Ohio State's defense did not play all that poorly in the 24-13 loss to Wisconsin.
The Badgers were the beneficiaries of a few bad calls by the officials, as well as a costly turnover by the Buckeyes, and were able to capitalize on the situations.
Overall, Wisconsin finished with 344 yards of total offense. The Badgers pounded out 184 yards on the ground (only 3.8 per carry) and accumulated 160 passing yards.
Tailback Anthony Davis carried 39 times for 176 yards (4.3 per carry). He picked up a lot of yards late when the Badgers were content to run out the clock.
Quarterback John Stocco was 15 of 24 passing, for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Both TD grabs were excellent diving catches by Wisconsin's receivers. The first was an eight-yard TD from Darrin Charles and the dagger was a 10-yard grab from Jonathan Orr, which was set up by a Santonio Holmes fumble on a punt return.
"They were efficient in their pass game and came up with some spectacular catches and some key third down catches," OSU head coach Tressel said. "It was just well done. When you're efficient with your pass game and can still just pound it in there, that makes for a pretty good offense."
The Buckeyes did a good job stopping the run in the first half. But Wisconsin was able to get a lead and its offense got better and better as the game progressed.
"We wanted to come in and stop the run and we did that effectively for the most part," OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "We wanted to make them pass the ball and they did. For the most part, we were pretty effective stopping the pass, they just made big plays – great catches with our guys right on them."
Wisconsin played well and the Buckeyes can't blame the loss on the officials. But two bad calls in particular clearly shifted the momentum in favor of the Badgers.
In the second quarter, with OSU leading 10-7, Ashton Youboty made a nice play to break up a pass in the end zone, but was flagged for pass interference. Youboty turned around and played the ball, but the poor call gave the Badgers a first and goal at OSU's nine. They quickly cashed it in for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead (with 3:20 left in the half) when Charles beat E.J. Underwood for a score on a fade route.
Mike Nugent's 55-yard field goal brought the Bucks back to within 14-13 at halftime, but Wisconsin was still feeling good heading into the locker room with a lead.
Then, the true turning point of the game occurred on the first drive of the second half.
Davis clearly fumbled the ball and it was recovered by OSU's A.J. Hawk. However, the officials were a little bit confused and asked for replay after ruling Davis was down when he fumbled.
During the replay, the field official's telephone conversation with the replay technician was accidentally played over the intercom in the press box. At first, they were going to give the ball to Ohio State. Then, the unexpected happened. The official said to the replay technician, "We're going to go with an inadvertent whistle and give the ball back to Wisconsin." He didn't say, "there was" an inadvertent whistle, he just said they were going to go with that.
If there was an inadvertent whistle, the play would have never been replayed in the first place. It sounded like the officials chose to take the easy way out and "claim" the play was blown dead.
Instead of the Buckeyes getting the ball at the UW 35, Wisconsin drove down and kicked a field goal for a 17-13 lead. Say whatever you want, but it was the turning point of the game.
"Yeah, anytime you get a fumble or a turnover and they take it away, obviously it hurts," Carpenter said. "We still held them to a field goal on that drive – we didn't quit. But we would have liked to get the ball back for our offense on their 35 so we could go down and score."
Jay Richardson agreed that "the fumble that wasn't" was the key to Wisconsin getting momentum in the second half.
"We all knew we got it and the whole review process is installed for us to be able to look at that and say, ‘That's our ball.' It didn't work out for us, but we've got to bounce back. It was a little heartbreaking. It was kind of upsetting," Richardson said.
Hawk is never one to offer excuses and downplayed Davis's fumble.
"I don't know exactly how that replay works, but for us as a defense we know if it doesn't go in your favor, you've got to come back and respond and that's what we didn't do," he said. "Tonight, we didn't execute when we had some adversity. It was a bad call, but you have to respond."
The Buckeyes still had a chance to win, but Wisconsin's offense received its final gift of the game when Holmes muffed a punt in the fourth quarter deep in Ohio State territory.
Orr's touchdown catch gave the Badgers a 24-13 lead and it was good night Columbus from there.
"It's kind of hard to swallow," Carpenter said. "A lot of the guys are upset about it, especially on the defense. We came out and fought hard today and now we'll see how good we really are. We'll see what we're made of."
The loss spoiled a wonderful game from Hawk who racked up 20 tackles (8 solo). Strong safety Donte Whitner added 17 tackles and free safety Nate Salley had 12. It's obviously not a good sign when safeties combine for 29 tackles.
Early on, it looked like the Buckeyes' defense had a solid game plan and were able to stop the Badgers. But things changed as Wisconsin was the team that made better adjustments.
"I think in the second half they just completed a couple nice balls and just did stuff like that and really had a two-dimensional type of offense," Hawk said. "They could run the ball and pass and when an offense can do that to you, it's tough to stop."
Anthony Schlegel started his first game in a Buckeye uniform and played well. The junior middle linebacker finished with nine tackles (2 solo). He was starting in place of Mike D'Andrea, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
"You lose a guy like Mike D'Andrea it really hurts," Carpenter said. "Really, we only have three linebackers with game experience."
Richardson, who played well after a tough game against Northwestern, was asked point blank if the defense is frustrated with the way its performing.
"We're trying not to get frustrated, I'll put it that way," he said. "We're just trying to do the best we can. We let them move the ball on us and we can't let that happen. And we didn't get any turnovers today. One of our goals before games is to get three turnovers and we didn't get any. We've got to hold up our end of the bargain."
The sophomore defensive end felt the defense played hard, it just wasn't good enough to win.
"Our game plan coming in was just intensity," Richardson said. "Play with heart. We knew our backs were against the wall and we wanted to come out and give it everything we got and leave it on the field and I thought we did that defensively."