No offense, no problem.
Ohio State’s (5-1, 3-0) defense and special teams fueled a 31-13 win over previously unbeaten Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) Saturday at The Horseshoe.
Three of the Buckeyes’ four touchdowns were non-offensive.
“When you get two defensive touchdowns and then a kickoff return touchdown, that’s more than you could ever wish for,” coach Jim Tressel said.
Senior safety Kurt Coleman returned from a one-game suspension and returned an 89-yard interception for a touchdown to give OSU a 7-0 lead. “
I don’t want to take much of the credit for it,” Coleman said. “It was the whole defense that really helped me out with that pick. But it’s definitely a great feeling for me to come back after a week off and really help this team out as much as I can.”
After intercepting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Badgers faked a field goal and rushed for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game.That score was the only touchdown Wisconsin managed on offense, even though they possessed the football for nearly 43 of the 60 minutes.
The Badgers certainly had opportunities, as they ran 89 plays to OSU’s 40.
Buckeye coaches “always preach to the defense that we have to be ready to go 60-plus minutes, and more if we have to,” Coleman said. “At the same time, we definitely were looking for a few breaks out there, but we know that we’ve got to be ready for anything at any moment.”
Still, the Buckeye defense never really tired, ceding just a pair of field goals after the trick-play touchdown.
OSU’s defensive line “got pressure on their quarterback the entire game, and you could tell that he was rattled,” senior linebacker Austin Spitler said. “We did a good job of rotating and keeping players fresh, so we were able to wear them down.”
For the brief time the Buckeye offense spent on the field during the first half, it struggled. Pryor led the group to just one first down before an 88-yard touchdown drive gave OSU a 14-10 halftime lead.
Pryor connected with sophomore receiver DeVier Posey for a 32-yard score.
“We knew we needed to get a touchdown when the score was 10-7,” Posey said. “Coach told us that we were going to get a touchdown, so we pulled together as an offense and got it done.”
Wisconsin started the second half with the ball, but only until safety Jermale Hines returned an interception 32 yards for another touchdown, padding OSU’s lead to 11.
“We strive to score a defensive touchdown every week,” senior safety Anderson Russell said. “So it was huge to get two.”
Following a Wisconsin field goal, senior receiver Ray Small returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to push the Buckeyes’ advantage to 28-13.
“It was almost like he was shot out of a gun,” Tressel said. “I saw him take that thing and he downshifted and he was gone.”
Despite such a significant advantage in time of possession, Wisconsin never found a rhythm on offense. Sophomore running back John Clay, who entered the game fourth in the nation in rushing, was limited to 59 yards on 20 carries.
“It came down to stopping the run first,” defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. “Clay is a great back. And after that, we have to get pressure.”
OSU’s defense placed constant pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, sacking him six times.
“We just basically attacked,” Heyward said. “We just had so many guys that we could rotate in and out, that we just kept getting off the ball.”
Overall, just about every offensive statistic favored Wisconsin. The Badgers recorded 22 first downs to OSU’s eight, and Wisconsin doubled the Buckeyes’ total yardage output, 368 to 184.
Even so, OSU’s trio of touchdown returns were too much for Wisconsin to overcome.
“Anytime you give Ohio State points without their offense being on the field, you’re going to have problems,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “I’m glad to be heading back home to Wisconsin.”
The victory gives OSU sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, with a 3-0 conference record. Iowa, the only other team with an unblemished league record, sits at 2-0.
The Buckeyes travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue Saturday at noon.