MADISON, Wis. – The dream is still alive for Ohio State football.
The No. 6-ranked Buckeyes withstood a late rally by the Wisconsin Badgers and senior running back Montee Ball’s furious pursuit of NCAA history to stay undefeated with a 21-14 overtime win at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
OSU junior running back Carlos Hyde scored the eventual game-winning touchdown in the overtime period and Buckeyes senior defensive end John Simon tied an OSU single-game record with four sacks in the game to deny the hosts.
OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will host rival Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio Stadium next Saturday. The Wolverines defeated Iowa, 42-17, in their final home game of the 2012 season.
“I’m honored to be the coach of an 11-0 Ohio State Buckeye team, especially one that’s very deserving,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game. We played great defense in a great environment and their offense, to keep (Ball) somewhat in check, I thought our defense did a fantastic job.”
OSU hushed the Camp Randall faithful in the first half, taking a 7-0 lead on a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown by junior receiver Corey Brown late in the first quarter. Hyde added a 12-yard touchdown run on the Buckeyes’ next possession.
Ball halved the Badgers’ deficit on a second-quarter touchdown run, the 78th of his career. The score tied Ball with former Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice for the NCAA career record for touchdowns.
The run was befitting of the moment – Ball loped through the OSU defense, shedding tackles before plopping down in the end zone in front of his peers in the student section.
Ball would finish the night with 191 yards on the ground, but his Senior Day celebration came to a screeching halt in the closing minutes of the game.
Wisconsin tied the contest, but Ball barely factored in the play. His time to score, which would have set the NCAA career touchdown record, came with just less than three minutes to play. On 4th down from the 1-yard line, Ball took a handoff and leapt for the goal line. OSU sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier met the ball with his head, forcing a fumble that was recovered by OSU junior safety Christian Bryant.
“Once (Ball) jumped, I knew I was going to jump,” Shazier said. “Whatever was in my face, I hit it. It could have been him. It could been anyone.”
Stunned silence swept across Camp Randall.
Ball said his teammates and coaches encouraged him after the game despite falling short of setting the NCAA career touchdown record in his final home game as a collegian.
“They just told me, ‘good game. Keep your head up. We all tried,” Ball said, “‘and no matter what, we’re all behind you.'”
The silence was momentary. OSU punted the ball back to Wisconsin, which marched back down the field to tie the game with eight seconds remaining in regulation. Badgers redshirt senior quarterback Curt Phillips found redshirt junior tight end Jacob Peterson for the game-tying score.
But then came overtime, where Hyde took the ball when OSU opened the first overtime period and scored on a 2-yard run. The Buckeyes defense then denied the Badgers – Bryant was there to break up a 4th-down pass by Phillips.
The Buckeyes’ bench erupted and rushed the field. They will have the opportunity to play for the sixth undefeated season in program history, and what would be an undeniable achievement any year, but especially in light of the team’s postseason ban.
With the win, the Buckeyes clinch the outright Big Ten Conference Leaders Division championship – the players wore commemorative shirts in the locker room after the game. Wisconsin is on pace for a third-place finish in the division, but will represent the Leaders side of the conference in the Dec. 1 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The division’s second-place team, Penn State, is also banned from postseason play.
OSU’s defense held the Badgers to 360 yard of total offense, most of which belonged to Ball and the Wisconsin ground attack, which racked up 206 yards on 56 attempts.
Phillips led a Wisconsin passing attack that accumulated 154 yards. He was 14-of-27 passing in the contest. The Badgers’ offense threatened throughout the second half, but the same cannot be said of the Buckeyes, which gained only 85 yards and collected a single first down in the second half.
It could also be said of OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller that, for the first time all season, his impact on the game was minimal. He was 10-of-18 passing for a pedestrian 97 yards. On the ground, Miller totaled 48 yards and did not score.
Miller did, however, set up Hyde’s score with a crucial first-down run in the overtime period, and Meyer credited Miller for the run after the game.
“I liked the way the offense just went in and attacked it (in overtime),” Meyer said. “(Hyde) got a big run, Braxton Miller ran like Braxton Miller. We got him in some space and then we pounded it in there.”
Then the defense stepped in when Wisconsin, again playing before a crowd that had been muzzled by a Buckeyes’ score, took the ball in the overtime.
The Badgers ran four plays, and no more.
In his first game back since sustaining an injury in the Oct. 6 game against Nebraska, OSU redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino stopped Ball for a 2-yard loss on third down.
Sabino tallied six tackles in his return.
Then Bryant, who finished with five tackles, stepped in front of Phillips’ 4th-down pass, deflecting it to end the game.
Bryant was not made available for comment after the game.
OSU sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said the team accomplished its goals on defense.
“We knew what they wanted to do and we had gone over in practice a lot of time the things that they do, things that they run,” Roby said.
Roby also said he knew how the game would end if the offense gave the Buckeyes a lead.
“We knew that if our offense scored,” he said, “then we were gonna win.”
“The Game” between OSU and Michigan next Saturday is scheduled for a noon kickoff at Ohio Stadium.