Cody Cousino / Photo editor
College football coaches have their play-calling and decision-making skills frequently scrutinized, but first-year Ohio State football head coach Luke Fickell’s decision to stick with junior running back and kick returner Jordan Hall, despite two fumbles, factored heavily into the Buckeyes’ 33-29 win Saturday against then-No.12 Wisconsin.
With OSU trailing, 7-3, Hall fumbled a Badgers’ punt as he bent over and braced for a collision with another player in the second quarter. Hall scrambled to recover the ball on the Buckeyes’ 8-yard line.
“He caught (that punt) inside the 10,” Fickell said after the game. “I’m not saying those are things we designed up.”
Momentum shifted as play continued, and the Buckeyes took a 10-7 lead early in the second half. Hall added to the lead at the 9:26 mark with a two-yard touchdown run.
But Hall’s adventurous night as punt returner wasn’t over.
A second punt-return fumble by Hall was recovered by Wisconsin redshirt senior defensive back Andrew Lukasko, and led to a 1-yard touchdown run junior back Montee Ball that sliced OSU’s deficit to 17-14.
Hall said he was anxious to make a play.
“The drops I had, that’s not usual for me,” Hall said. “I’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Fickell stuck with Hall for the remainder of the game, though, and it paid off.
OSU stretched its lead to 26-14 before Badgers’ senior quarterback Russell Wilson connected with sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for two touchdowns, the second of which gave Wisconsin a 29-26 lead with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Senior center Michael Brewster said his first thought after the Badgers retook the lead was that OSU would need a good return on the ensuing kickoff.
“We have got to get a good return to help us out,” Brewster said. “At least get in field goal range, at worst.”
“On the return, I knew I just had to make a play to help our offense out,” he said.
Hall collected Wisconsin sophomore Alec Lerner’s kick and returned it 42 yards to OSU’s 48-yard line.
“After (Hall) got that big return, I knew we would get at least three points,” sophomore receiver Corey “Philly” Brown said of Hall’s return.
Just four plays later, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller heaved a 40-yard pass to fellow freshman and receiver Devin Smith who waited in the end zone to collect the pass.
The rest is history.
Fickell said he wanted the ball in Hall’s hands.
“Just because (Hall) makes a mistake here or there, he doesn’t make them often,” Fickell said. “We’re going to stick with him.”
Hall said the win was big for OSU, (5-3, 2-2) which improved its position in the Big Ten Leaders Division standings.
“It (the win) will give us more confidence,” Hall said. “It’s up to us. Time to get back to work.”
OSU returns to work Saturday against Indiana at noon in Ohio Stadium.