A week after the Badgers got a crack at the Golden Gophers after last years drubbing, Wisconsin had another shot for redemption, but this time against the Buckeyes with a Big Ten title on the line.
In these teams first matchup they met in Columbus, where Ohio State took complete control in the second half to open up a 10-0 halftime lead into a 38-10 final.
Wisconsin would only score once in the second half--their only score of the game--off of a blocked punt that set the UW offense up at the Ohio State 30. That was capped off with a 26-yard connection from Jack Coan to A.J. Taylor for a touchdown minutes later.
The Badgers might have been able to bounce back from the loss to Illinois to upset the No. 3 Buckeyes, but from then on Ohio State would score touchdowns on their following four possessions, trouncing UW.
When the No. 8 Badgers (10-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) met No. 1 Ohio State (12-0 overall, 9-0 Big Ten) in Indianapolis, the matchup followed much of the same script.
The Badgers were ready, excited, and in the words of head coach Paul Chryst, appreciative of the opportunity to face the Buckeyes a second time.
“We’ve got some unfinished business and we are just excited for the challenge,” junior running back Garrett Groshek said following the win over the Gophers.
“I love this stuff. Being able to play a team a second time. It’s something I am very familiar with from the NFL,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard added. “How do you get better. We’ve got a lot of points to make but luckily we start off 0-0.”
Coming into the matchup with a clean slate and having put the 38-7 loss behind them, UW was ready to put out a better showing, with what many of the players believed was an improved team from the last time they met on Oct. 26.
“We all believe that we are a different team. We’re not the same team that we were in Columbus,” freshman cornerback Semar Melvin asserted before the game.
On the defensive end, senior linebacker Chris Orr noted better communication “from the front all the way to the back end.” The unit had been coming off an impressive performance limiting an explosive Minnesota offense to just 10 meaningful points (the Gophers scored a touchdown while already down 28) and only three points outside of a breakdown on the first drive that led to a 51-yard Rashod Bateman score.
On offense, coordinator and offensive line coach, Joe Rudolph solidified the line and kept a five man group rather than rotating guys in. The offense had begun to take advantage of the dynamic group of wide receivers that the Badgers possess through a multitude of jet sweep and wildcat actions that waste no time in getting the ball in the hands of Kendric Pryor, AJ Taylor, Danny Davis or even speedy Aron Cruikshank. Fakes and different variations have been built in to continue to allow for chunk yardage from Jonathan Taylor as well or Groshek at times.
During the game, Chryst continued the aggressive play calling he has shown throughout the year when he elected to receive the opening kickoff, and the Badgers opened with a bang. Jack Coan opened the day hitting Quintez Cephus for a 27-yard strike and then juked a defender for a first down three plays later on a 3rd and 7.
On the very next play, Taylor followed his blocks and then evaded defenders at the second level for a 44-yard score to quickly put Wisconsin up 7-0.
The Badgers defense stymied the Buckeyes offense the next two drives. The Badgers would once again find some rhythm on offense with a healthy mix of Cephus and Jonathan Taylor. The second drive was capped off with an option play that Coan kept for a 14-yard score.
Uh oh. 14-0 Wisconsin.
On the ensuing Ohio State drive, Justin Fields and the Buckeyes offense got all the way down to the Badgers six yard line before Isaiahh Loudermilk forced a fumble that was recovered by Matt Henningsen. Still 14-0 Badgers.
Ohio State would finally find the endzone on their next drive on the legs of JK Dobbins, but the Badgers would responded in a mere 32 seconds and four plays to maintain a 14-point lead and make it a 21-7 at the half.
Wisconsin needed to play near perfect football to keep up with the number one team in the nation, and did just that through a half. But, we all know football isn’t a thirty-minute game.
Either Wisconsin’s offense lost their firepower or Ohio State’s defense figured out their tricky motion and kept the Badgers offense in check to the tune of zero points, while a Badgers defense that bent but did not break all first half broke all the way to start the second half.The Buckeyes were able to score on all of their second half drives, except for their last when there was only 1:35 left on the clock.
“Came out and played probably the best half of football we played and we just didn’t keep it together in the second half,” linebacker Jack Sanborn said.
It’s tough to pinpoint one signature or defining play where the game turned for Ohio State or truly made the difference but there seemed to be an avalanche and the momentum never turned back in the Badgers favor.
A 3rd and 7 on the Buckeyes first drive of the second half went for fifty yards, and led to a score two plays later, then a dropped punt from Anthony Lotti resulted in three for Ohio State, than a missed field goal from Zach Hintze that would have extended the Badger lead to seven in the second half missed.
“Had a lot of confidence coming out of the locker room for the second half,” linebacker Zach Baun asserted. “I feel like we played well enough to win the game in the first half but just didn’t finish it.”
“Ohio State is a great team and you just can’t make mistakes. We have to play sound on offense, defense, and special teams,” Baun added.
UW played the best half of their lives but could not keep up the frantic pace they were playing at. In the nine-year existence of the Big Ten Championship, Wisconsin has appeared in six of those games, but they have won on just two of those occasions, in 2011 and 2012.
“The last couple of years we’ve got to this point but we’ve got to finish it,” safety Eric Burrell said.
Though the collapse and loss is disappointing, the year is a success for a squad that came into the year ranked No.19, were coming off an 8-5 season, and were underdogs to the Buckeyes by 16.5 points going into the championship game.
Wisconsin’s season should not be defined by missing the college football playoff because that is not where their talent level is, but a top ten finish and berth into the most prestigious bowl game, outside of the college football playoff, is great.
“I love this team man,” said Baun. “We’ve been through so much adversity. We’ve been counted out so many times. Before the season even started and to have done what we have done thus far. I am just so proud of this team and what we set our minds to. We wanted to win a big ten championship, we didn’t do that today but we have another big opportunity.”