You have to tip your cap to Curt Phillips and the passing game. Criticized for much of the week for only throwing seven times against Indiana, Wisconsin aired it out 25 times against Ohio State, with Phillips completing 14 passes for 154 yards (long of 29 yards) and a touchdown.
More importantly, he made smart decisions of when to hang on to the ball and take a sack or when to throw it away, as Wisconsin didn't turned the ball over against a defense full of talented players.
"Curt is going through the lessons a first time starter has to go through," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "Kind of an amazing deal to be his first start at Camp Randall on Senior Day where he gets honored. Tremendous perseverance. I know there were a couple plays just on him that were unbelievable efforts – great throws, great catches against a very good football team."
One of those plays was the touchdown throw. With the clock ticking down and some indecision on the sidelines, Phillips' touchdown call was on his shoulders, and he made a solid low throw to Jacob Pedersen where only his junior tight end would be able to catch it.
"That's exactly how we practice it every week," said Phillips. "I think everybody did a great job staying composed, trusting the plan and going with it. I think we ran the same play three or four times and it worked for us. That's the matchup we wanted – having Abby one-on-one on the outside and Ped working on the linebacker and he made a good play."
Montee Ball's 191 yards signified the most yards Ohio State has given up since at least 2002, an incredible achievement and one that makes him worthy of being called one of the best running backs in the country. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry on his 39 carries, and his record-tying touchdown run was vintage, hurdling one defender and simply have a nose for the end zone on his seven-yard run between the tackles.
Obviously the fumble at the goal line was a huge play in the game and a decision Ball said was ‘stupid' in retrospect to reach the ball over the goal line, but you can't fault a guy for trying to do everything when it was obvious UW's offense, as a whole, wasn't finishing drives.
"That play had been pretty good for us all along," said Bielema on Ball's dive play that resulted in a fumble.
James White had 33 yards on eight carries, as the Barge formation really didn't add anything to the offence. Derek Watt had his first career carry (three yards), Jared Abbrederis had an end around for 13 and Melvin Gordon lost a yard on his one carry.
"We just didn't make enough plays to win the game," said White.
Bielema said some of the bounce plays were right there from being a big hit and getting on the edge, as Ohio State was committed inside with its interior linemen but running them on third downs from long situations was pretty bizarre. Wisconsin ran it four times in a situation where it was between third-and-10 and third-and-5. UW didn't convert any of them; a series that doesn't include an inside handoff to Ball on first-and-10 inside one minute with UW having no timeouts left.
Bielema and offensive coordinator Matt Canada should be lucky that the play didn't cost UW, because they would have been raked over the coals had that backfired.
Pedersen's emerged from what has been a quiet year to be an effective threat Saturday, as his six catches tied a season high and gave the offense 66 yards and the game's only receiving touchdown. Pedersen has two 60+-yard receiving games in the last three outings after having only two in the team's first eight games.
Jared Abbrederis had three catches for 40 yards, Jordan Fredrick had two for 18, Kenzel Doe had two for 17 and Derek Watt had one catch for 13. However, drops by the youth were costly. Chase Hammond failed to haul in a catchable pass on the game's first play that would have given UW a 40+-yard gain and Watt had a touchdown in his hands until DB Bradley Roby knocked it out.
"The chips didn't fall our way," said Watt.
It's hard to say Wisconsin missed a beat with Rob Havenstein going down in the second quarter and Robby Burge filling in, because the Badgers were pretty consistent throughout the game: move the ball well until it got to Ohio State territory and then stall.
Wisconsin had seven drives into Ohio State territory in regulation that resulted in only 14 points: seven in each half.
"You have to learn from every mistake and every loss that you have, and the mistakes we made today (were) crossing midfield and not scoring points so many times," said Travis Frederick. "That's really tough for us as an offense. We just couldn't finish drives."
Wisconsin's offensive line did pave the way for 206 rushing yards (including minus-33 yards of sacks) and generally gave Phillips enough time to work against a good defensive front. Unfortunately, the performance was just OK, not what you need to beat a top10 team.
