MADISON, Wis. — And so it begins for this unconquerable Ohio State football team — Michigan week with a chance at history.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes advanced to the precipice of perfection with a 21-14 overtime victory over Wisconsin that provided a fitting new chapter to this agitating yet charmed season.
In other years, OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) does not leave this canyon of noise at Camp Randall Stadium with its players ripping joyously onto the field as the pockets of scarlet-clad fans broke the silence.
Quarterback Braxton Miller and the offense were slowed like never before this season, scrapping together only 60 yards in the second half. And the Buckeyes endured a gut-punching turn of events when their defense made a late goal-line stand that all but clinched victory, only to watch Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3) set off on a game-tying touchdown drive with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining and no timeouts left.
Yet in the end, there were the Buckeyes slipping on shirts that read “Leaders Division Champions.”
“We have a saying and I just shared that with them: A team that refuses to be beat won’t be beat,” coach Urban Meyer said.
In overtime, OSU swiftly reversed momentum. Running back Carlos Hyde ran for a 2-yard touchdown before the Buckeyes got one more defensive stop in a game filled with them, their final blitz forcing Curt Phillips’ fourth-and-6 pass from the OSU 21 to fall innocently.
The Buckeyes looked to escape Camp Randall Stadium in strangely drama-free fashion. There was little sign early this battle between Leaders Division rivals would leave Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who sparred with Meyer during the offseason, so wrenched that he choked up during his postgame press conference.
Like in 2010, the game turned on a special teams return — only this one left the stadium silent. Two years after David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Badgers’ 31-18 victory, OSU’s newly minted public enemy here put up the first points in similar style late in the first quarter.
Corey Brown earlier in the week said he loathed Wisconsin as much as he did Michigan, then walked the walk Saturday. The receiver fielded a punt at the OSU 32, sidestepped the first pursuer and knifed straight up the field with only the punter to beat. It was little contest, and the Buckeyes went ahead for good.
“Anybody could have gone through that hole,” Brown said, crediting his blockers. “All I had to do is make one guy miss.”
OSU then drove 69 yards on eight plays on its next drive, with Hyde knifing untouched up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to push the Buckeyes ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter.
But the Buckeyes’ offense hit a wall. The Badgers followed the usual script to attempt to stall Miller, keeping eight defenders in the box and assigning at least one spy to track the dynamic quarterback’s every step. They just did it better than everyone else.
With his usual escape routes reliably blocked and OSU’s receivers unable to gain separation against man coverage, Miller often looked lost. The sophomore rushed for a season-low 48 yards on 23 carries and completed 10 of 18 passes for 97 yards. OSU had 236 yards of total offense.
“Their focus was all over Braxton Miller and rightfully so," Meyer said. "As we grow as a team, we have to stretch them out. I can’t stand watching it I’m sure people can’t stand watching it when we just don’t have the vertical threat.”
OSU instead rode its revived defense, which allowed star rusher Montee Ball to run for 191 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries. But anchored by defensive end John Simon, who matched a single-game school record with four sacks, the Buckeyes held firm when it mattered most.
That included back-to-back fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter, most notably the one that looked to offer final protection to the Buckeyes’ 14-7 lead.
On fourth-and-1 just outside the OSU 1 with less than three minutes left, Wisconsin turned to Ball. The senior, who needed the 79th touchdown of his career to set the all-time FBS record, took the handoff and leapt from the 3 toward the goal line. But linebackers Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino stood him up and jarred the ball loose.
The offense suddenly awakened in overtime, with Hyde rushing outside for 11 yards on the first play, then Miller dashing for 4 and 8 yards to set up the touchdown. OSU stopped Wisconsin on four straight downs.
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.