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On a day when Wisconsin's offense doubled Ohio State's output, the Buckeyes' defense and special teams proved that there's more than one way to win a football game. Both starting OSU safeties had interception returns for touchdowns, and Ray Small took a kickoff 96 yards for a score, propelling Ohio State to a 31-13 win over the Badgers that wasn't nearly as easy as the final score suggests.
Assuming the Position
With the win, the 9th-ranked Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0) take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings and knock the Badgers (5-1, 2-1) from the ranks of the unbeaten. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) is the only other team still unbeaten in conference play, but with just two conference wins, they're a half game behind Ohio State.
The Bucks head to Purdue Saturday with a chance to tie the Big Ten record for consecutive road victories at 17.
The Badgers have to be heading home kicking themselves for losing a game that they so thoroughly dominated statistically. And this Buckeye win serves as a textbook example of the importance of turnovers as the great equalizer. How bad were the numbers for Ohio State? The time of possession alone tells the tale.
- Possession time: Wisconsin 42:47, OSU 17:13 - First downs: Wisconsin 22, OSU 8 - Offensive plays: Wisconsin 89, OSU 40 - Passing yards: Wisconsin 250, OSU 87 - Rushing yards: 118, OSU 97 - Total yards: Wisconsin 368, OSU 184
The strange thing about this 60 minutes of football was that the defense on the down side of all those statistics was the one truly dominating the game. Indeed the dominance of the Buckeyes on defense was the defining element of the contest. I can't say that I recall ever seeing a team score 31 points and put up an 18-point win when they generateeight first downs. Strange game.
Offense Coming Up Lame
Of course those statistics also suggest the ineptitude of the OSU offense. Sometimes youcan trust the numbers. In fact, a closer look makes the OSU offense look even more anemic. Take away a 31-yard run by Saine and a 27-yard scamper by Pryor, and the Bucks averaged just 3.3 yards per play on their other 38 offensive plays of the game. That's how you get eight first downs.
Pryor and the Buckeye offense struggled from the outset, and found the end zone just once...when DeVier Posey hauled in a 32-yard TD pass from Pryor right before the half, allowing the Bucks to take a 14-10 lead into the locker room. (The 10-7 deficit was the first time they had trailed in a game in a month.) Pryor was 5 for 13 passing, for 87 yards. He had the TD to Posey, but also threw a pick that accounted for the only Wisconsin touchdown.
Ohio State did very little right in this game offensively, but in the end it wouldn't matter. 21 points from the defense and special teams bailed them out.
This D Is For Real
Outside the three big non-offensive TD's, the story of the game was the way the Buckeyes' defensive line toyed with the touted offensive line of the Badgers, sacking quarterback Scott Tolzien six times, and hurrying him a dozen more. Tolzien played a heady game, (27 of 45, 250 yds, 2 int.) and the Wisconsin passing game was notably better than Ohio State's, but the OSU defensive pressure was relentless, and proved to be too much for the Badgers' first-year starter to overcome.
Wisconsin's offense came into the game leading the conference in scoring, with Tolzien the leading passer in the league and John Clay the top rusher, but they still couldn't generate a touchdown against a smothering Buckeye defense. Although Clay was probably the best running back in the game, he was contained by the OSU defense, held to 59 yards on 20 carries, with no run longer than eight yards.
The quality of the defensive front for Ohio State has been no secret to anyone all year, but on this afternoon, they put on a show. Tolzien got a faceful of Cam Heyward, Thad Gibson, Nathan Williams, Lawrence Wilson, and Doug Worthington all day long, and only some Houdiniesque escapes by Tolzien and several holding infractions kept the Bucks from adding to their sack total.
While the D-line for the Bucks was whipping the Badger's offensive front, the OSU linebackers were cleaning up with their best game of the year as a unit. Ross Homan was everywhere, getting two sacks on Tolzien on blitzes, and racking up 15 total tackles to lead the team. MLB Brian Rolle wasn't far behind with 14 total stops. Austin Spitler chipped in with four tackles, including two for loss, and he hit Tolzien as he released the pass Coleman intercepted.
Along with the big-play safeties Coleman (14 tackles) and Hines (11 tackles), the linebacking crew was largely responsible for holding Wisconsin to a meager 2.7 yards per carry for the game, including stopping Clay for just 3.0 yards per rush.
The lone Badger touchdown came on a fake field goal after the Bucks had held Wisconsin following the interception of Pryor that set up the Badgers on the OSU 12. Badger coach Bret Bielema gambled and won from field goal formation, as holder Chris Maragos made a spectacular play to score from nine yards out, stretching for the pylon as he was being knocked out of bounds. Bielema pulled out all the stops on this day, going for it on 4th down five times, converting on three of them.
The Pryor interception hurt, and he threw into coverage enough times that he could have had another pick or two. Afterward, Tressel stressed winning the turnover game:
"...unfortunately we set them up with a scoring drive with ourturnover, but obviously we won the turnover margin and we always say if youcan do something special on the special teams and win the turnover marginyou're going to have a chance to win a tough game."
And it was a tough game. The young Badger defense gave Pryor fits, and stuffed an erratic OSU rushing game, holding the Bucks to 184 total yards. Wisconsin outgained OSU on the ground 118 yards to 97, although it took them 17 more carries to do it.
Saine led OSU with 55 yards rushing on 14 carries, but one run of 31 yards made the average (3.9 yds) look better than the reality. The total of 24 yards on the other 13 carries (1.8 yds) better tells the story of Saine's afternoon. Pryor rushed 10 times for 59 yards, including the 27-yarder, but took 24 yards worth of sacks, so he nets out to 35 yards rushing for the game.
O'Brien Schofield, the Badger's standout defensive end, had another stellar game with 7 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and he sacked Pryor twice. The OSU offensive tackles seemed to be chasing him more than blocking him. On the other hand, UW safety Jay Valai (3 assists) who had a big game last year, was a lot louder before this game than he was during it.
Turnovers to Points
The all-important turnover battle ended up just 2-1 in favor of the Buckeyes, but OSU's two takeaways tallied 14 points. Kurt Coleman opened the scoring when he picked off an overthrown Tolzien pass at his own 11, and sprinted down the right sideline for an 89-yard score at 3:48 of the 1st quarter. Then coming out of halftime with the ball, the Badgers had picked up one first down before OSU safety Jermale Hines tipped a sideline pass to himself in the right flat, and raced in 32 yards for the Buckeyes' second defensive touchdown of the day.
Wisconsin answered that score with a field goal to cut it to eight at 21-13, but Ray Small took the ensuing kickoff straight up the gut, and the senior found a hole big enough for a semi, cruising in untouched for his first career TD on a kickoff return. At 28-13, the lead was big enough at that point for Tressel to turn it over to his defense, and they would be on the field for 22 of the 30 second half minutes without surrendering another point.
Despite the two pick-sixes for Tolzien, the junior showed why he leads the conference in passing efficiency. Tressel was impressed..
"Their quarterback does a good job standing inthere. There was some times where he was under amazing duress and he stilldelivered the ball. There were also some times where he didn't have achance.....our guys were relentless."