Last Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio St Buckeyes celebrated their homecoming in thrilling fashion by stunning the 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers 33-29, in a game that my friend and OSU alum ranked as the third best Ohio St game he’d ever seen (behind the ‘02 title game of course, and the 1 vs. 2 against michigan in '06). Braxton Miller looked like a totally different person from the scared 18-year-old that played against Michigan St last month as he led the Buckeyes back from a halftime deficit only to see Wisconsin score a quick 14 points to regain the lead late in the game. Then Miller made the play of the year for Ohio St when he hit Devin Smith on a 40-yard bomb with 20 seconds left to give the Bucks a remarkable victory. This hasn’t been a poster season for our Buckeyes, but a moment like this would make even Kelly Clarkson blush.
Each team traded punts to begin the game, and on Wisconsin’s second go-round Russell Wilson completed two passes of 15+ yards to get the Badgers near the red zone, where he dumped a swing pass to Montee Ball who took it 22 yards across the goal line to put the Bucks in a hole quickly. Here we go, just what I was worried about. This could get ugly.
Not the case, as the Buckeye defense really tightened up the rest of the first half, recording more sacks (two) then first downs given up (one) en route to stopping Wisconsin on each of their last four possessions of the half. While Braxton had a couple of good runs and a few completions to Philly Brown, the Ohio St offense couldn’t do much in the first two frames either. They continued to pound Boom Herron, but the Badgers knew what to expect and stuffed him time and time again. With an inexperienced QB and a great running game, I’m all for running an overwhelming majority of the time, but we need to pass on first down a few times to keep the defense even a little honest. Thanks to good starting field position on the one drive, the Bucks did manage to get a Drew Basil field goal (nine consecutive makes!) to make the halftime score 7-3 Badgers.
While Braxton made the big plays and will get the bulk of the credit (and rightfully so), Herron was just a horse in the second half. OSU got the ball first and Herron exploded for a 57-yard run on the half’s opening play. He then ran for 18 yards to set up the Scarlet and Gray at the 1-yard line, but was promptly stuffed on the next three plays. The Buckeyes went for it on fourth down and rolled Miller out to the right side. He made the one Wisconsin defender that had a shot at him look like a child then walked into the end zone for Ohio St’s first lead.
Another three-and-out forced by the Buckeye D had Brad Nortman punting in the shadow of his own goal post, and freshman backup linebacker Ryan Shazier blocked the kick. Again finding themselves at the one, OSU tried pounding it in once more. Jordan Hall was the recipient of the carries this time, failing on the first two tries but reaching paydirt on his third attempt to give the Bucks a 17-7 cushion.
Wisconsin once again was forced into a quick punting situation, but Hall fumbled the kick for the second time this game. This time he wasn’t lucky enough to get it back, and the Badgers started with their best field position of the day at the OSU 27. On third-and-goal from the one, Ball scored for the second time to cut into the Buckeye lead. Each team punted as the third quarter came to a close.
The 4th quarter saw Boom carry the ball on six straight plays to put Ohio St inside the ten, but an incomplete pass intended for Jake Stoneburner forced the Bucks to settle for another Basil field goal (ten consecutive makes!). With the score 20-14 in Ohio St’s favor and Wisconsin faced with a 4th and 2 from the OSU 38 with just over eight minutes to play, the first of many huge plays down the stretch that decided this game occurred. The Badgers went for it and Andrew Sweat hit Montee Ball immediately at the line and didn’t let him go anywhere, giving the ball back to the Fighting Brutus’. Let’s run some clock and add another FG here. A two-score lead should end it.
Not only did Ohio St put up points on this drive, but they added a touchdown when Brax broke open a run for a 44-yard score. That should put it away. Eat my dick Bucky!
Then OSU missed the two-point conversion attempt and everything just fell apart. Ohio St’s defense, seemingly invincible for over 55 minutes, let Wisconsin dick all over them for touchdown drives lasting only 51 and 78 seconds, respectively. Ball caught a two-pointer from Wilson after the second score, and the Bucks suddenly found themselves trailing 29-26 with 1:18 left. There’s no way this run-first offense has an 80-yard game-winning drive in them. Another crushing defeat to a great team that we absolutely had and gave away.
Then Jordan Hall, looking to make up for his costly muffed punt, had a great return to put the Buckeyes in position near midfield. Just 20 yards, maybe even only 15 was all that Ohio St needed to give their suddenly Groza-like kicker a shot to send the game into overtime. Braxton never gave Basil a chance. After a seven-yard pass to fullback Zach Boren and a two-yard Miller run, OSU called timeout facing a third-and-one at the Wisconsin 43. Herron rushed for three yards to get the all-important first down, setting up one of college football’s plays of the year. Braxton scrambled in the pocket, began to run with plenty of room in front of him, then just before reaching the line of scrimmage tosses a bomb across his body towards the end zone. There’s no way he would choose to throw like this when he had room to run for no reason. Someone must be wide-open. Someone BETTER be wide-open.
Someone, Devin Smith to be specific, was wide open. With his back to the goal post like he was returning a punt, Smith waited as the ball sailed right into his chest near the back of the end zone. 33-29 Buckeyes…chaos ensues. Then Drew Basil kicks the ball out of bounds, and suddenly Wisconsin’s at their 40 with 20 seconds to work with. Back-to-back pass breakups by Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett seemingly gave OSU the victory, but a Christian Bryant facemask penalty gave Wisconsin an untimed down from the 45 and one more chance. John Simon, a thorn in Wilson’s side all game long, hit the Badger QB from behind as he threw and the ball fell helplessly to the ground, preserving an astonishing Ohio St victory.
