The fairytale setting seemed perfect as Wisconsin and Ohio State entered the start of overtime.
The Badgers had just been led on Senior Day to a game-tying drive by fifth-year senior quarterback Curt Phillips in the waning minute of regulation, with star tailback and fellow senior Montee Ball just one touchdown away from breaking the NCAA all-time career touchdown record.
But Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall, No. 6 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) would have none of it, besting Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) by a score of 21-14 in overtime and securing the Leaders Division title outright.
But the loss did not change the fact Wisconsin will represent the division in the Big Ten Championship game by default as Ohio State serves its one-year bowl ban.
The loss was the first for the Badgers on Senior Day in UW head coach Bret Bielema’s tenure, as the team’s nine senior players were sent out with a loss in their final game at Camp Randall.
“I’m sorry for my seniors,” Bielema said. “Guys did a lot for us in the last four, five years. Not to send them out with a win was difficult to swallow.”
Ball led all rushers with 191 yards on 39 carries and scored his 78th career touchdown in the second quarter, tying former Miami (OH) running back Travis Prentice’s record.
What perhaps made the end result so surprising for Wisconsin was the fact it held Ohio State’s dynamic playmaker at quarterback, Braxton Miller, to just 48 yards on the ground and 97 through the air, well below the Heisman hopeful’s usual output of 291.9 total yards of offense per game.
“He’s pretty amazing when you think of some of the things he can do with his feet,” Wisconsin free safety Dezmen Southward said. “On tape and on paper maybe we’re not a defense that can match up with that but I think that we showed … we can stop anybody.”
The Buckeyes started off the overtime with a decisive 11-yard gain by Carlos Hyde, part of a solid game by the running back that included 87 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.
Hyde scored the game-deciding touchdown on a two-yard run several plays later, as the Ohio State defense held Phillips and the Wisconsin offense in check to keep its hopes for a perfect season alive.
“We ran a play we hadn’t ran all day with Carlos (Hyde) to the edge,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “Their focus was all over Braxton Miller and rightfully so … I thought Carlos Hyde ran [well], I think we need to give him the ball a little bit more.”
OSU wide receiver Corey Brown returned a Drew Meyer punt 68 yards to make the score 7-0 Buckeyes with 1 minute, 58 seconds left in the first quarter as the Buckeyes’ offense built off that momentum on their next drive. Miller orchestrated an eight play, 69-yard drive capped off by a Hyde touchdown run, making the score 14-0 in favor of the visitor.
But Wisconsin would answer, as Ball’s number was called five times on an eight-play scoring drive in the second quarter and the tailback rushed for 45 yards on the 82-yard scoring drive, including the record-tying 7-yard touchdown that brought the score to 14-7.
Ball had a chance to break the record in the game’s waning minutes, as a controversial spot by the field judge placed a third down run by Ball a yard short of the first down. Down 14-7 late in the fourth, the Badgers went for it on fourth-and-1 just two yards from the goal line. Ball elevated from the ground as Ohio State’s defensive linemen cut at the knees of his offensive line, but was unable to stretch far enough to score. The Buckeyes punched the ball out of Ball’s hands and put an abrupt end to the potential scoring drive.
“I just had this flash in my mind when we were lining up to run that play, ‘don’t jump, don’t jump,’” Bielema said. “Because I knew he was doing anything he could to get in the end zone, I can’t discredit him for the effort.”
It was the lone blemish on an otherwise solid fourth quarter for Ball, as the tailback bulldozed his way to 51 yards on the ground.
But Phillips would not let his team go down without a fight. Getting the ball with 1:33 left in regulation, Buckeyes’ senior defensive end John Simon — who recorded the last of his four sacks on the day — sacked Phillips on the first play of the drive
But the fifth-year senior signal-caller showed grit over the next six plays, completing a crucial fourth-and-3 to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and finding the receiver again for 11 yards to move the ball to the Ohio State 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Phillips connected on a five-yard strike to tight end Jacob Pedersen for a touchdown and sent Camp Randall into a frenzy.
“There were a couple plays that were just all on him making unbelievable efforts,” Bielema said. “Great throws against a very good football team. What he gave us today was worth its weight in gold.”