There are some moments that bring a smile to a Badger fan’s face each and every time they are mentioned.
Lee Evans’ 79-yard touchdown catch to beat No. 3 Ohio State in 2003.
Scott Starks’ 40-yard fumble return to knock off the fifth ranked Boilermakers in 2004.
John Stocco’s quarterback sneak to upend Michigan in 2005.
And now you can add David Gilreath’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening play of Saturday’s clash with No.1 Ohio State to that glorified list.
Gilreath’s return was a game-changing play that sent Camp Randall into a frenzy. It gave the Badgers a gigantic surge of momentum, and it gave UW a lead it would never relinquish.
While it was the headline play from Saturday night, it ended up being the first on a long, long list of plays that brought Badger fans a ton of excitement Saturday.
And that is what’s so special about Wisconsin’s monumental upset over the top ranked Buckeyes – they played a full 60 minutes of efficient, physical, winning football and never strayed from their plan.
I’ll never forget Gilreath’s return, and when I look back on my days as a student years from now it will be one of those things I never stop telling people about (that and how I met Erin Andrews).
But aside from that unimaginable start to the game, what I’ll remember most from Saturday is this: Bret Bielema and the Badgers came in with a vision of how Saturday’s game was going to be played, and they forced that game plan down Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes’ throats. And in the end there was nothing the top ranked team in the country could do about it.
For the first time in my four years here, I left Camp Randall Stadium after a big game and knew the Wisconsin coaching staff out-coached someone. I walked away knowing that Bielema and his “Wisconsin way” can get it done after all. That this program does in fact, still have what it takes to take down the big, bad, Buckeyes.
Now, the plan for Bielema and Co. was simple but incredibly effective.
On offense, we are going to run the ball between the tackles on your lauded front seven, and we are going to run it well.
And on defense, even though everyone doubts our secondary, we are going to make Heisman-hopeful Terrelle Pryor sit in the pocket and throw the football to beat us.
First, let’s break down UW’s offensive attack, which always starts with the offensive line.
Bielema knew he needed his O-line to raise their games to have a chance. He believed his senior leaders up front were capable of controlling the line of scrimmage against a top Big Ten defense, despite the fact we were all still waiting to see that performance take place on game day.
Well, it finally came Saturday.
“Everybody made a big deal about the 29 games that Ohio State had played without a 100-yard rusher,” Bielema said after the game. “I threw it in those guys’ faces all week. I threw it at our running backs, but it all starts up front for us. “For us to have success, we have to play well at the offensive line. I thought the leadership that Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt gave us was priceless.”
Count me as one of those people who made a big deal about OSU’s 29-game, 100-yard stuffing streak. In the past few seasons, the Badgers were powerless on the ground against top-caliber units but much like their head coach, they finally broke through.
They lived up to the billing, surpassed the expectations and ran the ball at will against the best of the best. It was the epitome of “Wisconsin football”.
After Gilreath’s return, OSU went three-and-out. With the crowd in full force and a chance to double the lead, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst trusted the big boys up front on the next drive.
It took six plays, five of which were John Clay runs, and the Badgers were in the end zone.
The next UW offensive series was more of the same.
This one took 19 plays, 15 of which were runs from both Clay and James White, and ate up over 10 minutes of clock. 21-0.
And when Ohio State made their comeback (which you knew the No. 1 team with all that talent would make). The UW offense was ready.
With the ball at OSU’s 23 yard line and up by three in the fourth quarter, Chryst relied on his running game. Three plays later, White was slipping by defenders and celebrating a critical score with his O-linemen.
On the other side of the ball, the Wisconsin defensive line executed their brilliant game plan perfectly.
Pryor cannot throw the football accurately. I don’t care how many “expert” analysts try to convince you otherwise.
He is an athletic specimen who is a force when he tucks it and runs, but when he faces a defense that makes him throw it, he’s average at best.
So Saturday night, the Badgers didn’t rush off the edge looking for sacks, they rushed with the idea of keeping Pryor trapped in the pocket. They tested him and it worked. Pryor was just 14-of-28 on the day.
Defensive ends J.J. Watt and Louis Nzegwu didn’t over-pursue Pryor, they contained him and the Badgers made the 6-foot-6 quarterback use his arm.
Every once in a while, Pryor escaped and picked up a first down on the ground, but UW limited the big plays. Plus, the Badger secondary kept wideouts Devier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher in front of them, leaving Pryor with those intermediate throws that he just hasn’t been able to complete.
UW’s plans on both sides of the ball were laid out clearly and executed seamlessly Saturday.
The offense proved it is capable of running on anyone, and the defense made a Heisman candidate look mediocre.
After watching seasons go by without a signature conference win, Badger Nation wondered if one would ever come. Bielema and his players were questioned, criticized and doubted.
But with a historic win over No. 1 Ohio State, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
And after that performance, I’m more than happy to give it to them.
Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Are you still giddy about Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State? E-mail him [email protected] and follow him @maxhenson.