Game Day Grades: Ohio State

MADISON – The rankings may say differently, but Saturday night's 31-18 Wisconsin victory was no upset. The Badgers out muscled, out played and simply picked apart No.1 Ohio State, wrecking the Buckeyes' national championship hopes and giving UW a signature victory. Badger Nation Publisher Benjamin Worgull gives his grades.


Scott Tolzien maintained that Saturday's game wasn't about revenge and that there was no extra motivation after last season's costly two interception performance against these very Buckeyes. His performance Saturday showed that he spoke the truth.

Tolzien played a methodical, patient game, didn't try to do too much and was his usual efficient self. As a result, the Wisconsin offense thrived, averaging 5.7 yards per play.

"Everyone knew it was going to be a four quarter game and that's why you work so hard in the off season and in the weight room," Tolzien said. "To give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter and finish the game off in the fourth quarter."

Tolzien didn't throw any touchdowns and only had 152 passing yards, but he completed his first five passes and 6 of his final 7, including some big plays down the stretch. After Ohio State cut the lead to 21-18, Tolzien, facing a third-and-3 and his own 34, hit Toon on a sideline route for 20 yards. It was a redemption pass, as he failed to connect with White on a check down route the previous play.

After the Buckeyes gambled with a punt, Tolzien and the offense stayed aggressive, hitting a wide-open Pedersen for a 33-yard gain. That drive ended up killing 2 minutes, 21 seconds off the clock and adding a field goal.

Tolzien's only bugaboo was his failure to see OSU's Andrew Sweat on a crossing route over the middle, resulting in an interception that was return to the UW 23. The throw ended UW's turnover-free streak at four games, but a defensive stand didn't cost the Badgers any point.

A great win for Tolzien after last season, but next week brings a team that he threw three picks against last year, losing a very winnable game. The fifth-year senior will need a similar effort in Iowa City.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

This might be the easiest no brainer all season. Wisconsin's offensive line simply outworked Ohio State's defensive front, allowing junior John Clay and freshman James White to run with ease. Ohio State hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the previous 29 games and nearly allowed two in Camp Randall.

John Clay rushed 21 times for 104 yards and two scores while White rushed 17 times for 75 yards and a score. Between them, they only lose two yards rushing and were the main catalysts on a 19-play, 89-yard drive that sucked up 10:04 in the first half and a 10-play, 73-drive in the second that iced the game.

"We got our butts kicked," OSU senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.

Yeah you did, and it was amazing to watch. Clay's first score was a credit, as was his head (shaving the numbers of his offensive line into hair), to the guys up front. A handoff between the tackles, Clay was untouched as he scored UW's first offensive touchdown. Under than one or two plays, Clay never danced around in the backfield, squaring his shoulders and running straight ahead.

Clay's second touchdown was physical (leaping over the pile from one-yard out), but White's touchdown was a thing of beauty, running left and cutting back inside to make two Ohio State defenders look very foolish.

"I just knew that if the coaches were going to put me in there, they were going to be counting on me," White said. "I just went out there with a full head of steam, read my blockers and followed my o-line because they had been blocking well for me all game."

A fantastic performance and one that will be needed against this week against a front seven that is even better that the Buckeyes.

"We know what we can do when we get the ball moving," Clay said.

Grade: A+

Wide Receivers

That's the Nick Toon we've been expecting. Toon looked phenomenal during fall camp, running crisp routes, catching everything that came his way and never shied away from contact. After his turf toe injury, fans were waiting for the old Toon to return. Finally getting his confidence back to snuff, Toon was electric.

With Lance Kendricks limited to no catches because of cramping issues, Toon handled the majority of the work, catching six passes for 72 yards (both team highs) and came up big in all the right situations.

"He was huge," Bielema said. "That bubble play was big for us last week and big for us this week. I like to play physical football and I really thought Nick delivered some blows when he was able to lower the shoulder and run. He was playing with some energy. The Nick I saw in fall camp is the Nick you are seeing now."

When Ohio State cut the lead to three, Wisconsin stayed aggressive in its play calling, coming out throwing on the first four plays of the next drive. On third-and-3 at the start of that drive, Tolzien and Toon made their biggest connection, a 20-yard sideline pass that moved the chains and started the shift of momentum back to the UW sidelines. One play later, Toon caught a pass for nine yards and the Badgers were inside the OSU 40.

There were other key catches, as well. Jacob Pedersen made the longest catch of the day at 33 yards when he slipped through coverage on UW's final drive and UW leading 28-18. Needing to get out of hostile territory, Tolzien scrambled out of trouble and the redshirt freshman made his biggest catch of his career, getting UW to the OSU 35 and setting UW up for a field goal.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line

Defensive end J.J. Watt recorded three tackles for loss including a pair of sacks on the day. He leads the Badgers with 11.5 tackles for loss on the year. Watt's biggest play, arguably, was the sack on third-and-9 after Tolzien's interception. That play moved OSU just far enough to make Devin Barclay miss a 45-yard field goal. Is anybody surprised that he came into the interview room with a huge bloody gash on his nose?

