INDIANAPOLIS - Lucas Oil Stadium has been host to some of the proudest moments of the Wisconsin football program, a pair of champions that led to Rose Bowl appearances.
This one, however, might rank up there as one of the worst.
Facing Ohio State’s third-string quarterback in his first career start, No.11 Wisconsin was thoroughly humiliated in a 59-0 pummeling at the hands of the sixth-ranked Buckeyes in front of 60,229 fans Saturday.
Being shutout for the first time since 1997, a span of 231 games, the 59-point margin of defeat was the worst Wisconsin (10-3) has experienced since it lost to the Buckeyes in 1979 by the same score. But the Badgers finished 4-7 that year under Dave McClain, a far cry from the championship caliber team UW thought it had this season.
“This is not Wisconsin football; this is not how we play,” said junior tailback Melvin Gordon, who admitted his Heisman Trophy chances were “probably gone” after finishing with 76 yards on 26 carries (2.9 per). “I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It’s tough…It’s an embarrassment.”
Ohio State (12-1) led 31-0 at halftime, racked up 364 total yards, averaging 11.4 points per play, 21.1 yards per pass completion and it wasn’t even that close in the first 30 minutes.
Ohio State sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones – filling in for injured quarterback J.T. Barrett – was on point from start to finish. He threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, torching a UW secondary that had given up only 10 passing touchdown all season.
The Buckeyes only faced three third downs, had 15 first downs and scored two touchdowns through the air, two on the ground and one on defense before the halftime shows. It was complete and total domination.
When the dust finally settled, Ohio State scored seven touchdowns, had 558 yards of total offense and didn’t commit a turnover.
“I’ll be the first person say they beat us because they were better than us, but I just don’t feel like that’s what the game was,” said senior linebacker Marcus Trotter, who had a game-high 10 tackles. “They’re a very good team, athletic guys, but we misfit so many things. I’ll probably say every other play we misfit something. I just don’t know why.”
Everything that could go wrong did. After getting torched by Ohio State’s passing game in last year’s 31-24 loss in Columbus, Wisconsin’s experienced secondary had coverage bust after bust to leading the Buckeyes completing six pass plays over 20 yards, including a pair over 40, as Jones beat all of UW’s top cornerbacks – Darius Hillary, Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal – for big plays or touchdowns.
“Very uncharacteristic day for our defense,” said UW head coach Gary Andersen. “We were thoroughly beat.”
The Badgers scored 42 and 70 on their previous two trips to the conference title game, but managed only 91 total yards in the first half. Joel Stave threw his first interception since November 8 that led to a field goal. Gordon was stripped inside the 5-yard line, leading to Big Ten defensive player of the year Joey Bosa scooping and scoring with 36 seconds left in the first half.
“That took just the momentum away completely,” said Gordon. “I don’t think we had any but if we any else, that right there sealed the deal.”
Poor first quarters have been the norm for Wisconsin all season. The Badgers’ 69 first-quarter points (5.75 per game) were the fewest in any quarter by 24 points, leading to a pair of 17-3 deficits twice in the past three weeks that the Badgers had to find a way to dig out of.
Those games were at home against above-average teams and the Badgers had a vibrant fan base behind them. In front of a partisan Ohio State crowd against a Buckeyes team trying to make the four-team College Football Playoff, the Badgers were toast.
Ohio State rolled up 224 yards in the first 15 minutes, more yards than four UW opponents had registered in an entire game, and the Buckeyes were just getting started. The Badgers, meanwhile, never got out of the starting gate, finishing with a season-low 258 total yards and a season-high-tying four turnovers.
“We had a good play here and there and then a negative play, and negative plays kill drives,” said Stave, who finished 17-for-43 for 187 yards and three turnovers. “We’ve got to stay ahead of the chains. We can’t be putting ourselves in tough situations like that. It was tough to get things going.”
Wisconsin will now stew on this low for at least three weeks as they wait its bowl destination, a chance for UW to break a four-year bowl losing streak and regain some dignity.
“A game like this can sit with you for three weeks and eat at you, when the goal needs to be win this bowl game,” said left tackle Tyler Marz. “We’re still going to be in a good bowl game. We need to focus on that team and get a win.”