Reality was worse than anybody's imagination, though, as the 15th-ranked Badgers limited the 18th-ranked Buckeyes to 224 yards and just two field goals offensively in a 24-13 whitewash before 105,090, the fifth-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history. The loss snapped OSU's 18-game home winning streak.
The only highlights for Ohio State (3-2, 0-2) were a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown by freshman Ted Ginn Jr. and a 55-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. The Buckeyes had a pair of costly turnovers, one that probably denied the Buckeyes points and another that led to Wisconsin's game clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"Wisconsin is a good football team," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We needed to be the ones with the 2-0 turnover margin and also have the punt return if we were going to beat that group. There was no way we were going to survive if we turned it over a couple of times and couldn't establish our offense. We didn't do a good job of keeping them off the field in the second half."
The Badgers (6-0, 3-0) enjoyed a 36:29-23:31 time of possession advantage over the course of the game. After grabbing a 14-13 halftime lead, Wisconsin held the ball for over 21 minutes in the pivotal second half.
"We have been fortunate and we have played well," said UW coach Barry Alvarez on his team's recent success – three straight victories – in Ohio Stadium. "It's nothing more than that. My guys have played well. We have been really fortunate to find a way to win. Our guys will fight. They are not going to fold their tents when we fall behind."
Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco, largely untested to date, hit on 15 of 24 passes for 168 yards with two touchdowns for the Badgers (6-0, 3-0). Tailback Anthony Davis added 168 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries.
"(Davis) is a good player, but that passing game was the difference," Tressel said. "If you give it (Davis) 40 times, you know he is going to average 4 yards a carry. But their passing game was very efficient. They came up with a couple of big third downs. They would not have been as successful without them."
For Ohio State, sophomore quarterback Justin Zwick endured a rough day against UW's stingy defense. He was 15 of 31 passing for 125 yards. OSU ended up with 99 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
Tressel was asked about Zwick's play.
"It wasn't good enough for us to win," he said. "I thought we had some open things that we needed to it."
But the coach said he never thought about using backup Troy Smith.
"Yeah, that was the right thing to do, at least in my opinion," Tressel said of his decision to stick with Zwick.
The teams traded possessions twice without getting a first down. OSU forced a Wisconsin punt from the Badgers 16. UW's Kenneth DeBauche hit a long line drive punt, which Ginn fielded at the OSU 35-yard line. He went right and broke a tackle attempt by UW's Jason Pociask. Ginn then put it in high gear and headed down the left sideline to complete the 65-yard touchdown return and put OSU up 7-0 with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
"That was one of the things we felt we had to do to win the game," Tressel said of Ginn's return. "We felt we would have to come up with some special teams plays. At that moment, that was a huge spark for us. Teddy is going to be a good player here."
Late in the first quarter, OSU drove to the Wisconsin 30. But on first down there, Zwick hit Roy Hall with a pass in the left flat. UW's Brett Bell hit him to force a fumble, which skitted right to UW's Anttaj Hawthorne at the Badgers 31 with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
But the Buckeyes were able to force a punt and took over on their own 29. On first down there, Zwick dropped and faked a pass right, then handed the ball back to Antonio Pittman on a modified Statue of Liberty play. Pittman rolled down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain down to the Wisconsin 28.
Zwick gained 3 yards on first down before Pittman was stopped for no gain. A third down incompletion set the stage for Nugent's 42-yard field goal, which pushed the lead to 10-0 with 11:34 left in the first half.
Wisconsin's Brandon Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards, setting up his team's five-play, 54-yard scoring march. Davis started it with a pair of 6-yard runs, followed by Stocco's 9-yard pass to Matt Bernstein. Bernstein's 2-yard run gave UW a first down at the OSU 31. There, Davis went left, broke a pair of tackles and was gone on a 31-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 10-7 with 9:00 left in the first half.
The Badgers grabbed the lead on their next possession, moving 78 yards in a brisk seven plays. Stocco found Pociask for a 19-yard gain and then hit a wide open Owen Daniels for 31 more. A pass interference penalty on OSU's Ashton Youboty gave the Badgers a first down at the OSU 9. Finally, on third-and-goal at the 8, Stocco threw the fade to Darrin Charles. He went up over OSU's E.J. Underwood and hauled in the touchdown to put the Badgers up 14-10 with 3:30 left in the half.