"I can't put into words what he does or what he brings to the table on a daily basis," Bielema said. "He's a really fun kid to be around."

The defensive line needed other players to step up and apply pressure in over for Wisconsin to be effective. Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge couldn't have been happier with the production. Freshman walk-on Ethan Hemer added four tackles, Patrick Butrym had three tackles, Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert and Beau Allen each had two tackles and Pat Muldoon had a tackle for loss.

As impressive as the defensive line was, they were huge on two defensive series in the first half. Ohio State got a first down inside the UW 3, and the Badgers held them to a field goal. The other was Watt's sack and the missed field goal.

"We know they have a great offense and can hit big plays quickly," Watt said. "After that interception, we had to shut them down. When they got inside the 20, we had to shut them down. Those are the types of things you have to do to beat a No.1 football team, and that's what we did."

Grade: A


Mike Taylor left the game in the first half following a collision on punt coverage and did not return after suffering a soft tissue injury. The Badgers hardly missed him.

Although down a linebacker with Chris Borland out, the Badgers got a huge contribution from senior Blake Sorensen. Sorensen has done yeoman's work for the Badgers throughout his career, having played all three linebacker positions, and was rewarded with a career-high 10 tackles and the game-clinching interception in the final minutes.

"He's done a really nice job in our program," Bielema said. "He's played all positions, thrust into the mix even further now and a full-time starter. He's another nice example of what we're all about."

The Badgers also needed help from Kevin Claxton, who is still growing as a linebacker after playing the two previous years as a defensive back. Claxton bit on a fake during the two-point conversion, but that was the only noticeable problem. He played sound all game, finishing with six tackles.

"He's a kid that came in as a safety, played linebacker and then he's thrust into the environment after Mike Taylor got injured," Bielema said of Claxton. "He came up big for us."

Culmer St. Jean has been solid all season and was against the Buckeyes, registering seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, and freshman Conor O'Neill chipped in during a time of need.

Although the unit bent in the second half, allowing Dan Herron rushing touchdowns of 13 and 1, capping drives of 4:48 and 9:56, respectively, the unit held the Buckeyes to only 37 total yards on their final 14 plays. Herron finished with 91 yards on 19 carries and Pryor finished with 56 total yards, keeping UW's impressive rushing mark over the last two seasons intact.

Grade: A-


With the publicity Pryor was getting, Aaron Henry felt disrespects that nobody was talking about UW's secondary. They are now, so how can the Badgers handle prosperity, especially with the quarterback they'll face this week. First things first, Pryor was a combined 18-for-32 passing for 231 yards, while rushing 25 times for only 55 yards in his first two starts against Wisconsin, but had two key drives that killed the Badgers in both games.

Pryor had those drives in the second half, but had little else working for him, finishing 14-for-28 for 156 yards and no touchdowns.

"I cannot say enough about the play of the back seven," Watt said. "They were unbelievable, covering their receivers. Ohio State has some of the best skill players in the nation. Our guys did an unbelievable job staying with them and giving us opportunities to get sacks and pressure up front."

Aaron Henry delivered multiple big hits and would have forced a couple incompletions if Dane Sanzenbacher did have glue for hands. Niles Brinkley was opportunistic in coverage with two pass breakups and Antonio Fenelus was phenomenal with six tackles and a pass breakup.

Grade: A

Special Teams

This might be a rarity, but I don't know when I will ever be able to give the unit a higher grade.

The impact of David Gilreath's kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game couldn't be measured. It was the first kickoff returned for a score since Lee Evans in 2000, the first opening kickoff returned for a score since Fred Owens did the feet in October 1989 and is tied for the fourth-longest return in school history.

Gilreath, who a couple of weeks ago was thought to have fielded his last kickoff or punt after the nasty concussion, now has 2,677 career kickoff return yards, taking over the Big Ten lead for career kickoff return yards.

"He's been one of those guys where he's been one tackle, one arm break or read to take one," Bielema said. "That play we ran in the opening kickoff, he was excited about it all week."

Added Sorensen: "That was huge. Opening up a game with a kick return for a touchdown gave us a lot of confidence."

Kudos on that play also to fullback Bradie Ewing, who was Gilreath's lead on the play and made a devastating block at the UW 31 to spring the senior. Speaking of blocking, freshman Manasseh Garner knifed through resistance to make three special teams tackles on Saturday. The kid is an athletic freak.

And speaking of freaks, nobody has talked about Kyle Wojta since he was given a scholarship in fall camp. There had been no snapping problems all season long, which was why Wojta wanted to snap in the game Saturday … after he tore his ACL in practice Tuesday. Incredible.

"He was not going to be denied the opportunity to snap," Bielema said. "Believe me, no one in the stadium knew our second string snapper was going to be on that punt team and he (James McGuire) delivered a strike. Wojta actually snapped on PAT field goals and was perfect on the day."

Philip Welch was only needed to kick a couple extra points and boot a 41-yard insurance field goal and Brad Nortman punted only twice, registering a 50.5 average and placing one inside the 20. A special day from start to finish.

Grade: A+

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