COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer promised a classic, and in the end, he was right.
Ohio State did not clinch its 31-24 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday until the final seconds, first fielding an onside kick and then forcing a fourth-down incompletion with 20 seconds left. But the tense late moments belied the statement the fourth-ranked Buckeyes had made the rest of the night.
Before a crowd of 105,826 — the third-largest in Ohio Stadium history — quarterback Braxton Miller adeptly brushed aside three weeks of rust and the Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) dashed to a 17-point fourth-quarter lead before desperately holding on.
Vacuuming away any oxygen that could fan a quarterback controversy, Miller matched a career-high with four touchdown passes while displaying his usual elusiveness.
Miller completed 17 of 25 passes for 198 yards and ran for 83 yards, along the way surpassing Cornelius Greene as the school’s all-time leading rusher at quarterback (2,150 career rushing yards).
In the end, there were many reasons the Buckeyes beat UW (3-2, 1-1) for the third straight time, including holding Melvin Gordon, James White, and the nation’s third-ranked rushing offense to 104 yards on the ground. But Miller was the biggest, providing a definitive answer to their biggest question.
Meyer all week had declared Miller back to his usual dynamic self after the former Heisman frontrunner missed the past two games with a strained left medial collateral ligament. But, in case he was not, he left the door open for backup and two-time defending Big Ten offensive player of the week Kenny Guiton to see time.
Miller made it clear early that would not be necessary. He rolled right to find Jeff Heuerman for a nine-yard completion on the Buckeyes' second play from scrimmage, then connected two plays later with Spencer for a 25-yard touchdown.
Two possessions later, he threw a 26-yard TD pass to Devin Smith.
It seemed sure to be the Buckeyes' night. Beyond the early salvo, they also enjoyed their share of good fortune. Two turnovers — including a mishandled punt by Corey Brown — were wiped out by Wisconsin penalties.
The defense, meanwhile, made UW one-dimensional. Just not in the way anyone could have scripted. After OSU held the Badgers to minus-two yards on their first two possessions, the run-first visitors dusted off an unfamiliar weapon — the forward pass.
Stave threw a 36-yard touchdown pass that sailed through the flailing arm of OSU cornerback Bradley Roby and into the grip of Jared Abbrederis, and tossed an 11-yard TD to Sam Arneson. In the first half alone, Stave completed 11 of 16 passes for 210 yards.
Yet the Buckeyes offense — and, eventually, their defense — had enough answers. After Arneson's TD catch pulled UW within three points at 17-14 late in the first half, Miller led Ohio State on an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive to close the half. His 40-yard TD pass to Corey Brown nudged OSU ahead 24-14 with one second remaining.
The Buckeyes' defense, meanwhile, at last brought consistent pressure in the third quarter and forced Stave into the type of throw that has become his Achilles heel. One play after Curtis Grant dragged him to the turf, Stave again felt pressure and was intercepted by Roby at the Badgers' 47-yard line.
The turnover soon gave way to an OSU touchdown, this drive capped by a one-yard pass to Brown that put the Buckeyes ahead 31-14.
Badgers running back James White rushed for a 17-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that cut OSU's lead to 10. And Kyle French kicked a 42-yard field goal to bring it to 31-24.
After recovering an onside kick and going three-and-out, the Buckeyes punted to the Badgers one last time with 1:30 remaining. But UW’s final drive never gained traction, with Stave’s final pass falling innocently to the turf with 20 seconds left.