penalty. That gave UW first-and-5. The Badgers' first two plays netted 3 yards, leaving a third-and-2 with just 2:56 left.
After each team called a timeout, Schabert helped put the game away. Instead of handing off -- which UW had done in similar late-game, short-yardage situations before -- he kept the ball on a bootleg around left end. He slid inbounds after a 6-yard gain, giving Wisconsin a new set of downs with 2:51 left.
"We still had a chance at the end of the game if we make the right call and come off the edge and we didn't make the right call," Dantonio said. "They ran the bootleg with him, which was a good call. It was third-and-2. We thought the fullback would get it because that's what they've usually done."
OSU was now out of timeouts. Had they held UW without a first down on the next series, they might have forced a punt and gotten the ball back with 30 seconds left. But Stanley's last big run sealed OSU's fate as well as its winning streak.
Afterwards, Dantonio praised Schabert for a job well done.
"He came in and made a couple of plays," Dantonio said. "Obviously, he hit the out-and-up. You have to give him a lot of credit. We say all the time you've got to play to win and play to the moment and he certainly came in and did a nice job for them."