MADISON — It was a heart-breaking loss for the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) on Saturday night, losing a 10-point lead and ultimately falling 30-23 in overtime to the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0) at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers outgained the Buckeyes 450-411 in total yardage, and gained momentum in its once stagnant running game, but opportunities were lost multiple times to contain quarterback J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State offense.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s game
Wisconsin has a run game and made a difference, but progression needs to continue
A pleasant surprise for an offense struggling to move the ball on the ground, which was non-existent against the Wolverines two weeks ago. The Badgers, utilizing a lot of 21 and 12 personnel (some 22 as well, so lots of two tight end looks) gained 236 yards rushing on the evening to a stout defense allowing just a shade under 100 yards per game.
In the first two quarters, the Badgers rushed for 170 yards on 24 carries (7.1 average). Clement alone rushed for 110 on 12 carries and finished the game with 164 on 25 carries (6.6 yards per carry).
Wisconsin effectively ran the jet/fly sweep again, as wide receiver Jazz Peavy carried the ball six times for 70 yards.
Credit Ohio State’s defense for halting UW’s offensive momentum in the third quarter with the Badgers up 10, allowing only 11 yards in 10 plays and allowing the OSU offense to regain its stride.
The Badgers did respond with an 11-play, 81-yard drive (43 on the ground) that led to a 23-20 lead with just under eight minutes left in the game. They then continued to display dominance on the ground in their last drive in regulation, gaining 27 yards on four carries to the Ohio State 48 (and driving for a game winning opportunity) before a holding penalty on center Brett Connors halted their momentum.
In overtime, though, the running game floundered once again. With 1st-and-goal from the Ohio State four-yard line, the Badgers could not punch it in. It’s something this group will need to continue to learn and grow from.
“In a situation where you have four yards to go and you can’t punch it in, there’s problems there,” redshirt sophomore guard/center Michael Deiter said. “It’s stuff we got to work on. Though it was nice to get it going, we can be better.”
A tangent to this as well: Wisconsin’s still trying to find its best front five, as they rotated the offensive line at left guard and center with combinations of Michael Deiter/Brett Connors and Micah Kapoi/Deiter, respectively,
“Tried to find the best combination of guys. We’ll see going forward,” head coach Paul Chryst said when asked about it after the game.
Badgers forced J.T. Barrett to get it done through the air, and he did
The Badgers allowed 185 yards on the ground, about 4.1 yards per carry on Saturday night, but the Buckeyes didn’t beat them on the ground necessarily. Barrett did gain 92 yards on 21 carries, but the Badgers only allowed a long rush of 22 yards. They held running back Mike Weber and wide receiver Curtis Samuel to a combined (and respectable) 92 yards on 23 carries. Ohio State came in averaging over 360 yards rushing per game.
Barrett’s ability to escape (yes, maybe with some help of some uncalled holding penalties) allowed for some key plays down the field. He ended the night 17-of-29 for 226 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, completing passes of 29, 25, 21 and 43 yards (the 25 and 21 yard completions were third down conversions).
His last throw was the deciding one, a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Noah Brown in overtime that Wisconsin couldn’t answer.
“He didn’t play his best game, when he does it’s incredible,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “The absolute test of a leader is to raise the level of play of those around you and he’s surrounded by a bunch of guys who are newbies this year — we have a true freshman playing left guard — and it’s a quarterback’s responsibility to pick up his level of play. Same with a bunch of new receivers, so that’s what makes J.T. so special.”
Wisconsin has the ability to win out on their schedule and make it to the Big Ten Championship game (and win it), but missed opportunities cost them a marquee victory.
For how special Barrett is...Wisconsin could have won this game, should have won this game.
Whether missed tackles or other circumstances, there were opportunities defensively for Wisconsin to halt Barrett and the Buckeyes’ momentum behind the line of scrimmage.
“They’re well coached,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “They do everything so well, that we just didn’t execute accordingly. The game plan was set, we were where we supposed to be at the right time. We just did not finish plays.”
Offensively though, may be where it hurt them the most. The Badgers had to settle for an Andrew Endicott 32-yard field goal after a Troy Fumagalli hold negated a Corey Clement touchdown run that would have made it a 17-6 game.
Wisconsin also had 1st-and-goal from the OSU five-yard line, but mustered only another field goal to make it 16-6 heading into halftime.
Then, Connors’ holding penalty abruptly stopped momentum on their last offensive possession of regulation, which could have set up a game-winning opportunity.
Wisconsin’s defense will keep this team in every game this season (and in all likelihood, have them be favored), and if the offense can build off some positive momentum in the running game, the Badgers will be a formidable force for the remainder of the season.
Chryst mentions week in and week out how he loves his team’s approach, but they have a way to go to be where they need to be. They’re close in many aspects, but Saturday showed they can play with the powerhouse programs and corner them on the ropes. They just need to land that knockout punch.
They should have another opportunity in early December if they can put it all together for the rest of the season.
“You can set out goals, but you just have to go out and work,” Deiter said. “You lay your goals out, like I said [winning] the Big Ten West [division] and the Big Ten [conference title], and that’s in front of us. That’s just stuff we have to keep working towards.”