After falling behind 17-0 early in the second quarter, the Badgers staged a comeback, crawling their way back with 20 unanswered points en route to a victory over Ohio State Saturday.
The game was eerily similar to the game two years ago when the Badgers were last in Columbus and spotted the Buckeyes a 17-point cushion only to come back and win. In 1999 though, the comeback was led by a veteran team and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. This year’s feat was accomplished by a much younger and untested Badger squad. The victory tasted especially sweet after last week’s 63-32 thrashing by a previously winless Indiana ball club in Madison.
“When you hit rock bottom, you have two choices,” said Badger quarterback Brooks Bollinger, “You either have to go up from there, or just throw in the towel. We chose to keep going.”
The Buckeyes put together three successful drives to start the game, scoring on each possession. On the second Ohio State drive, the Buckeyes marched down the field on the Badger defense, dominating the line of scrimmage and showcasing an effective rushing game. Then, on fourth and one at the goal line, much maligned Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellasari finally got in the Wisconsin end zone with a quarterback sneak, putting the score at 10-0 Buckeyes.
The first half Ohio State drives were highlighted by missed tackling by the Badgers, never as evident as during Ohio State running back Lydell Ross’s 13-yard scamper down to the Badger three during the Buckeye’s second straight touchdown drive, when three would-be tacklers let Ross slip right through their grasp.
As the second quarter wound down, the 17-0 score on the scoreboard was in no way a fair indication of the extent of Ohio State’s domination. The Badgers seemed destined to get embarrassed with a blowout for the second week in a row, until Ohio State made a pivotal mistake. After receiving a high snap, Ohio State punter Andy Ross did not get a punt off and was chased down on the Buckeye 23. Wisconsin now had its opening, and Ohio State seemed to crumble as easily as it had been dominating just a few minutes earlier.
“That was a crucial error,” admitted an obviously disappointed Ohio State coach Jim Tressel after the game.
On the next play Badger running back Anthony Davis (26 carries, 103 yards) slipped through cracks in the Buckeye defense and put Wisconsin on the board for the first time in the game.
Wisconsin took the opening kickoff in the second half and drove for its second straight touchdown. The drive was highlighted by an acrobatic catch made by junior wide receiver Lee Evans on a poorly thrown pass. Later, on third and 12, Bollinger hit Nick Davis on a slant, who then broke free and took the ball 42 yards to pull Wisconsin within three. Alvarez had been hearing all day from his coaching staff that Nick was really into the game, and that they had to get him the ball.
The Badgers’ winning scoring drive began after a missed 48-yard field goal attempt by Ohio State kicker Josh Hutson. Starting at his own 31, Bollinger hit wide receiver Lee Evans 30 yards downfield to start the drive and set up the game-winning field goal. Evans, who was wide open on the play, had three catches for 92 yards on the day.
After Evans’ catch, the offense sputtered and was forced to kick a field goal. Although from only 33 yards out, the kick was not a sure bet, as sophomore Wisconsin kicker Mark Neuser had already missed from 39 yards out on the day and struggled with his kickoffs all afternoon. Fortunately for the Badgers, the kick sailed true and turned out to be the deciding three points.
“Every kicker wants to be in that situation,” said a relieved Neuser after the game.
The second half was the opposite of the first; the sieve-like Badger defense tightened up and became like an iron curtain, while the once-potent Buckeye attack was unable to move the ball. Ohio State had over 100 yards rushing in the first half, and negative yardage in the second. Wisconsin, who had only mustered 84 yards of total offense in the first half, finished the game with 329 yards of total offense.
Nick Davis finished with a huge game for Wisconsin with six catches for 90 yards, each catch giving the Badgers a first down. On defense, Joey Boese led the Badger cause with 15 tackles, and was assisted by the strong play of linebacker Nick Greisen, who had 13 tackles in the winning effort.