We may be witnessing the birth of a superstar right before our very eyes. I know Braxton Miller still has a long way to go to become a star, but the rate he is maturing and progressing each week really makes me think we might have that special player that Ohio St was hoping they were getting when they recruited Braxton, a high school phenom. Like usual, Miller was most dangerous with his legs, running 19 times for 99 yards and two TDs. As commentator Todd Blackledge pointed out, even when Braxton was about to take off and run he continued to look down field. Most of the time he still didn’t see an open receiver and kept running. One time, however, when he could have ran to set up his kicker for a long attempt at a game-winner, he kept his eyes downfield and discovered the defense creeping in towards him and Devin Smith standing alone in the end zone. It’s plays and decisions like that that have me dreaming of big things (and possibly stiff-arming bronze statues) in this kid’s future.
I know I told Andy I wouldn’t mention our previous quarterback any more this season, but with the way things turned out and their styles of play, Brax will inevitably be compared to Terrelle Pryor throughout his tenure in Columbus, especially these first two seasons. He doesn’t seem to have the brute strength Pryor possessed - TP's stiff arm was by far the best I’ve ever seen from a QB - but he looks shiftier and if possibly maybe even quicker. Obviously the big thing will be for Braxton to become more productive passing the ball. That being said, he was effective throwing in this game, completing seven of his twelve attempts for 89 yards and that epic touchdown. Also, Miller had another zero INT game, which is huge coming from a true freshman. Sticking with the Pryor comparison, this is clearly a big check mark in the Brax column, as we all remember TP’s turnover problems all too well.
It’s tough to argue with Miller receiving the GB, but for the second straight game several players on the defensive side of the ball put on incredible performances. Simon was his usual beastly self, and Sweat made those two huge plays - the stop on Ball on 4th down and the hit on Wilson on the final play. Even with those two easy TD drives late in the game for Wisconsin, OSU’s defensive numbers are alarmingly good. Most notably - holding this dominating Badger running attack to a measly 89 yards. Not only is that the first time Wisconsin has failed to reach the century mark on the ground, but the 208 yards they posted back in September against Oregon St was their previous low. That is staggering.
Also deserving consideration is Boom, who rushed a Buckeye season-high 33 times for 160 yards, and his lead blocker Zach Boren, who laid devastating block after block to open holes for Herron all second half.
Game ball to date: Miller (3), Roby (2), Herron, Simon
There were two other big games in the conference other than the Ohio St contest. The Blackshirts at Nebraska shut down Michigan St for a 24-3 win, giving the Huskers the inside track for the Legends Division. Penn St remained undefeated in Big Ten play, needing a 10-0 fourth quarter and a missed last-second field goal by Illinois to beat the Illini 10-7. Also, michigan cruised past another bad team, beating Purdue 36-14, Northwestern put up over 600 yards of offense to rout Indiana 59-38, and Minnesota rallied to stun Iowa for their first conference win, 22-21.
Andy already laid out the Big Ten scenarios, but basically Ohio St can win the Leaders Division by winning their final four very winnable games, and Penn St losing a second time to either Wisconsin or Nebraska, both definite possibilities. It’s crazy to think that the Buckeyes still have a chance (and a good one at that) to keep their Big Ten streak alive after the Michigan St and Nebraska games.
- Those uniforms Ohio St wore were just awful. Replacing the buckeyes with numbers on the helmet was a terrible look, and that red semi-stripe down the middle was just crossing the line. They said these were throwbacks, but they seemed to have a much more “modern” look to me, and I didn’t like it one bit. In fact, I vote putting a stop to all these stupid uniform changes so many colleges are doing (except Virginia Tech’s all blacks that they wore last year against Boise, those were grade A bad ass).
- Why were 95% of our plays run from the shotgun? I realize that that’s where Braxton is probably more comfortable taking the snap from, but don’t do it all the time, especially in short yardage situations. I don’t know why you would turn a third-and-one into a third-and-six on purpose by setting up five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
- If Carlos Hyde was thinking of transferring after being upset about the three carries he received against Illinois, he may have already packed his bags after not even seeing the field in this Wisconsin game. I would still rather see Hyde get just as many, if not more, carries then Hall, but I can’t really complain when we’re compiling 268 yards on the ground.
- The Buckeyes were honoring their basketball teams for some reason in this game, and some hardwood legends were in attendance. My three favorite Buckeye ballers of all time - Evan Turner, Mike Conley, and Michael Redd - were all there, as well as…B.J. Mullens. Yes, this B.J. Mullens, who played one forgettable year for OSU, averaging less than 9 points and 5 rebounds. I was totally lol’ing during this. Why was he there?
Up Next: vs. Indiana (1-8, 0-5), 12:00, Big Ten Network
I know I said this about the Michigan St game, but for real this time, I’ll be in The Horseshoe for this one - I even have a ticket. Ohio St is on an absolute high right now, and I don’t see the Hoosiers coming into town and benefiting from a letdown. The Buckeyes roll in this one.
Prediction: Ohio St 39 Indiana 10
Tuesday, November 1