Ohio State fans thought they could rest easy: The Buckeyes’ big game woes seemed to be over with wins against Oregon in January’s Rose Bowl and Miami (Fla.) at home in September.
But alas, Tressel and his boys could not overcome the Camp Randall hoopla and OSU lost Saturday’s game, and its short-lived No. 1 spot, 31-18 against No. 18 Wisconsin.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked like he was unable to complete a meaningful pass. The defense allowed Wisconsin to run the ball at will. Special teams gave up a 97-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff.
To put it simply, the Buckeyes’ preparation just didn’t pan out.
“We’ve got to stop taking stuff for granted,” Pryor said, unwilling to look anyone in the eye after the game. “I wanted to make sure that we stayed focused … and those things I talked about, it happened today.”
There were many x-factors reminiscent of recent big-game losses for the Buckeyes, one of which is the 50-percent completion rate for Pryor, who was 14 for 28. In the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, Pryor went 5 for 13 passes, after splitting snaps with then-senior and former starter Todd Boeckman. The then-No. 3 Texas Longhorns beat then-No. 10 OSU 24-21.
As a Heisman hopeful and junior leader of the Buckeye squad, Pryor said he felt the weight of the loss on his shoulders after stating he had fully recovered from an injury he suffered during the Illinois game.
“I can’t use the quad as an excuse, I had enough that I could run a little bit,” Pryor said. “That’s no excuse at all, I mean, the quad is fine.”
It was the Buckeye defense that couldn’t come back from star safety Tyler Moeller’s injury against Illinois, as it gave up 104 yards to Wisconsin running back John Clay.
The last time the Buckeyes allowed an opponent more than 100 rushing yards was in another No. 1 matchup on Sept. 13, 2008, when then-No. 5 OSU visited No. 1, Southern California and Joe McKnight racked up 105 yards.
In Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes made a run with 18 unanswered points, beginning in the second quarter. But the attempt turned out to be in vain when the Badgers added a touchdown and a field goal in the last seven minutes of the game.
“It’s hard to have momentum in somebody else’s house but we had a little bit of momentum,” said coach Jim Tressel about the beginning of the second half. “But, you know, (Wisconsin) delivered.”
The loss in momentum, however, that allowed Wisconsin to score the final points was not unlike the loss in momentum with minutes left against USC on Sept. 12, 2009. USC started with the ball on its own 5-yard line and managed to march down the field for a touchdown and 2-point conversion to make the final score 18-15 USC.
Running back Brandon Saine, who didn’t see much action until late in the game, said there hadn’t been a mental block for him or his teammates.
“I think people were thinking the right things, but you know, coming into the stadium and trying to pull off a win is always hard,” Saine said. “This is one of the toughest places to play ever.”
Despite their disappointment, Pryor said the Buckeyes have no reason to give up.
“It was a team loss, but we’ll live to fight another day,” Pryor said.