It was the third season of the Barry Alvarez era, and the Wisconsin Badgers were on the rise. UW worked and grinded to a 5-6 record in 1991, a four-game improvement from their 1-10 start under its future athletics director.
When speaking with current offensive coordinator and former guard Joe Rudolph back in May for Walk-On This Way, he said that progress generated a buzz about the program that it could take the next step for a winning season. Could the Badgers ascend further into the college football postseason?
Wisconsin started 3-1 in 1992, with one win coming against No. 12 Ohio State. At Camp Randall Stadium in front of 72,203 fans, the Badgers defeated the Buckeyes 20-16.
It was another key, signature win for the program under Alvarez. It was also the first victory against a ranked opponent since the 1985 season under Dave McClain.
“That was the Orlando Pace [Ohio State] team,” cornerback Korey Manley said back in June 2016, in an interview for the book. “Raymont Harris was their starting back but Eddie George was a freshman at the time. They were loaded.”
Box score (via OhioStateBuckeyes.com)
Ohio State took at 10-3 lead into halftime, but the Badgers’ offense came alive with scoring drives of 78, 58 and 66 yards in the second half, according to the Wisconsin State Journal’s coverage of the game. Seventeen points later, the Badgers held a 20-10 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Running back Brent Moss ran for 80 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns, while fullback Mark Montgomery gained 50 yards on 14 carries. Transfer quarterback Darrell Bevell completed 18 of 30 passes for 214 yards, including a key 15-yard completion to Lee DeRamus on a 4th-and-1 from the Ohio State 42 that kept Wisconsin’s first touchdown drive alive.
The Buckeyes made it close, with quarterback Kirk Herbstreit hitting wide receiver Brian Stablein for a three-yard touchdown pass to make it 20-16. After a penalty on the extra-point attempt, Ohio State head coach John Cooper elected to go for two to make it a two-point game. Wisconsin held on that try, and also on Ohio State’s last offensive drive to thwart any final heroics.
UW’s defense held the Ohio State offense to 45 rushing yards on 35 carries. Linebacker Chad Yocum sacked Herbstreit three times.
“We had to beat them at home, so I always say it was seminal game for coach Alvarez and our staff because they were a top-ranked team,” Manley said. “We beat them at home, and it was really one of the many bricks in the wall for him to go, ‘Look, this program can accomplish this type of stuff.’”
The strong start would be unfortunately stunted by the Badgers losing five of their last seven. Four of those five losses—to Indiana, Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern—were decided by less than a touchdown.
A late fumble by running back Jason Burns sealed a 27-25 loss to the Wildcats in the last game of the season, knocking the Badgers out of contention for a bowl bid.
Despite the disappointing ending, there were bright spots on an individual level. Guard Chuck Belin, linebacker Gary Casper, nose guard Lamark Shackerford and placekicker Rich Thompson were awarded first-team All-Big Ten honors. Walk-on punter Sam Veit earned second-team all-conference honors, while Manley was named AP all-conference honorable mention.
The win against Ohio State was a milestone for the program. Much has been written about how the culture started to change once Alvarez came in. This excerpt from Thompson in the Oct. 4, 1992, edition of the Wisconsin State Journal speaks volumes about the differences between the Don Morton regime and Alvarez’s:
“I remember going to class and sitting in an auditorium with 350 people and hearing the professor say, ‘Our football team sucks.’ I remember going to class and making sure that I would take off my football shirt and letter jacket because it was a shame to be on the football team here. It was ridiculous.
“I can tell you that we deserve this because we’ve been through the valley and now we’re at a peak.”
But, Thompson quickly added, “We have to keep this in perspective.”
The season didn’t end as Wisconsin wanted, but beating a conference power and getting a signature win gave the program confidence needed for the next season. The disappointing finish added some extra motivation for the year after.
With solid upperclassmen and a chip now placed on those returning players’ shoulders, Wisconsin moved to a 10-1-1 record in 1993, a Big Ten championship and eventually the 21-16 victory over UCLA in the 1994 Rose Bowl.
Part two will examine Wisconsin’s 1999 42-17 comeback victory over Ohio State in Columbus that righted the ship of a team turned sideways after two rough losses and propelled the Badgers toward their second consecutive Rose Bowl championship.
Statistics and information from the game were taken from the Wisconsin State Journal’s coverage of the game on Oct. 4, 1992.