What has been lost in the midst of the heartbreak and the disappointment is that senior Russell Wilson played well, so well in fact that he put the Badgers in a position to win in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.
With the running game getting next to nothing, Wilson was forced to throw the ball and he did so accurately, completing 62.5 percent of his passes (20 of 32) for 253 yards, three touchdowns, two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a two-point conversion and no turnovers.
The second TD pass to Jared Abbrederis was perfect, as Wilson held the safety, did a pump fake and threw a perfect strike.
"I think I played well," Wilson said. "There were some ups and downs throughout the game, they were doing a lot of different things and we have to capitalize more but playing quarterback, you always want to win. I just got to figure out a way for us to pull that game out, no matter what it takes."
Wilson lived dangerous a few times, seeing a couple Ohio State defenders misplay a pass that could have potentially led to an interception, but he made more than enough plays again with the Badgers' backs firmly against the wall. With such success in the two minute offense, which the Badgers ran over the final five minutes and got 15 points from it, why wasn't Wisconsin playing with that same kind of urgency earlier?
For the second straight week, Wilson was called for intentional grounding, but this one didn't appear to be legit. Talking to Wilson after the game, he was aiming for Nick Toon coming across the middle of the field and thought that once you leave the pocket, you can't get called for intentional grounding. Apparently you can.
Wilson was only given 20 seconds to lead a scoring drive to either win or tie the game. It simply wasn't enough time for the once Heisman hopeful.
Ohio State makes opponents earn every yard on the ground, especially at home where its allowed no running back over 100 yards in the last 26 games, and junior Montee Ball had to earn every one of his yards. Ball finished with 17 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, but it wasn't as easy as it would appear. Ball got 53 of his yards on two carries, including a 40-yard burst through the middle on a draw that set up Wisconsin's first fourth-quarter touchdown.
At halftime, Ball had just 11 yards and wasn't getting yards because he was running east-west instead of north-south.
"It's thing we do all the time in practice and we didn't carry through to this game," said Ball. "At the beginning of the season, they said we were supposed to go undefeated. We are who we are. We have to make sure we come back strong."
After Ball, Wisconsin got nothing. James White was halted to only 16 yards on five carries, an end around to Jared Abbrederis went nowhere and Wilson ended up with minus-12 yards because of sacks and scrambles. The Badgers got nothing outside the tackles, and the fourth-and-2 failed sweep was disappointing, something the coaches felt was there at halftime. In all, Wisconsin's 89 rushing yards and 3.1-yard average on the ground really killed the offense.
Abbrederis rebounded from a key drop last week to grab six catches for a career-high 113 yards and two scores, including the go-ahead fourth-quarter score where he slip behind the coverage and was wide open. Catching the pass around the 15, he did the rest by eluding a defender on his way into the end zone.
Senior Nick Toon had somewhat of a bounce-back performance with 39 yards on three catches, including a spectacular 19-yard catch that he elevated for and brought in despite being pushed in the chest for a pass interference call. Toon had a couple chances for catches on the final drive, but was victimized by good defensive breakups and a big hit by C.J. Barnett.
"The last one I went up for, touch catch, but I got to make it," Toon said. "It's my job. When up and got hit by a few people coming down. That's not the play that lost us the game. We made a lot of mistakes as a team. I am part of the team. Win as a team, lose as a team and we didn't do enough to win today."
As good of connection as Wilson had with Toon, the senior has a great one going with fellow senior captain Bradie Ewing. Although the passes aren't the most challenging, Wilson has targeted Ewing 12 times this season and Ewing has caught all 12 passes, including three for 37 yards.
Wisconsin prides itself on big burly linemen opening up gaping holes for powerful running backs to charge through for big gains. One year after pushing around the Ohio State defense to the tune of three rushing touchdowns, the Badgers' offensive line was putrid this time around. Wisconsin had no success running the ball to the left or up the middle and only got two gashes between senior right guard Kevin Zeitler and senior right tackle Josh Oglesby.
Wilson was under pressure often and was sacked three times, including one that ended the first half when Adam Bellamy did a spin move that completely fooled Oglesby. The sack cost UW any chance to get some points at the end of the half.
