Big-game Joel Stave never showed up, and the passing game fizzled because of it.
Any time a Wisconsin quarterback is throwing over 30 times it’s a problem, so Stave attempted a season-high 43 attempts was bad news. It was even worse when he only completed 39.5 percent of his tosses.
“We just couldn’t get anything going,” said Stave, whose 17 passes went for only 187 yards. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm. They got the best of us.”
Ohio State also got the better of him with three interceptions. Vonn Bell registered the first pick when he was able to read Stave’s, adjust his coverage and jump in front of Kenzel Doe. The two other were situations where Stave was trying to make plays happen and made bad decisions.
“(Ohio State) did a great job putting pressure on me, doing what they could to stop the run game and they’ve got a very good front four,” said Stave, who also fumbled in the fourth quarter to take UW out of token scoring range. “Those guys are tough to block. It just wasn’t our night.”
Stave had been such a big reason the Badgers made the Big Ten championship game, but his magic ran out in probably the worst performance of his three-year starting career.
Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator, and current Ohio State co-defensive coordinator, Chris Ash reportedly had a goal for his unit of holding junior Melvin Gordon under 100 yards. Count that as another victory for the Buckeyes.
Gordon saw a lot of individual goals – winning the Heisman Trophy, breaking Barry Sanders’ single season rushing record, etc. – go poof after he was only able to grind his way to 76 yards on 26 carries and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
Playing his third straight game against a physical front, Gordon was hit hard, hit often and physically punished by the most talented front UW had played this season.
As a team, Wisconsin finished with 71 rushing yards on 37 carries, an ugly 1.9 yards per carry.
“We couldn’t make any explosive plays,” said Gordon. “They really got after us with the blitzes and everything. As an offense as a whole we couldn’t get things rolling.”
Gordon said Ohio State did exactly what the Badgers were expecting, but executed at such a high level that is slowed everything to a grinding halt. Corey Clement managed only 14 carries for five yards, Kenzel Doe’s 6-yard carry was the best jet sweep of the game and the ineffective Tanner McEvoy had one for two.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” said Gordon. “At the end of the day it came down to wanted it more and they did.”
Wide receiver Alex Erickson had 83 receiving yards on seven receptions, giving him 143 yards on 12 catches in his last two outings. He also had the longest pass play of 27 yards, but nothing from the Badgers’ passing game stick out as being clutch.
Doe had three catches for 41, Troy Fumagalli had two catches for 24, Sam Arneson had two catches for 23, Clement had two catches for 12 and Austin Traylor had a catch for four yards that he fumbled out of bounds. Traylor has struggled with ball security all season and will need to show massive improvement if he wants to be the team’s No.2 tight end next season.
Of the passing yards, 123 came in the second half with the game already a blow out and the Badgers forced to throw the football, meaning no big plays were made with the game being somewhat competitive.
With as well as they had been playing the past seven games to put themselves in position to compete for a Big Ten title, left tackle Tyler Marz had no reason to suspect Wisconsin would turn out its worst offensive performance of the season.
The Badgers’ offensive line gave up three sacks, nine tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and suffocating any kind of rhythm.
“They had a good plan in place,” said Marz. “Obviously we couldn’t get our running game going early and had to start throwing the ball more. That wasn’t working either.”
Sophomore center Dan Voltz lasted only four plays before re-tweaking his ankle and needed to be replaced. That moved left guard Dallas Lewallen to center and junior Ray Ball to left guard, a scenario that Wisconsin prepared for during the week.
Ohio State took clear advantage, as Ohio State had nine tackles for loss, including four from Michael Bennett for 18 lost yards.
“Nothing was falling our way,” said Marz. “We couldn’t get anything going. We’d have a couple completions or whatnot here or there, get a couple good runs, and then it would be the end of the drive. Obviously it was a pretty disgusting feeling on the sideline.”
Making his first career start, Cardale Jones wasn’t barely touched in the first half, allowing Ohio State to jump out to a 38-0 lead. Ezekiel Elliott ran 12 times and wasn’t tackled in the backfield once, allowing him to average 12.5 yards per carry (150 yards). For the game he finished with 220 – a new Big Ten championship game record.“They’re a great team,” said defensive tackle Warren Herring. “We’re a great team. Mistakes were made and they capitalized on their opportunities.”