Hard to fault a group that held Ohio State to a season low in rushing yards and contained the mobile Braxton Miller to only 48 rushing yards (75 positive yards, 27 negative yards). Wisconsin put pressure on Miller when it could while still maintaining gap integrity and not letting the speedy QB get outside the pocket. Both Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly each recorded a sack, and UW, unofficially, only had three missed tackles on Miller; a huge improvement from last year's meeting.
Bielema said Wisconsin needing to hold the edges better on some plays where Miller and Hyde were able to get outside and make a big play, but also acknowledge that Gilbert and the UW sideline thought he was the victim of a holding penalty in overtime that could have negating one of those big plays.
"That's accurate," said Bielema. "There was concern there."
The only real negative was that Wisconsin allowed tailback Carlos Hyde to rush for 87 yards on 15 carries and two rushing touchdowns. The 5.8 yards per carry average is a touch too high and Hyde was barely touched on his 15-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter. UW's line played better from there, but it needed to be solid all game.
With Chris Borland not in a position to be put on the field and the coaching staff to feel comfortable, Wisconsin spent the majority of the game in a 4-2-5 defense as Ethan Armstrong and Mike Taylor got the majority of the workload. Both stepped up to the plate, as Armstrong had 10 tackles, the third time this season he has hit that number, and Taylor was right behind with nine.
Taylor was responsible for some of the big gashed Ohio State's offense had against Wisconsin last season, but the Badgers didn't allow the Buckeyes' explosive offense to have one play over 20 yards.
"Without our best defensive player out there, our guys just keep buckling up and playing," said Bielema. "It really shows the true character of who we are. I am very proud of them, but being proud of them won't get them a win."
Miller completed 10 of his 18 passes, but UW's secondary was a solid, cohesive unit, which is what you would expect from a group of seniors. Shelton Johnson played one of his best games with a team-high 11 tackles (seven solo) and a pass breakup, Devin Smith had six solo tackles, one sack and a pass breakup and Marcus Cromartie shut down his side of the field.
To hold Ohio State to only 97 passing yards and zero touchdowns is a huge accomplishment for a group that is playing their best football at the end of their careers. Too bad they all aren't juniors.
"They go as No.5 goes. He is a tremendous football player, tremendous poise (and) has a lot of ability to run, throw the ball and manage the game," said Bielema. "If we were going to beat Ohio State, it was going to take 11 guys on every play."
It's a young group that has had more ups than downs, but the Ohio State game was definitely a down.
Drew Meyer didn't have his best punting game. Although his 39.6-yard average is a result of all the stalled drives in Ohio State territory, Meyer put two punts into the end zone and his 43-yard punt in the first quarter didn't have enough hang time on it.
Worst yet, UW's punt coverage team lost lane assignments and did stop Corey Brown's feet, resulting in a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown that was the big difference in the game.
"I didn't give the guys enough hang time," said Meyer. "I played the wind a little too much."
Kyle French wanted to kick a 47-yard field goal slightly into the wind, considering he said he hit a 53-yard try during warm-ups going that direction, but Bielema doesn't to play the field position game. Meyer's punt went into the end zone, resulting in a net gain of only 10 yards.
On French's one opportunity, he missed a 40-yard field goal with the wind at his back, so it's hard to gauge what was the right move.
"Drew felt it was a pretty good hold, I felt like it was still possibly spinning, which is probably my fault because I could have gotten to the spot a little too quickly," said French. "The ball flight did not look too clean at all."
Wisconsin's return game had opportunities, as Doe had one kickoff return of 36 yards and another of 17, but Ohio State won the special team's battle for the third time in four meetings. Not surprisingly, the team that has won the special team's matchup has won the game.
"I was happy the way we started the game," said Bielema." I thought we were a block or two away on some of those punt returns to get a big hit, but obviously it was a big part of the game."