Nerves were running high in the second half of Ohio State's game against visiting Wisconsin on Nov. 3, 2007.
The Badgers came to Ohio Stadium having won the last three meetings between OSU and UW in Columbus, a fact that was brought up often by players and coaches in the week leading up to the game. So it would come as no surprise if those in attendance were thinking back to the past when the visitors rallied to take a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.
Instead of repeating history, the Buckeyes immediately marched 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown, forced a three-and-out on defense and then found the end zone again to take the lead for good. Ohio State prevailed, 38-17, behind 28 unanswered points.
It was a passed test for the Buckeyes, playing against the toughest defense they had faced so far and overcoming the adversity of having to rally in the second half.
"I think adversity helps a team and helps an individual," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "A lot of the training that these guys do is adversity. It tests them. A lot of the practice that they do tests them. You get in the games and (momentum) swings, that tests you and it helps you grow to understand what it's going to take, and we'll have a better understanding of what it's going to take to win the Big Ten after today which will help us going into next Saturday."
Ohio State's rally was tied to its running game. After being more pass-heavy in the first half, the Buckeyes went to the ground when times got tough. Chris "Beanie" Wells took advantage of lines opened up by the offensive line and piled up 143 yards in the second half after gaining only 26 in the first two quarters.
"The thing about running the ball is running the ball takes the will away from a defense," right tackle Kirk Barton said. "You can pass the ball all day but that doesn't demoralize a team the way that pounding them does. If you keep pounding them and you get big chunks of 8, 10, 30 yards, you get those chunks and then they're looking around wondering what's going on.
"Pounding the ball energizes the entire team, and Beanie ran well and our coaches called some great plays," Barton said.
The game started well for Ohio State. The Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for their first touchdown in less than three minutes. Todd Boeckman took advantage of a Wisconsin defense committed to stopping the run. The quarterback threw on six of the seven plays in the drive, including a 30-yard scoring strike to Brian Robiskie.
Wisconsin answered with a 21-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff before the game became a defensive struggle. Neither team scored again until late in the second quarter when OSU added a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Pretorius.
The Badgers mounted their rally after the halftime break. Quarterback Tyler Donovan connected with Travis Beckum on a crossing pattern at the back of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown. Following a three-and-out for OSU's offense, Wisconsin then took the lead behind a 2-yard touchdown pass from Donovan to fullback Chris Pressley.
The Pressley touchdown silenced the crowd of 105,449, but the Buckeyes used the score as a wake-up call. Ohio State drove down the field on the ensuing possession in 10 plays, capped by a 31-yard touchdown by Wells on a cutback run. The Buckeyes forced a three-and-out on defense before taking the lead for good. Ohio State started from the Wisconsin 49 and quickly drove for the go-ahead score. It was Wells again reaching the end zone, this time on a 30-yard run.
Wisconsin attempted a fake punt after another three-and-out, but the play failed. That gave OSU another short field, which led to another touchdown four plays later. Boeckman found Robiskie for an 8-yard strike.
Wells added a 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
The defense did it job in the win, limiting Wisconsin – playing without tailback P.J. Hill – to only 12 net yards rushing and recording a season-high 10 sacks. Junior defensive end Vernon Gholson had a school record-tying four sacks, matching the efforts of Jason Simmons against Washington State in 1991 and Bobby Carpenter against Michigan State in 2005.
The win continued the Buckeyes' school-record regular season winning streak (28 games), broke a Big Ten record for consecutive conference wins (20) and snapped the three-game skid at home against Wisconsin.
The second-half rally may have also saved the season.
"Well, I mean, our season was on the line," Barton said. "We've already had a one-loss team last year. We don't want another one."