COLUMBUS—The look of pure joy on Wisconsin offensive coordinator Brian White's face after the Badgers defeated Ohio State, 24-13 Saturday, spoke volumes.
Wisconsin (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) had just taken a huge step in proving itself as an offensive force on the road in a tough environment and against a team that had won 18 straight home games, dating back to 2001.
Senior tailback Anthony Davis had a weak start but broke away in the second quarter and finished with 168 rushing yards and a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback John Stocco had the best game of his young career, with 160 yards passing and two touchdowns. Wisconsin's defense held Ohio State to just two field goals (the touchdown came on a punt return) and 99 rushing yards—minus-3 in the second half. The special teams had its mistakes but in the end, placed the game solidly in Wisconsin's hands.
"I'm proud of the way our players competed and hung in there," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "We fell behind but it was a very physical game. Ohio State is a very good football team and we did what we had to do and made big plays in all three phases of the game."
Special teams play turned the tide of the game, first in one direction and then the other. Ohio State leapt to an early 7-0 lead after Ted Ginn Jr. returned a Ken DeBauche punt 65 yards and a touchdown midway through the first quarter.
"At that moment, that obviously was huge and it was a great spark for us and he's a talented kid," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said on Ginn. "I think our return teams, in general, we've worked very hard on them and I think they've been solid and that was an exciting one."
But Wisconsin fought back throughout the game, taking a 17-13 lead after trailing 10-0 in the second quarter. The Badgers' special teams then tucked the game away. DeBauche punted to Santonio Holmes, who let the ball slip out of his hands and onto the ground.
"He wasn't sure, I think, as I watched him, as to was that reachable," Tressel said. "And I think just the competitive part of him said, ‘you know, I'm going to reach this.' The ball was kind of skidding away from (him) and it was a tough catch and he didn't make the catch."
Senior Scott Starks recovered the fumble for the Badgers at Ohio State's 17-yard line. After two Davis carries, Stocco completed a 10-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jonathan Orr for a lunging touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone that put the Badgers up 24-13.
"You talk about making plays, that was unbelievable," Stocco said of Orr's touchdown reception. "(I) just threw it up there and let one of those guys go get it and they did. It was unbelievable."
Wisconsin's offense was not unbelievable from the beginning, however. In fact, it was downright lackluster, with the Badgers putting up minus-3 rushing yards and 31 passing yards in the first quarter.
The Badgers, though, had a rude wake-up call from Ohio State, who, after putting a touchdown on the board via Ginn's punt return, marched down the field, thanks largely to a 43-yard sideline scamper by true freshman Antonio Pittman. That led to senior kicker Mike Nugent's 42-yard field goal, putting the Buckeyes up 10-0 early in the second quarter.
On the subsequent drive, Davis seemed to find his legs and rushed for 43 yards on three attempts, including a 31-yard trip to the end zone to put Wisconsin on the board.
Stocco really took control of the offense on Wisconsin's next possession, hitting tight ends Jason Pociask and Owen Daniels for passes of 19 and 31 yards, respectively. He capped the 7-play, 78-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darrin Charles on fade route that put the Badgers up 14-10.
"All throughout this season, I felt like I haven't been playing very well, not nearly the best I can and I definitely played my best today," Stocco said.
Ohio State responded with another Nugent field goal, a 55-yarder that not only tied his longest career field goal but set a new school record for the number of career field goals—60—which surpasses former kicker Dan Stultz, who had 59.
"It was nice when it happened but we didn't win so the record really doesn't matter," Nugent said. "The only thing I care about is if we win or not. I'm happy to get us points but if we don't get the victory, then what I do doesn't mean much to me."
Nugent's field goal sent the Badgers into the locker room protecting a 14-13 lead at halftime. Wisconsin, though, widened that gap at the top of the second half with a drive that included a 23-yard reception by Owen Daniels, but settled for a 26-yard field goal to take a 17-13 lead.
Wisconsin's defense executed another solid game, holding back Ohio State's running game, particularly senior tailback Lydell Ross, who had only 30 rushing yards, well below his per game average of 78. The Badgers pressured sophomore quarterback Justin Zwick, who had 125 passing yards and was sacked five times. Wisconsin allowed only 224 yards total offense, well below OSU's average of 327.5 per game.
Wisconsin also forced three Ohio State fumbles, the first of which occurred on Wisconsin's 30-yard-line, disrupting an eight-play, 39-yard drive that had chewed up four minutes of the first quarter, with the Buckeyes already leading 7-0.
Ohio State did enjoy some first-half success: 175 yards total offense and eight first downs. The Buckeyes were held to 49 yards and four first downs in the second half, however. In other words, the defense looked sharp.
"Everything that they've done, everything they have worked for, they keep persevering that thought process," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They earned that win…To bow up the way we did and have everything battle through, the way it came out is a true testament to their character."
Badgers persevere, take convincing win
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