A year ago, Wisconsin students rushed the field in euphoria following a 31-13 victory over No.1 Ohio State. Eight days ago, Wisconsin sat fourth in the human polls, sixth in the BCS and was in near perfect position to make a run for the school's first national championship.
Two weeks, two late touchdown passes and two historic collapses later, it's an entire 180 turn for the worse.
No.12 Wisconsin walked off the field after true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller pulled out their hearts with a 40-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Devin Smith that proved to be the difference in a 33-29 Ohio State victory, another shocking outcome for a team that has seen everything spiral out of control.
"You really can't (put it into words)," said linebacker Mike Taylor, who set a career-high with 22 tackles. "I mean, back-to-back weeks lose to basically a Hail Mary pass, a hopeful pass, and for those guys to come with it … After last week, you think you have seen it all and it can never happen again.
"To lose on a play like that again is unbelievable."
In the loss last week that sent them tumbling in the national polls, members of the UW defense put most of the heat on themselves for missed assignments, poor tackling and the inability to stop Michigan State on third downs.
This week, it's the offense that will have to answer the ‘what happened' questions. After lighting up the scoreboard for the first eight weeks of the college football season, entering the game averaging 57.4 points per game, fifth-best in the country, and 511.7 yards of total offense per game, eighth-best in the country, Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) was held to a season low in points and total yards (342).
"We can help (the defense) out by putting more points on the board," said senior Nick Toon, who has been held scoreless the last three games. "That's our job on offense and we have to do a better job in doing that."
Yet, for the second straight week, Wisconsin had a way out of the mess it created for itself. Down 26-14 with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left, the Badgers scored twice – a 17-yard and 49-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis - sandwiched around a defensive three-and-out to seize momentum, only this time Wisconsin led 29-26 after a two-point conversion with 1:18 left on the clock.
"It played out perfectly … to get the ball back in our offense's hands," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I really thought we score. Unfortunately we scored too fast."
Twenty-one seconds too fast as it turns out. Starting with the ball on its 48 after a 42-yard return by Jordan Hall, Ohio State (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) converted on a third-and-1 on the Wisconsin 43 to set up another dagger. Scrambling to his right, Miller, who appeared to have crush Wisconsin's hopes with a 44-yard touchdown scramble to make the score 26-14 with 4:39 left, scrambled to his right, drawing the attention of cornerback Marcus Cromartie and safety Aaron Henry.
As replays confirmed, Miller unleashed the pass just before crossing the line of scrimmage to a waiting Smith, who beat Cromartie and hauled in the touchdown for another crushing miscommunication in the Wisconsin secondary.
"I really didn't get a good look of who was on the back side," Henry said. "Miller threw back across the field, across his body scrambling, and it was just something … he was trying to create and that's what he did."
To make it even harder to stomach, Ohio State, often referred to as the Big Ten's benchmark, saw its students engulf the field after Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson's arm was knocked at the line of scrimmage, forcing a harmless incompletion as time expired.
"I can't describe the feeling for me as a head coach to have to face those guys and realize how much they have put in and invested in to get where we are today to come up short two weeks in a row," Bielema said. "It's really, really tough."
For the second straight week, Wisconsin got a big dose of second-half adversity. After allowing just 2.7 yards per carry in the first half, the Badgers were gashed for a 57-yard Dan Herron run on the first play, giving OSU its first trip into the red zone. Herron finished with 160 yards on 33 carries.
After an 18-yard Herron run gave Ohio State a first-and-goal on the 1, Wisconsin registered three consecutive goal line stops, but were beaten when Miller eluded an open field tackle attempt by Brendan Kelly to make the score 10-7 OSU.
It got worse too after a dose of déjà vu, as freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier blocked a Brad Nortman punt to set up a 2-yard touchdown run three plays later and a 17-7 deficit on the road.
But just like they did a week ago, the Badgers responded. After Hull gave UW a gift, muffing a punt that senior Andrew Lukasko recovered on the OSU 27, Wisconsin cut the lead to three with a Montee Ball 1-yard touchdown, his 12th straight game scoring at least two times.
Wisconsin's defense gave its offense another reprieve when the Badgers held the Buckeyes to a field goal in a first-and-goal situation, preserving the one score game (20-14) with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter, but it was all for not.
Ohio State had been a one-dimensional offense throughout the season, having rushed for over 200 yards four times this season while passing over 200 yards only once. After Miller went just 1-of-4 passing against Illinois two weeks ago, the Badgers dared the true freshman to beat them deep. It took him until the final seconds, but Miller did, getting 40 of his 89 passing yards on one play.
"It's every play matters," Bielema said. "Every individual on the field, every play, every call, every coaching point comes up in the most critical point. Obviously our failure to get off the field and let a receiver get behind us was a communication breakdown. There were enough key plays during the course of the game that we could never end up on top."
Both defenses came out firing early, only allowing one first-half scoring drive, but Wisconsin took the 7-3 halftime lead on the merits of its passing game. Another highlight reel catch by Toon set the stage for a 23-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Ball, as the quarterback narrowly missed the hands of Buckeyes safety Christian Bryant to give Ball an open path to the end zone.
That was it for Wisconsin in the first half, as 69 of its 127 first-half yards came on the touchdown drive.
If it wasn't for third-down conversions though, Wisconsin would have pitched a first half shutout. Allowing Ohio State to go 5 for 10 on third downs, the Buckeyes used three of those conversions on a second-quarter drive to the Wisconsin 22, setting up kicker Drew Basil for a 39-yard field goal that banked off the left upright and through for a 7-3 lead at halftime.
"We literally let them get away, opportunity to put the game away where it wouldn't be close," Henry said. "We let those opportunities get away and anytime you leave a good ball club in the game in their environment, anything is possible."
Two years ago, Bielema expressed his disappointment and anger with his team's inability to beat Ohio State, two feelings mostly generating because Wisconsin had two interceptions and a kickoff returned for touchdowns in a 31-13 loss.
One week ago, Bielema was disappointed and heartbroken at the sight of an undefeated season fizzle away after a 44-yard Hail Mary.
Now, he'll have to try and salvage Wisconsin's season which has gone from stable to spiraling out of control in seven days.