There was no denying that Ohio State football’s season was riding on the outcome of Saturday’s game against No. 12-ranked Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes simply would not be denied.
After leading for most of the second half, the Buckeyes fell behind the Badgers, 29-26, on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Wisconsin senior quarterback Russell Wilson to sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis with 1:18 remaining in regulation.
The crowd, which was ready to celebrate OSU’s second win against a ranked team in as many games, went silent.
With 20 seconds remaining in the game, though, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller found classmate and receiver Devin Smith for a shocking, game-winning score. The Buckeyes won the game, 33-29, and fans stormed the field and celebrated as the team improved to 5-3 on the season and 2-2 in the Big Ten.
“We knew all year that (Miller) can throw the ball,” first-year OSU head coach Luke Fickell said. “He had confidence and it was amazing to see that from a young guy like that.”
OSU senior center Michael Brewster agreed.
“It’s unbelievable,” Brewster said. “This is a group of guys that are never going to stop fighting. It’s about time we caught a break because these guys have fought like hell for weeks.”
Miller finished the game with 99 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and was also 7-of-12 passing for 89 yards.
The Badgers opened the scoring, silencing the Ohio Stadium crowd with a 23-yard touchdown reception from Wilson to junior running back Montee Ball at the 3:10 mark of the first quarter. Ball’s catch-and-run score capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive that put Wisconsin up, 7-0.
The Badgers couldn’t sustain the offensive pressure as OSU limited Wisconsin to just 89 yards on the ground in the game.
“Our big focus on defense was stop the run,” Fickell said. “I think we did a heck of a job.”
The Buckeyes tallied seven first downs to the Badgers’ six in the opening half, but had only 104 total yards and three points to show for it.
Sophomore kicker Drew Basil clanked a 39-yard field goal attempt off the left upright, but in for a score with 2:55 remaining in the half to cut OSU’s deficit to 7-3.
Daniel “Boom” Herron ignited the OSU offense on the opening possession of the second half, rushing twice for 75 yards to set up a first-and-goal for the Buckeyes on the Wisconsin 2-yard line.
After three unsuccessful attempts by Herron to punch the ball in for a score, Fickell called a fake hand-off to Herron on fourth-and-1.
An audible groan went up from fans in the ‘Shoe as Herron was swarmed by the Badgers’ defense, but Miller, the actual ball carrier, strolled into the end zone to put OSU up, 10-7.
Herron finished the contest with 160 yards on 33 carries.
Then OSU’s special teams made its mark on the contest.
On Wisconsin’s next possession, senior punter Brad Nortman’s punt was blocked by freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier and recovered by freshman Curtis Grant on the Badgers’ 1-yard line.
“A blocked punt is a huge, huge thing,” Fickell said. “The special teams played very well in every other aspect.”
Three plays later, junior running back Jordan Hall’s 2-yard run extended OSU’s advantage, 17-7.
Hall finished the game with just 10 yards, though the Buckeyes tallied 268 yards on the ground by game’s end.
The momentum gained from Hall’s touchdown was short lived, however.
An adventurous night for Hall as OSU’s punt returner, who fumbled a punt in the first half, became costly when his second fumble as returner was recovered by Wisconsin on OSU’s 27-yard line.
The Badgers’ made quick work of the short field as Ball scored on a 1-yard run six plays later to cut the deficit to 17-14.
Despite the score, 105,511 scarlet-clad fans were up for a tight contest. They cheered and waved rally towels as OSU responded to Wisconsin’s second touchdown of the game with a 22-yard, fourth-quarter field goal that extended the Buckeyes’ lead, 20-14.
The night’s attendance was the seventh-largest in ‘Shoe history, and no cheer from Buckeye Nation was louder than after a fourth-down stop by the OSU defense with 8:04 remaining in the game.
Or at least it was the loudest cheer until a 44-yard touchdown run by Miller at the 4:39 mark in the fourth quarter to give OSU a 26-14 lead.
The ensuing two-point conversation attempt was denied by Wisconsin.
The Badgers responded immediately as Wilson completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Abbrederis to make the score, 26-21.
The night seemed to hold so much promise at times for OSU, but Wilson and Abbrederis appeared to put an end to any hopes of an upset when they connected again just minutes later.
Wilson linked with an unmarked Abbrederis on a 49-yard touchdown to put the Badgers up, 27-26. Wilson then completed another pass, this time to Ball, to score a two-point conversation and advance the lead to 29-26.
“It (the Abbrederis touchdown) was a blown coverage,” Fickell said.
OSU’s offense stepped out on the field with 1:18 remaining for its last attempt to score and force overtime or take the lead.
On first-and-10 from Wisconsin’s 40-yard line, Miller rolled to the right of the pocket and appeared to be sideline bound on a scramble.
“There was a little break down and the edge was clear,” Brewster said of Miller’s run out of the pocket.
Instead of rushing, Miller threw to the end zone and found Smith, who rolled on his back but controlled the ball and put the Buckeyes up for good.
“It’s amazing,” Brewster said. “(Miller) is a calm kid. He’s just been playing with his instincts. I’m just really proud of him.”
Wisconsin had one drive left to respond, though.
Fickell said the defense needed to regroup as the Badgers nearly mounted a successful comeback attempt in the final seconds of the game.
“We had to make sure that we were staying focused,” Fickell said. “The game’s never over. We saw it last week in their game against Michigan State. We stuck with what we did.”
OSU held Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2) off in the remaining 20 seconds — junior defensive tackle John Simon clipped Wilson’s arm as he went to throw and the pass fell incomplete to end the game.
“I don’t know when the last time that I felt that happy,” Fickell said. “I’m so happy for these guys (the team).”
The Buckeyes, which have now upset then-ranked Illinois and Wisconsin in its last two games, will host Indiana next Saturday at noon as Big Ten play continues.