Wisconsin's playoff hopes end with 27-21 loss to Ohio State

Wisconsin’s defense struggled at times in its 27-21 defeat to Ohio State.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

INDIANAPOLIS — One year after falling to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin (9-1 Big Ten, 12-1 overall) arrived in Indianapolis looking to not only win the Big Ten, but also punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

For 12 weeks, the Badgers leaned on its defense to wreak havoc on opposing teams and extend their undefeated season. Saturday night in UW’s 27-21 loss to Ohio State (9-1 Big Ten, 11-2 overall), it was Wisconsin’s offense that ultimately decided its fate.

Possessing the football with 2:59 to play, trailing by only six, sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the Badgers had hopes of orchestrating a 70-yard touchdown drive to send Wisconsin to the playoff.

But after two first downs, UW’s final drive would end, not with a game-winning touchdown, but instead, with an interception.

No playoff ticket punched. No undefeated season achieved.

Prior to the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin’s defense gave up only three plays of 50 or more yards all season. But in the first quarter alone, it gave up two plays of such a length, both resulting in touchdowns.

OSU’s first drive of the second quarter featured yet another chunk play, as a 77-yard run by freshman running back J.K. Dobbins set up a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback J.T. Barrett, creating an early 14-point Badger deficit.

In the first half, UW’s offense, which seldom trailed throughout its undefeated regular season, struggled to muster points on its own accord and instead relied on an interception returned for a touchdown and a recovered fumble deep in Buckeye territory that culminated in a short field goal to score its 10 first half points.

A crucial fourth down conversion with less than a minute to play in the half extended Ohio State’s final drive of the frame, but Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson blocked the Buckeyes’ field goal attempt four plays later as time expired.

Coming out of the locker room down 21-10, the Badgers’ defense forced an immediate three-and-out. And after a first down by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, a 33-yard catch by freshman Danny Davis put the Badgers in Ohio State territory. Three plays later, junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone cut OSU’s lead to merely eight, giving Wisconsin some early second half life.

A 53-yard dash by Dobbins, however, would help the Buckeyes answer, as a field goal pushed their lead back to 11 with 7:25 to go in the third quarter.

Two possessions later, the Badgers would force their third turnover of the game as an errant throw by Barrett deflected off of tight end Marcus Baugh’s hands and into Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs’ arms.

Brandon Moe | The Daily Cardinal
As the third quarter concluded, facing a third and nine from Ohio State’s 40-yard line, a chest pass by Hornibrook to redshirt freshman running back Garrett Groshek picked up 17 yards and put UW on the cusp of the redzone. After a roughing the passer penalty moved the Badgers to the 13-yard line, a throwback pass from Groshek to Hornibrook put Wisconsin inside the five.

Three plays later, a 1-yard touchdown run by junior running back Chris James drew UW to within five-points and a 2-point conversion to senior tight end Troy Fumagalli cut the lead to three with 12:39 to play.

A 15-play, seven-plus minute drive by the Buckeyes resulted in only a field goal, however, giving Wisconsin’s offense five minutes and twenty seconds to take the lead. The Badgers would pick up one first down, but a third down pass to Fumagalli with less than four minutes to play fell incomplete and forced another UW punt.

After an Ohio State punt, Hornibrook and the Badgers next possessed the football with a chance to extend its perfect season. The offense picked up two first downs and inched closer to Ohio State’s endzone — and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

But a holding penalty by junior left tackle Michael Deiter put the Badgers in a first and 20 situation. Three plays later, the Badgers’ magic ran out.

Hornibrook, who threw for 229 yards on the night, had a fourth down throw sail over his receivers’ head and into the arms of OSU’s Damon Webb.

Wisconsin’s quest for revenge in the Big Ten Championship came up short.

Its record blemished. Its playoff hopes dashed.

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