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Grading Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship loss to Ohio State

The Badgers come up just short against the Buckeyes.

Big Ten Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Aw man.

For the second year in a row, the Wisconsin Badgers experienced heartbreak in the Big Ten Championship Game, dropping a close 27–21 contest to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

As against Penn State last year, the defense gave up big plays and the offense had costly mental errors that led to the defeat. Here are the unit grades:

Offense: D+

Coming into the game, the consensus was that success or failure rested on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook. From the jump, it was clear that the Buckeyes were going to make the mistake-prone signal caller beat them and he was unable to do so.

Hornibrook killed Wisconsin’s first solid drive with a red-zone interception and spent much of the game overthrowing receivers. His performance on the final series of the game was particularly bad, overthrowing several receivers before uncorking a game-ending interception.

With Hornibrook unable to shake the Ohio State defense loose, the Buckeyes put eight men in the box and choked the Wisconsin run game. Heralded freshman Jonathan Taylor was unable to get much of anything going on the ground against a stacked line. Wisconsin managed just 60 yards rushing.

Mental mistakes on the offensive line, a recurring issue throughout the season, burned the Badgers, with penalties erasing a touchdown in the first half and bringing back a big Taylor catch late in the third quarter.

Defense: B-

It was a game of extremes for the talented Wisconsin defense.

On the one hand, Wisconsin gave up multiple big plays on the ground and through the air. Missed tackles burned the Badgers in the first half and allowed Ohio State to rack up 21 points off huge gains. Ohio State finished with 238 yards rushing and 211 yards through the air.

On the other hand, Wisconsin managed to score on a Andrew Van Ginkel pick-six and forced several turnovers that kept Wisconsin in the game. Had the offense been able to take some of the pressure off, the Badgers’ D would have done enough to win, picking off Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett twice and keeping the Ohio State offense in check much of the second half.

Special Teams: A-

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone made both field goal attempts and all PATs. Punter Anthony Lotti had a couple of strong punts, including a 50-yarder late in the fourth to pin Ohio State deep and give Wisconsin a chance to win after the defense held the Buckeyes to a three-and-out. Kick-off specialist Zach Hintze put all five of his kickoffs into the endzone for touchbacks. Nick Nelson blocked a field goal at the end of the first half.

Coaching: B

Offensively, Wisconsin moved the ball and should have done more if Hornibrook hadn’t missed some wide-open throws. The Badgers emptied the playbook, including a Garrett Groshek pass to Hornibrook in the red zone at the start of the fourth quarter that led to a nine-yard gain.

The Badgers’ decision to go for two after an early fourth-quarter touchdown after one of the worst field-quality disasters in indoor stadium history was successful.

Defensively, the big plays hurt. Much of the damage was caused by missed tackles, but the aggressive positioning of the safeties left no margin for error.

Overall: C

When it comes to playing a team with superior individual talent, execution has to be better than your opponent’s. That was simply not the case in Indy. Mental errors leading to turnovers, costly penalties, and big plays by the opposing offense were the difference.

It has been a magical season for Wisconsin and if this game was played 10 times, who knows how many the Badgers would win. They gave themselves a chance to win, but in the end came up just short.