MADISON, Wisc. — Ohio State knew coming into Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, that the Badgers were a force on both sides of the ball, and the Buckeyes witnessed just how much of a force they can be. A normally stout defense from OSU was pushed to its limits by Wisconsin, and it took overtime to decide the final score, but the Scarlet and Gray found a way to win 30-23.
In a slugfest, OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett proved to be the difference-maker with a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime. The touchdown gave Barrett the record for career touchdowns responsible at OSU with 89.
In a showdown between two top-10 teams, No. 2 OSU met No. 8 Wisconsin in a battle of game-changing defenses. Contrary to the statsheet, neither team seemed to be able to slow the other. With two minutes before halftime on the clock, Wisconsin had racked up 252 yards — shocking considering OSU’s defense averaged just 246.4 yards allowed each game.
Throughout the first half, OSU struggled to complete passes, as Barrett connected on less than half his passes while both underthrowing and overthrowing open receivers. The run game from starting running back and redshirt freshman Mike Weber was a non-factor, as the Detroit native gained just 14 on three carries before halftime.
Senior running back Corey Clement was the go-to guy for Wisconsin in the opening frame of play. After busting an early 68-yard run, he finished his half with 12 carries for 110 yards.
“We’re a very aggressive defense,” junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “We always look to make plays in the backfield. Sometimes the offense hits one on us.”
OSU nearly caught a break on Clement’s breakaway run, as the senior had the ball stripped while racing down the sideline by redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley. Although OSU recovered, the ball touched the leg of Clement while he was out-of-bounds, making it a dead ball at the spot, keeping possession in the hands of the Badgers.
Much of the talk about the pass-catching ability of Wisconsin dealt with redshirt junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy. But it was redshirt junior tight end Troy Fumagalli who stole the show, racking up 82 yards.
Peavy’s only reception from the first half resulted in a score, but the redshirt junior hurt the Buckeyes with his running ability. Carrying the ball five times, Peavy picked up 67 yards on the ground.
The big play capability by OSU was nowhere to be found through two quarters. The longest play from scrimmage in the first half came from a 29-yard lob to redshirt junior tight end Marcus Baugh, which saw Barrett under immense pressure.
On defense, the Buckeyes looked confused at times, watching the sidelines and raising their hands in the air, as if they were clueless to the play call. The Badgers took advantage of the missteps, finding uncovered receivers and huge running lanes early on.
Even with a rough first half behind them, OSU coach Urban Meyer said halftime was a time for adjustment, not ridicule from the coaching staff.
“I just saw a bunch of professionals going about their business,” Meyer said. “They had the overlays going on and the coaches were working and that’s what everyone gets paid to do and they did a very good job. So I’m very proud of tonight and the coaches.”
The second half began with more struggles for OSU, as a drive for the Buckeyes resulted in Barrett throwing an interception in the end zone, after overthrowing redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown on a ball that Barrett said slipped from his grasp.
“Yeah, it did,” Barrett said as he looked down at his hands. “I can’t do that, I got big enough hands.”
But, as it has all year, the Buckeye defense stepped up in a big way to turn the tide.
The Silver Bullets locked in, keeping Wisconsin from picking up a single yard on the drive after the turnover, forcing a punt that gave OSU great field position. That field position led to a nearly five-minute drive, and a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Barrett.
The Buckeyes had cut the gap to just three, but the defense was not done making big plays. Redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley had been searching for his first pick all year, and his prayers were answered when Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook floated a pass in his direction.
Conley picked the ball deep in Badger territory, silencing a capacity crowd. The Buckeyes were quick to take advantage, and Barrett scampered out of the pocket for an 8-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Conley said the play was big, but the way the team handled the halftime deficit was bigger.
“Whenever we’re down, or in a position where we need to fight, we never get down, we never scream,” Conley said. “We just handle ourselves. We handle adversity well.”
Even with the lead, Wisconsin kept up a blistering offensive attack. After receiving the ball inside their own 20, the Badgers marched down the field, before junior fullback Austin Ramesh rumbled in from four yards out.
This marked the first rushing touchdown allowed by OSU’s defense this season. Ramesh now has two touchdowns this year, his first coming during Wisconsin’s game against Akron.
On the next drive, Barrett found senior H-back Dontre Wilson streaking down the sideline for a 43-yard gain. That catch allowed the Buckeyes to set-up for a field goal from senior kicker Tyler Durbin, knotting the game at 23-23.
Neither team could pull ahead, forcing overtime in a game that had fans on the edge of their seats throughout. Wisconsin won the toss, but chose to give the ball to the Buckeyes, electing to try and keep OSU from scoring.
In a moment of true Heisman-caliber play, Barrett led the Buckeyes through a drive marked by two penalties. Barrett found Brown in the right corner of the end zone, giving OSU the lead.
Barrett said proper preparation led to the go-ahead score.
“When you really think about the situation, I think that’s what I try to do,” Barrett said. “When we go out there in the summer, you don’t just go out there and just throw routes. You play the situation, play coverage and understand that (pressure situations) is when it’s going to come up.”
The fate of the game was now in the hands of the Silver Bullets, in a situation unfamiliar to the young team. What happened next will go down in history as one of the plays of the year.
With the Badgers against the wall, OSU forced a fourth down play from its own 5-yard line. Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis and junior defensive end Jalyn Holmes broke through Wisconsin’s offensive line for the game clinching sack.
Freshman defensive end Nick Bosa, who picked up a sack earlier in the game, couldn’t help but see the similarities between the game winning bull rush and a play from 2014.
“I think (Holmes) pushed the guard, kinda like Joey’s (Bosa) play against Penn State,” Nick Bosa said. “When he knocked him back and he was falling, we all came around and swarmed him.”
Bosa said he has been trying to model his game after his brother’s, and it paid off against the Badgers.
OSU is now 6-0, with a perfect 3-0 mark in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes travel to State College, Pennsylvania to face the Penn State Nittany Lions next Saturday at 8 p.m.