Just as there is no one reason Wisconsin beat No. 1 Ohio State Saturday, there is no one word the Badgers used to describe the 31-18 win.
UW head coach Bret Bielema was fond of “belief.” J.J. Watt used “pandemonium.” Blake Sorenson’s word of choice was “fun.”
On a national stage, with ESPN’s College Gameday in town, Camp Randall was electric in UW’s only night game of the season. Despite the pleas of the stadium announcer, the students rushed the field after time expired, celebrating UW’s first win over a top-ranked opponent since beating Michigan in 1981.
And for the second week in a row, No. 1 went on the road and lost, after Alabama was beaten by South Carolina the week before. While that little streak continued, many others were broken.
Bielema’s Badger teams were 0-3 against the Buckeyes, the one Big Ten team he didn’t own a victory over. OSU hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 games. None of the current Badgers knew what it was like to beat Ohio State.
“I waited three years to beat them,” senior captain Gabe Carimi said. “It was great as a senior.”
The win, which looked like it could be a reality just 12 seconds into the game, wasn’t a sure thing until the fourth quarter. It took a 12-yard touchdown run by James White with 6:57 remaining in the game to seal the victory. UW stretched its lead from three points to 10 on White’s Madden-esque scamper to the left side.
“They saw me trying to get to the outside a little bit, so I figured if I just set them up outside and just put my foot down, they wouldn’t be able to get back, have both their balance in order to tackle me,” White said of his run. “Once I made that one cut, they both tripped up a little bit and I just ran through the seam.”
The 10-play, 73-yard drive was the answer the Badgers needed after the Buckeyes dominated the third quarter. OSU held the ball for 11:26 of that period, scoring a touchdown and setting up for an early fourth-quarter score to cut the Wisconsin lead to 21-18.
Buckeyes running back Dan Herron score both of OSU’s touchdowns on runs in the red zone, and finished the game with 91 yards. Ohio State was able to run Herron out of a pistol offense, as well as utilize direct snaps to pick him up yardage.
“All of the sudden you turned around and it was 21-18 and felt like we had a little bit of momentum – it’s hard to have momentum in someone else’s house – but we had a little bit of momentum and [UW] delivered,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said.
Instead of crumbling, UW simply finished.
“The more games I’ve been a part of, I think that’s really the key, just keeping your foot on the gas pedal,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “We’ve all seen those games, teams get defensive and all of a sudden you start playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.”
“We’ve been in four-quarter games this year, whether by choice or not, we’ve been in them. I really didn’t think Ohio State had been,” Bielema said. “I really wanted those guys to believe in what we were talking about and that drive in the fourth quarter when the got within three was a great example of believing.”
The game prior to the third quarter was almost surreal for Wisconsin.
UW held a 21-3 advantage at halftime, on the strength of two John Clay touchdown runs and the Badgers’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2000.
Senior David Gilreath took the opening kick 97 yards to put Wisconsin up 7-0, igniting the crowd and setting UW up for a dominant first half. Wisconsin’s second drive on offense took a massive 10:11 off the clock, spanning 19 plays and 89 yards en route to putting the Badgers up 21-0. Clay finished the drive with a short run and at game’s end, had 104 rushing yards.
A surprise, sure. A dream, not so much.
“No, there wasn’t any pinching going on for me,” Bielema said of the early three-touchdown lead.
The Badger defense was equally effective in the first half, holding Ohio State to just 93 total offensive yards and keeping dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor in check. Pryor was sacked three times in the game, twice by Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt.
Watt was helped by senior linebacker Blake Sorenson’s game-high 10 tackles. The Eden Prairie, Minn. native was all over the field and intercepted a Pryor pass on OSU’s last drive to help salt away the win for UW.
The fourth-quarter stands might have had even higher stakes had the Badger defense not held strong in the second. OSU faced first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, but was stuffed on two Pryor keepers and a direct snap to Herron. The Buckeyes had to settle for a field goal.
Later, UW quarterback Scott Tolzien threw an interception, giving OSU the ball at the Wisconsin 23-yard line. But on third-and-nine, Watt sacked Pryor for a six-yard loss and Devin Barclay missed a 45-yard field goal wide left.
“That was really big. I thought the defense really stepped up when we had to tonight,” Sorenson said. “That was really a key to the game, guys made plays when they had to.”
The offensive line, challenged to step up by Bielema, opened giant hole in the running game for Clay and White, and didn’t allow Tolzien to be sacked. OSU defensive standout Cameron Heyward was a non-factor, finishing with just four tackles.
In the end, it all added up to create something special.
“That was the greatest feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here, with the fans getting that loud… it was just a good feeling,” senior safety Jay Valai said. “It was a good feeling, people were running all over us, rubbing on us – hopefully they were female – but it was a good feeling to be out there like that, it was a great time.”
Correction: The story originally read, “…
Correction: The story originally read, “…celebrating UW’s first win over a ranked opponent since beating Michigan in 1981,” and instead of “top-ranked.”
Also, the story originally read to imply OSU scored two touchdowns in the third quarter. The second OSU touchdown came early in the fourth quarter.