Anything felt possible.
Curt Phillips just orchestrated one of the best two-minute drills in recent Wisconsin history to force overtime Senior Day.
Montee Ball had a renewed chance at breaking the NCAA career touchdown mark after earning the record-tying score in the second quarter.
And the defense – which housed five of the nine seniors – was playing one of its best games of the season.
But Senior Day couldn’t be that picture perfect.
I wanted it. As a senior myself in my second year covering the football team, I saw the wealth of potential storylines with a Senior Day overtime win. It was tantalizing.
How could a 1-minute, 33-second improbable touchdown drive after a sack on the first play end all for naught?
It just wasn’t meant to be. Ohio State was undefeated once again. The Badgers wanted to repeat 2010. Unfortunately, 2012 just wasn’t the same. It simply was not meant to be.
But looking at the facts, the better team didn’t necessarily win Saturday, at least as far as what’s on paper. There’s no denying Ohio State is going to be one tough beast to overcome in the immediate future, but at Camp Randall Saturday Wisconsin put forth an effort that fell just one missed field goal or one goal-line fumble short.
The Buckeyes have the top scoring offense in the Big Ten, averaging 38.4 points per game. Through four quarters Wisconsin held Ohio State’s offense to only 14 points, and even with their third touchdown in overtime, it was the Buckeyes’ second-lowest scoring total of the season.
The Wisconsin defense held Ohio State to its lowest offensive output all season with 139 rushing yards and 97 passing yards for 236 total yards. Prior to Saturday, the least amount of offensive yards OSU gained in a game was Oct. 20 against Purdue with 342 yards. It was averaging 445.3 offensive yards per game.
Braxton Miller himself – OSU’s leading rusher – averaged 116.6 rushing yards per game and an additional 175.3 yards through the air. Despite the end result, the Badgers shut him down, allowing Miller only 97 passing yards as he finished 10-of-18 with 48 rushing yards.
“I think everyone gave their all every single play,” fifth-year senior cornerback Devin Smith said. “They’re a team averaging 39 points a game and about 400 yards of offense and we held them to (236) yards and 14 points total … that’s the best any other team has done against them and I think that we definitely played well. That’s what makes this loss so tough.”
The Badgers actually used backup running back Jeff Lewis as a stand-in for Braxton Miller on the scout team during practice leading up to the game. Lewis’ speed mirrored that of Miller, allowing the defense to get used to his mobility and find ways to contain him.
The tactic paid dividends on the stat sheet – but not in the final score.
Beyond limiting Miller, the Badgers also found a quick path to the backfield, posting seven tackles for loss for 29 yards and three sacks for a loss of 17 yards. The defense also had two quarterback hurries.
It was one of the best performances the Badgers put together all season and it’s especially important given the Buckeyes were the best team they have faced all season.
In effect, the Badgers may just be peaking at the perfect time – and that performance happened without one of their best players in middle linebacker Chris Borland.
Despite the heart-wrenching loss (that in the grand scheme of the season means nothing, since UW is still going to the Big Ten title game), if the Wisconsin defense is able to keep up its level of play over the next two weeks, things are looking rosy for the cardinal and white.
As of right now, chances are the Badgers will have a rematch with the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten Championship game. Nebraska and Michigan hold the same conference record, but Nebraska holds the tiebreaker with a 23-9 victory over Michigan. Also, Nebraska travels to Iowa for its regular season finale while Michigan travels to a far more dangerous setting – Ohio Stadium.
While UW’s defense didn’t force any turnovers against OSU, it did sack Miller three times. In all honesty, Miller is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and far more mobile than Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.
If the Badgers can put forth a similar performance against Martinez, there’s an extremely solid chance they will make like 2011 and gain revenge in the Big Ten title game.
UW still has one game remaining, at Penn State, which will pose as a litmus test for the defense. But for a defense that has proved its worth time and again this season, its performance Saturday was one worthy of Senior Day for a team vying for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Kelly is a senior majoring in journalism and is starting to freak out about her future. Think the Badgers deserved to win on Saturday? Let her know at [email protected] or send her a tweet @kellymerickson.