Having the ball in the final two minutes with no timeouts, Wisconsin needed to go 90 yards to force overtime and have a chance to erase the mistakes it inflicted on itself. And just like two weeks ago, it was false hope it what continues to become a frustrating reoccurrence.
In front of the third largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history, Wisconsin's chance for redemption never got past its own 16-yard line, as the Badgers dropped a pivotal Leaders Division game to No.4 Ohio State, 31-24, Saturday night in front of 105,826 fans.
It was 13th loss since the start of the 2010 season for Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), all of which have come by 10 points or less, but this one had a much different feel to it.
"Tonight wasn't exactly a case of that; we gave them a lot," said senior and Ohio native Chris Borland, who tied his career-high with 16 tackles. "You can't do that, especially against a team like Ohio State especially on the road. We really spotted them 21 points. We're not going to win if you do that."
Borland admitted after the game that he had flashbacks to the 2009 game at the Horseshoe when he was a true freshman. That day the Badgers outgained the Buckeyes 368-to-184, held then-quarterback Terrelle Pryor to 87 passing yards and saw Ohio State hold the ball for only 17:13.
But the Badgers lost 31-13 because it gave up two interception returns for touchdowns and a 98-yard kickoff return. UW has played 52 games since then and hasn't lost by double digits in any of them.
The yardage differential wasn't as ghastly as it was four years ago (Wisconsin outgained Ohio State 399-390 and the time of possession was almost even with the Buckeyes holding the ball for 30:18), but the members of the defense and head coach Gary Andersen couldn't deny how many freebees they gave a team that has now won its last 17 football games.
"We outplayed them in a lot of aspects tonight but when you make mistakes, that's part of the game, too," said Borland. "I don't want it to make it seem like they didn't play well. They did play well, but we made too many mistakes."
Wisconsin's players talked all week leading up to its big conference test that it was anxious to get back on the road. Two weeks ago in Wisconsin's controversial 32-30 loss at Arizona State, the Badgers' passing game sputtered and their secondary was beaten for 352 passing yards and flagged five times. Both groups said it needed to be better if it wanted to compete in the Big Ten, let alone with No.4 Ohio State.
The aerial assault was much better, as senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis registered a career-best 207 yards while sophomore quarterback Joel Stave threw for a career-high 295 yards on 20 of 34 passing, including a pair of touchdowns, but the offense only mustered 139 yards on its six second-half drives and the running game was grounded to only 104 yards on 27 attempts (3.9 yards per carry).
If the Badgers' secondary was looking for redemption against Ohio State (5-0, 1-0), it wasn't found. Ohio State passed for three first-half touchdowns of at least 25 yards, the last of which epitomized the growing pains Wisconsin is forced to deal with in the unit.
A lame-duck throw off the arm of Braxton Miller was begging to be intercepted, but true freshman Sojourn Shelton allowed the ball to bounce off his chest and hit the ground with 10 seconds remaining. Giving Ohio State another chance, Miller connected with Corey Brown for a 40-yard touchdown pass after senior safety Dezmen Southward failed to pick up coverage over the top in a Cover 3 defense.
That was the theme for the Badgers' secondary with Southward, junior Peniel Jean and Shelton all being beat for touchdowns in the first half, but giving up a touchdown with one second on the clock was more than a simple irritant, especially since the Badgers hadn't given up a passing touchdown entering the night.
"It's pretty frustrating because a lot of plays we gave up," said Southward. "Like literally gave up, and then there were some plays out there we could have made and we didn't … The team that was out there today for a few quarters wasn't Wisconsin."
Wisconsin was taken to the woodshed by Miller, who looked fresh after missing almost three games with an MCL injury by throwing for 198 yards and four scores. The Ohio State junior only needed four plays on his first drive to put Ohio State ahead after Spencer caught a 25-yard pass after turning Shelton around in coverage.
It was just the start of the problems for Wisconsin. Following a 61-yard reception by Abbrederis, the offense stalled and saw Kyle French hook a 32-yard field goal, leaving the lead at 14-7.
It was just a long line of mistakes, which included an illegal formation that wiped out a Wisconsin fumble recovery in the Ohio State red zone and four other penalties that totaled 40 yards in the first half.
Those issues never allowed Wisconsin to get closer than seven points the rest of the way, as Ohio State cashed in seven points on an interception to build a 31-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
UW cut the lead with 2:04 left and got the ball with 1:29 remaining with no timeouts, but the Badgers' drive went backwards, a fourth-down pass went incomplete and Miller ended it with a knee.
Wisconsin enters its bye week 1.5 games behind the Buckeyes in the standings after losing to Ohio State for the third straight game. But unlike last year, Ohio State is eligible and the Badgers have ground to make up with six games to go.
"(Ohio State) is in position, if they run the table, to go to (the Big Ten championship game) this year," said Andersen. "Something has got to happen. We don't completely control our own destiny, but if we take care of business one game at a time, I like our chances.
"Some time, some way out there, there will be another big game for us for play to put ourselves to do some special things with this season. These kids will come back. They'll be ready to roll."