The Buckeyes defense received the publicity leading up to their tussle with Wisconsin, but the Badgers defense stole the show.
The statistics speak volumes. Wisconsin held the Buckeyes to 12 first downs, forcing them to punt seven times in 12 possessions, three without moving the chains a single time. Ohio State managed just 69 yards rushing, 202 passing. Quarterback Craig Krenzel, held in check for most of the game, completed 14 of 26 passes for just 202 yards and one touchdown. Most importantly, the Buckeyes side of the scoreboard read just 10.
It all started up front. Wisconsin's defensive line played its best game of the season Saturday evening, consistently pressuring Ohio State's passing game and getting penetration to help stuff the running game. Defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne and end Jonathan Welsh led the charge, with three sacks between them. More importantly, Krenzel was harassed throughout the contest and was not able to get into a rhythm.
"Our defensive front was awesome," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "They never allowed them to establish the run. They kept pressure on the quarterback. I don't know how they could play any better. It was actually without blitzing they were getting pressure on him."
Wisconsin's linebackers filled well against the run, making sure that Ohio State tailbacks Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall could not get on track. The secondary gave up a few big plays but was generally rather impressive as well.
"I thought we were very physical up front, we put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "We had good coverage. Our kids played. Good team effort."
Really, truly, for all but a two-minute stretch Saturday evening, Wisconsin's defense was in complete control.
Through the first 52 minutes of the game Ohio State managed just 166 yards and a mere seven first downs.
Then Ohio State's offense did what it had done throughout its winning streak. The drive began with Krenzel completing a simple out pass to Drew Carter along the sidelines for 13 yards and a first down. Three plays later, on third-and-nine from the Buckeyes 39, Krenzel found Michael Jenkins for the required nine yards. Krenzel, of course, had delivered a 46-yard pass to Jenkins in last season's matchup to set up Ohio State's go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown, a three-yard connection with tight end Ben Hartsock that gave the Buckeyes a 19-14 victory.
This year, Krenzel hooked up with Carter, who made a sparkling, full-extension catch at the Badgers six for a 46-yard gain. Two plays later, Krenzel hit Jenkins for a six-yard touchdown, evening the score at 10-10. The drive covered 75 yards in just seven plays and two minutes, five seconds.
"He had the two long passes on that drive," Cosgrove said. "That is basically what they had all day. I thought we bottled them up pretty good."
The Badgers offense, though, returned the favor with Evans' 79-yard touchdown grab and this time, Ohio State would not provide the heroics.
Krenzel started the Buckeyes next drive with a first down pass and first down run. After a seven yard completion to tight end Ben Hartsock, the Buckeyes had second-and-three at the Badgers 44. A holding penalty and two incomplete passes later, Ohio State was forced to punt with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. The Badgers offense then succeeded in running out the clock.
What proved to be the Buckeyes last two plays were telling. The Badgers had good pressure on Krenzel, who could not find a decent throwing lane against Wisconsin's secondary and linebackers. Corners Scott Starks and Levonne Rowan, in press coverage for most of the evening, stymied the Buckeyes receivers and kept them from finding a groove.
"A lot of times they can't get off the jam," Rowan said prior to Saturday's game. "I just want to get my hands on them."
"They are very good receivers," Cosgrove said. "They are big, tall receivers and they run well and I thought we held up pretty darn good."
Wisconsin's defense started fast and maintained a high level of energy throughout the game. On two first quarter drives, the Badgers held Ohio State to four total yards, causing two consecutive three-and-out punts.
"We've improved every week," Cosgrove said. "This is the best of our last three games and we continue to get better and our kids have a great attitude and I know they are going to continue to work hard in practice to be the best they can possibly be."