Ohio State put together a nine-play, 30-yard march to end the half. OSU was actually in business with a first down at the Wisconsin 39 after Ross made a nice play on a 12-yard screen pass from Zwick. But on first down there, OSU guard Mike Kne was flagged for a holding penalty. Zwick got 11 yards back with a screen pass to Holmes. But when he was only able to get down to the 38 after a third-down scramble, OSU called timeout with five seconds left to set up a Nugent field goal.
Nugent came on and nailed a 55-yard field goal to close Wisconsin's halftime lead to 14-13. The kick matched Nugent's career long from the Marshall game and also gave him an OSU record 60 made field goals in his career. (Dan Stultz had the old record with 59.)
Wisconsin extended its lead to 17-13 with a 13-play, 72-yard march to open the half. The Badgers were aided by an inadvertent whistle when it appeared that Davis had fumbled and OSU's A.J. Hawk recovered. The use of instant replay showed that Davis had fumbled. But the officials ruled they had blown the play dead before Hawk's recovery.
"I asked E.J. Underwood and he said he stripped it," Hawk said. "I don't know what the rules are, but it doesn't matter. We had to stop them after that and we didn't do it."
With the ball back in his hands, Stocco hit Daniels for a 23-yard gain over OSU's soft zone coverage. He then found Charles for a 12-yard gain and a first down at the OSU 10. But the Buckeyes held and UW's Mike Allen hit a 26-yard field goal to make it 17-13 Wisconsin with 8:43 left in the third quarter.
Tressel joined Hawk in saying the officials' decision against OSU was not a major factor in the outcome.
"I don't know," Tressel said. "That was irrelevant. Once it was over, we still needed to stop them. We still needed to score some touchdowns and we didn't get that done. We are kidding ourselves if we say that was some type of turning point in the game or the difference."
That 17-13 score stood until early in the fourth quarter, when Santonio Holmes fumbled a UW punt and UW's Scott Starks recovered it at the Ohio State 17. On third-and-4 at the 11, Stocco looked into the end zone and found a diving Jonathan Orr in the back left corner of the end zone for the easy touchdown and a 24-13 lead with 10:41 left in the game. Orr had broken 10 yards free of safety Nate Salley.
"The second touchdown was as great a catch as I've ever seen," Stocco said. "Jonathan got good separation from his defender but I threw a pass which was a little off. He came out and stretched out to make a great catch. That play could not come at a better time."
Wisconsin got the ball back after an OSU punt with 5:03 left on its own 17 and held it all the way down to 35 seconds left, when OSU got it back on its own 12-yard line.
* Upon the final gun, it appeared that one or more Wisconsin players tried to stomp on OSU's Block O in the middle of the field. But a gaggle of OSU players backed them off that position. There was some shoving and pushing for about a minute before cooler heads prevailed.
"I didn't see anything," said OSU's Bam Childress. "There were a bunch of big guys in front of me."
Defensive end Simon Fraser added, "That's something their coaches will have to deal with. We did our best to handle the situation with class."
* Linebacker A.J. Hawk tallied a career-high 20 tackles, while safety Donte Whitner had a career-high 17.
* The OSU marching band played a tribute to Orlas King, the Neutron Man, who died earlier this week. The band played "Neutron Dance" in King's honor between the third and fourth quarters.
* OSU is 0-2 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1992.
* Ohio State saw its 18-game home winning streak snapped. OSU's last home loss was to Illinois in 2001. The Buckeyes are now 22-3 at home under Jim Tressel. OSU's winning streak was the second longest active streak behind Boise State (22).
The Buckeyes won 25 straight home games between 1972-76.
* OSU lost consecutive games for the first time in Tressel's three-plus years as the OSU coach.
* Wisconsin won for the third straight time in Columbus, joining Michigan and Illinois as the only Big Ten teams to win three straight games at OSU. Michigan won four straight in Columbus between 1901-08 and three straight on four occasions (1922-26, 1946-50, 1976-80 and 1986-90). Illinois won four in a row in Columbus between 1988-94.
* OSU still holds an all-time edge of 50-17-5 against Wisconsin, including 27-7-3 in Columbus.
* The Buckeyes visit Iowa (3-2, 1-1) next week for a 3:30 p.m. game (ABC). Iowa was idle Saturday.
"We just need to keep improving as a team and forget about these games," Nugent said. "Things just aren't going our way and we have to get better. Iowa is the next step. We need to rebound and play hard, regardless of who the team is."