Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
MADISON, Wis. – Urban Meyer paced up and down the Ohio State sideline, staring at his play sheet and presumably looking for answers. Buckeye players sat on the benches, quietly listening to instructions yelled out by their position coaches. Fans clad in scarlet and gray stood in disbelief as Wisconsin faithful screamed and jumped with joy around them.
Nearly everyone associated with the OSU football program – those in attendance and probably those watching on TV, too – were noticeably tense after the Badgers scored with eight seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime Saturday night.
OSU went on to win the contest at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., 21-14, allowing Buckeye Nation to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
But maybe there was no reason to be nervous in the first place.
Winning close contests is what the Buckeyes have been doing all season. Saturday was the second overtime game of the year, the sixth outing in which OSU was either tied or trailing at some point in the second half and the fifth battle that was decided by one score.
And OSU (11-0) won every single one of those games, keeping the dream of a perfect season alive.
The win against Wisconsin did more than just continue the Buckeyes undefeated trek, too.
It handed OSU a Big Ten Leaders Division Championship, and propelled the Buckeyes to a No. 4 ranking by the Associated Press heading into the final game of the season against No. 20-ranked Michigan.
In a season in which the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason, OSU has some hardware. With its high ranking in the AP poll, a chance for an AP National Championship is possible for OSU as well.
Above it all, they just keep winning.
“I think that this team won’t lose. We refuse to lose. That’s what great teams are made of. They find ways to win. They come into tough environments and just come out with W’s,” said senior linebacker Zach Boren.
In the many close games OSU has played in this season, they’ve seemed to almost always make a play when they need to.
Saturday was no different.
After struggling for four quarters, the Buckeye offense scored with ease in overtime. OSU redshirt junior running back Carlos Hyde capped a four-play drive in the extra session with a powering 2-yard touchdown run.
OSU’s defense then stopped Wisconsin, ending the game on a fourth-down pass break-up by junior safety Christian Bryant.
It was a play late in the fourth quarter that will likely stand out among OSU’s defensive highlights, though.
Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball came into the game needing two touchdowns to break the NCAA’s career touchdowns record.
Ball tied the record on a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter, jumping over OSU sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier and into the end zone in the process.
The senior tailback had a chance to get the record on a fourth-down run in the game’s final minutes. But Shazier got the better of him in the duo’s second meeting near the goal line. The sophomore linebacker met Ball mid-air, slammed his helmet into the Wisconsin playmaker’s arms and popped the ball loose, preventing a score.
While the play was basically irrelevant in determining the game’s final outcome – Wisconsin later got the ball back and scored to force overtime – it did prevent history from happening.
Shazier, and the rest of his teammates, didn’t want to be the team Ball broke the record against.
“The thing is, we knew that he needed two (touchdowns) to break the record and we were not going to allow him to break it on us,” Shazier said. “So we gave him the tie or whatever, but we were not going to allow him to break the record.”
Shazier said he saw the play coming, too.
“I knew for a fact that they were going to give him the ball, they try to let him break records or whatever. Fourth-and-one, you’re going to put it in your best player’s hands. I knew he was jumping, and once he jumped I knew I was going to jump,” he said.
OSU did make its fair share of big plays against Wisconsin, but Saturday showed that the Buckeyes are capable of winning a game in which they don’t play to the best of their abilities.
Sophomore quarterback and Heisman candidate Braxton Miller was bottled up by the Badger defense, throwing for only 97 yards while running for just 48. Miller didn’t score a touchdown for the first time in 18 games.
The 236 yards of total offense attained by OSU were a season-low.
On defense, Ball and the Wisconsin running game had little trouble shredding through the Buckeyes’ front. The Badgers had 206 yards rushing – 191 coming from Ball – and lowly heralded redshirt senior quarterback Curt Phillips threw for 154 yards and the game-tying touchdown.
OSU prevailed through it, though.
According to Buckeye players and coaches, that means more than winning easily.
“We have a saying and I just shared that with them – ‘A team that refuses to be beat won’t be beat,'” said Meyer, the first-year OSU coach.
OSU’s struggles in the past – including a 6-7 season and coaching change last year, along with close calls against less-heralded programs like Indiana and Purdue this season – prepared them for the challenges they faced Saturday.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity. This team has been through so much,” said junior wide receiver Corey Brown, who returned a punt for a touchdown in the first half of the game. “We came out, even though the adversity, and came through.”
OSU has one game remaining, a contest against Michigan Saturday. The last Buckeye team to go undefeated, the 2002 squad led by former coach Jim Tressel, will be honored at half time.
In order for OSU to achieve perfection, they’ll likely have to go through some adversity Saturday.
Thankfully for the Buckeyes, they’ve been there plenty of times before this season.
OSU and Michigan are scheduled to kick off at noon Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The game is set to be broadcast by ABC.