Wisconsin knew that Ohio State was going to ride Dan Herron as far as the senior would take the Buckeyes. After the senior was suspended for the first six games for improper benefits and getting tatted up, Herron lived up to his ‘boom' nickname by rushing for 160 yards on 33 carries. Throw in Braxton Miller's 99 yards and two scores on 19 carries, one would expect the defensive line grade to be low.
Well, I am splitting the blame with the linebackers, but I am also splitting the praise. Ohio State had seven plays inside the UW 2-yard line. Seven! Wisconsin bottled up the run game on five plays but couldn't quite seal the deal when Miller beat Brendan Kelly in a one-on-one matchup with a simple juke (Kelly makes that play with the right tackling form) and Jordan Hall had a gritty 2-yard run around the left end.
It's hard to stop a defense so many times so close to your own goal line, especially when one of the drives starts on your own one because of your special teams. The big defensive stand happened early in the fourth quarter when Wisconsin held Ohio State to a field goal despite the Buckeyes getting inside the UW 10.
Allow a touchdown there, the game is virtually over.
Wisconsin's linebackers were tackling machines against Ohio State. Junior Mike Taylor recorded a career-high 22 tackles (10 solos), including 2.5 TFLs. The 22 tackles are the most by a Badgers player since Bob Adamov had 23 against Purdue on Oct. 10, 1998. Unfortunately, he got sucked into the middle of the line and was out of position on Herron's 57-yard run at the start of the second half.
Still, Wisconsin's middle of the defense struggled to contain the Buckeyes in the second half, allowing Ohio State to rack up 317 yards of total offense after allowing only 40 total yards and two yards per play on first down before halftime.
For the second straight game, Wisconsin's secondary didn't force a turnover. I see a correlation. The secondary was partially responsible for Miller scrambling around in the pocket and the defensive line registering some sacks but when a true freshman quarterback, who hasn't been dynamite through the air, completed 7-of-12 passes, including the game winner in the final 20 seconds, there's a problem.
The Badgers continue to miss Devin Smith, as Marcus Cromartie and Shelton Johnson have struggled against better opponents the past two weeks. After having problems tackling against the Spartans, Cromartie over pursued on Miller's 44-yard touchdown scramble, apparently thinking Miller like pitch even though he already tucked the ball and turned upfield, leaving the blocker to take out Johnson, who took a bad angle on the play and never got a hand on Miller.
The final play was more of a disaster to leave OSU's Devin Smith wide open in the end zone. Watching the film, Johnson drifted out position, going for the underneath route, and left Cromartie the only man in coverage. Johnson was at the 21-yard line when the pass was thrown with UW in deep coverage to prevent a winning throw. That. Cannot. Happen.
"It's definitely an unfortunate event on our behalf," senior captain Aaron Henry said. "He (Miller) definitely exposed us on those last couple plays."
The Badgers allowed only 49 passing yards until the final play, but it's that breakdown that has gone the entire fan base at its wit's end.
Wisconsin's cute punt formation was unique and a great talking point last year, especially with how effective the punting unit was because teams struggled to accurately attack or not attack it, resulting in a couple fake punts. From last year to this year, something has gone drastically wrong with two punts being blocked in consecutive weeks that have led to easy touchdowns and have ultimately cost them.
Unfortunately, it seems the blame rests on lineman Robby Burge, who for the second week failed to block the outside rusher. Ryan Shazier ran right past Burge on the outside of the shield, was not touched and had a wide open lane to the punter. I would be shocked if he's on the right side of that wedge for the rest of the season. I mean, it should be pretty simple for three blockers to block three rushers.
It's too bad because senior Brad Nortman punted OK, averaging 40.5 yards on six punts and putting one inside the 20. The punt coverage was great, too, especially with senior long snapper Kyle Wotja hustling downfield and registering the tackle as soon as Jordan Hall fielded the punt. The punt coverage also created the only turnover of the game, as Andrew Lukasko dove on the ball, setting up a Ball touchdown six plays later.
Kickoffs were better for Alec Lerner, averaging 66.4 yards, but curiously didn't execute a squib kick after UW took a 29-26 lead with 70 seconds left. The deep kick resulted in Hall returning it 42 yards to the OSU 48 and setting up the winning score.