Losing Konrad Zagzebksi (knee) for the rest of the year will hurt, but the Badgers have some time to build some depth at the position.
In all his years of high school football, Marcus Trotter had never been a part of a game like that, a blowout defeat in which the defense did nothing right – from alignments, to reads and to tackles.
“We misfit so many things; I would probably say every other play we misfit something,” said Trotter. “I just don’t know why.”Trotter had a team-high 10 tackles, his second-straight double-digit tackle game and fourth this season. Derek Landisch was next with seven, including a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss and UW’s only sack, but both Landisch and Trotter were poor in run defense. Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert also barely made an impact on the outside.
It was a bad day for the “Chevy Bad Boys,” who looked more like a bunch of GEO Metro.
“I felt the defense was in some parts playing a little timid,” said Trotter. “We’re a bunch of guys who are blue-collard workers with a chip on our shoulder. Something about (Saturday), we didn’t have that attitude. Me and the other guys really try to implement that. I put that on myself.”
Peniel Jean stood in the somber auxiliary locker room and said in a matter-of-fact way that Ohio State doesn’t have much to its scheme other than utilizing the deep ball with its high caliber receivers.
So what Jean was basically saying is the Badgers knew the Buckeyes were going to throw the deep ball and still couldn’t stop them. Ohio State completed six passes of at least 20 yards that accounted for 201 of its 257 yards.
“We had trouble locating the football, and that’s where they took advantage,” said Jean.What’s shocking is that one player didn’t have trouble with Ohio State’s receivers, they all did. Sojourn Shelton gave us the first touchdown pass when he failed to adjust to a deep ball, Derrick Tindal missed a tackle that led to a 23-yard gain and gave up another touchdown in single coverage, Darius Hillary gave up a 32-yard play in the middle of the field and Jean gave up a 42-yard score when he failed to turn around for the ball, allowing Devin Smith to leap right over him.
The Badgers have allowed 36 pass plays of at least 20 yards in 13 games, but 14 have come in two games.
“Those guys can make plays as well,” said Shelton. “It’s a really big learning experience for us as a team. Even if we’re in man coverage and they’re calling the perfect play-action plays, we’ve got to find a way to make those plays. It may be hard plays and it may be against really good players, but you’ve got to somehow find a way to make it.”
The problems were unfortunately not limited to the passing game.
Manned up on the tight end, Jean followed his player to the side of the formation. That caused the entire secondary to be wide open and Elliott ran virtually untouched for an 81-yard touchdown. Jean said somebody missed their gap assignment bud didn’t say who. Odds are it was him, especially with how confused he appeared to be pre-snap.
“The deep ball opened up so many other things,” said Shelton. “You see the deep ball, you start playing to the deep ball and they start getting passes underneath. They had a very good plan.”
Finally a group that actually played halfway well, not that it mattered much. Wide receiver Kenzel Doe had a lot of practice on kickoff returns and registered a season-high 114 yards on six returns. It was his third career 100+ yard kick return game.
Wisconsin’s Drew Meyer punted eight times for 329 yards – both new Big Ten Football Championship Game records – and averaged 41.1 yards per punt.
Wisconsin’s block of a 29-yard field goal attempt by Ohio State in the fourth quarter was its first of the season. Defensive end Jake Keefer recorded his first career blocked kick on a low kick that was rushed to try to beat the play clock.
Rafael Gaglianone wasn’t used and Andrew Endicott one kickoff went 65 yards.
UW coach Gary Andersen admitted that he failed the kids in preparing them for Ohio State. He also failed a fan base that has a portion of it, fair or foul, questioning his abilities at Wisconsin.
Andersen thought Wisconsin prepared well in the week leading up to the game, but it was painfully obvious that it wasn’t the case. The scheme on both sides of the ball failed tremendously, as offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig couldn’t dial up a success and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda couldn’t find a way to slow a quarterback making his first career start.
Ohio State ran 24 plays in Wisconsin territory. The Badgers ran 17 plays in Ohio State territory, only two in the first half, none coming in the red zone and never looked remotely close to scoring.
The slow starts have been frequent for Wisconsin. The Badgers have only scored 69 points in the first quarter through 13 games, the fewest of any quarter.
Andersen said his kids played their tails off and gave it everything they had. If that’s the case, Wisconsin is further away from an elite program than we thought.
A total evaluation of the program is needed after this one.