MADISON, Wisc. — No. 2 Ohio State’s 30-23 overtime victory over No. 8 Wisconsin Saturday night was a game of firsts. The first time this season that the Buckeyes were trailing into the fourth quarter, the first time OSU failed to score a touchdown in the first half and the first time coach Urban Meyer’s team showed the poise of a unit much older than it is.
Since last season’s Fiesta Bowl, redshirt senior center Pat Elflein, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan have been on a journey to figure out how the young players would buy into what they were saying. On a fateful 4th-and-4 against Wisconsin, they got their answer. The captains set the tone for the team’s success.
Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa blasted through the Badgers’ offensive line to seal a tough-fought Big-Ten road victory and the Buckeyes moved to 6-0 on the season.
“Wow,” Meyer said, blotting his head with a towel after the game. “That’s a great win against a very good team. That was great for our confidence.”
Saturday’s game truly tested the will of Meyer’s team. In the first half, the defense gave up big play after big play. The “Silver Bullets” seemed to have no answer for redshirt junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy who gashed the OSU defense on numerous jet sweeps on the outside. Peavy had 67 yards on five carries and a 24-yard touchdown on his only first-half reception. Wisconsin had over 300 total yards of offense at halftime against a team that allows less than 250 per game.
The offense also struggled, accumulating just 91 yards on the ground in the first half despite averaging over 300 per game. The offensive inconsistencies seemed to linger from the Indiana game the week before. Down 16-6 at halftime, Barrett, the undeniable leader on the 2016 squad, came out in the second half determined to leave Madison, Wisconsin, with a zero still hanging in the loss column.
After shaking off an interception in the end zone on the first drive of the second half, Barrett took advantage of a short field and found paydirt for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the game, pulling the deficit to 16-13. Then when the team needed him again, Barrett shook off two tackles in the backfield on 3rd-and-6 from the eight yard line and charged through the goal line for OSU’s first lead. That touchdown tied Barrett with Braxton Miller for the school record of most touchdowns accounted for (88).
But the final touchdown of the night that ended up setting a new school record for Barrett showed his true colors as a Heisman-caliber player.
He found redshirt sophomore Noah Brown on a back-shoulder fade route that ended up being the game-winning score. Barrett said that the final play is something he and Noah had been working on since the summer.
“When we go out there in the summer, don’t just go out there and throw routes, play situation, play coverage,” he said. “This is what we train for, places like this.”
Meyer said Barrett’s game-winning and record-setting final drive was the epitome of what he sees in the quarterback as a player and a person.
“The absolute test to a leader is to raise the level of play around him and he’s surrounded by a bunch of guys that were newbies this year and now they’re not,” Meyer said. “It’s a quarterback’s responsibility to pick up his level of play, same with a bunch of new receivers. That’s what makes J.T. so special.”
There are plenty of similarities between the 2016 Buckeyes and the 2014 national championship team, but before Saturday, the Scarlet and Gray had yet to experience a game with so much adversity. Now having gotten through that stage, redshirt junior right guard Billy Price called the dramatic, come-from-behind win “another stop on our journey.”
“This is kind of a success moment that the young guys bought into so you can kind of reflect on that. We grew today as a team,” Elflein said. “We learned a lot and we grew. It wasn’t perfect but we got better.”