Posted September 29, 2013

Ohio State knocks off Wisconsin 31-24 to pass one of its toughest Big Ten tests

Big Ten, Leaders & Legends, Ohio State, Urban Meyer, Wisconsin Badgers
Braxton Miller

Braxton Miller accounted for 281 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s win over Wisconsin. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Earlier this week, the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino suggested that No. 4 Ohio State would be an underdog to four different SEC teams — Alabama, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina — if they met on a neutral field. Yet after the Buckeyes’ 31-24 win over No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday night, Vegas might need to rethink those lines.

A crowd of 105,826, the third-largest in Ohio Stadium history, was on hand to witness special uniforms, a flyover, an appearance from LeBron James and a halftime show in which the band marched into the shape of a train. But all those served as side shows for the main event, a game in which Ohio State needed to make a statement.

It did. Although it had lapses at times, especially in the second half when it seemed the Buckeyes tried to run out the clock too early instead of staying in attack mode, Ohio State was clearly better than a physical and well-coached Wisconsin team. Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby and running back Carlos Hyde are playing at a high level following suspensions, and quarterback Braxton Miller looked as sharp as ever in his return from a leg injury.

Miller might have fallen off the Heisman radar in recent weeks, but he woke up voters in a big way on Saturday. He finished 17-of-25 with 198 passing yards, 83 rushing yards and four total touchdowns, including two scoring passes to Philly Brown that put the game out of reach.

“I love playing in big games man,” Miller said. “It brings excitement to myself and the team. That’s what we talk about all the time. We love night games.”

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Aside from a couple of questionable throws, he fired the ball to his receivers, and he didn’t bail out of the pocket to scramble as often as he has in the past. Running Miller less out of necessity and more by design has been a point of emphasis by Ohio State this year, and it paid off against the Badgers. Miller indicated he was 100 percent healthy coming into this game, but he still wore a knee brace as a precaution. The team was clearly cautious with him, even though the Buckeyes have a more-than-capable replacement in backup Kenny Guiton.

Ohio State’s defense was also a question mark entering this week, as the Buckeyes gave up 20 points to Buffalo in Week 1 and 34 points to Cal in Week 3. But the young unit played better than expected against the Badgers.

Wisconsin came into the game ranked third nationally in rushing offense with an average of 349.8 rushing yards per game. Ohio State limited the Badgers to 104 yards on the ground, with star tailback Melvin Gordon carrying 15 times for just 74 yards. Wisconsin got a career-best performance from wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (10 catches, 207 yards, one touchdown), but quarterback Joel Stave couldn’t do enough to hang with coach Urban Meyer’s high-powered attack.

Ohio State doesn’t need the elite defense it had under Jim Tressel to win games; it merely has to take advantage of opportunities and keep pace with an already potent offense. The D is making strides in that direction, though it suffered a big loss when Meyer announced after the game that senior safety Christian Bryant broke his ankle and will require surgery.

“That darn kid has done so much for our program,” Meyer said. “He’s come so far, incredible leadership skills. He’s going to be even more valuable outside of football. Doggone it. That’s the hard part of the game.”

This game and next Saturday’s game against Northwestern were labeled as the two most difficult early-season challenges for Ohio State. The Big Ten lacks a wealth of top-tier contenders, and the Buckeyes may not have many chances to prove themselves against big-time opponents. With the nation’s longest winning streak now at 17 games and a victory over a solid Wisconsin team, however, Ohio State showed it may just be ready to make a push for the BCS title game, after all.

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“I don’t know if we made a statement,” said Ohio State safety C.J. Barnett. “We have our doubters. Hopefully we proved them wrong, if not, it really doesn’t matter. We’re going to keep working and try to win this next game.”

The Buckeyes’ upcoming schedule seems manageable. If they can weather a road test next week against the 4-0 Wildcats, the road to an unbeaten campaign should only gets easier, especially with rival Michigan struggling to find its footing.

It’s still early and Ohio State has plenty of issues to address. But one of its toughest tests is in the books. Win next week, and Meyer’s squad can start to set its sights on Indianapolis, the site of the Big Ten title game, and beyond.

13 comments
mcmilch
mcmilch

What does the Vegas book have to do with the game on Saturday. I'm tired of the SEC leaning sports writers making a case for a one and two loss SEC team. Bring on the playoffs .

mcmilch
mcmilch

Maybe I'm totally wrong but I kept getting the feeling that something was upsetting the Wisconsin coach and it was not related to Ohio State. Maybe he is not in total agreement with the Wisconsin doctrine of "bigger is better"?

Scott74
Scott74

Ohio St has to play a lot better if they are to compete with the big dogs.  If you watched the game, WI had way too many penalties and missed opportunities and only lost by 7 points.  A dropped INT with seconds left before half gave Ohio St another shot and they got a TD.  Catch the INT, go in to the locker room down by only 3 instead of 10...big difference.  A missed FG at 32 yards was another missed chance, suddenly the game is different.  Don't forget about the 2 turn-overs Ohio St had that were reversed on questionable penalties.  WI deserved to lose, but Ohio St did not look that great in my opinion.

Bubba_deHubbada
Bubba_deHubbada

Not super clear on why Vegas would rethink OSU as an underdog to those teams on a neutral field after beating Wisconsin at home. Wisconsin would be an underdog to those teams on a neutral field too.  Maybe just a little pablum to open an article, but kinda dumb

GregSamick
GregSamick

Ohio State needs to address it's soft defense or they will get upset this season.

And why are their cb's playing 10 yards off the receivers?  No wonder they got burned pretty much all game.

Lizard_King
Lizard_King

First round is the first 32 best/most needed.  So while he may not be able to cover Abbrderis, he still may be one of the best available.  The draft is a comparative/competitive ranking, not an objective measure of value.

KidHorn
KidHorn

I don't see how Roby is considered a 1st rounder. He clearly couldn't cover Abbrederis.

C.E.Daly
C.E.Daly

@GregSamick You mean soft secondary... we stuffed the run pretty handily. I was surprised at how well Abbrederis did - he's really fast and made some great catches.  Stave was pretty impressive too, I think Wisconsin is going to own the West division of the Big 10 starting next year.

I think college football, really football in general, now favors the offense so much that the defense is almost an after thought.  Case in point, look at all of the high-scoring games in the SEC.  Even Alabama's vaunted defense has given up a large number of points in a couple of games (though they put a beat down on Ole Miss this weekend).  Curious to see next week against a much improved Northwestern team.

Cliff1
Cliff1

@KidHorn 

Yep, he gave up a touchdown to him while the Badger O Line was holding 

Layuth
Layuth

@KidHornName ONE first round pick in the past 100 years or so to not have one bad game.

Ted3
Ted3

@C.E.Daly @GregSamick Defenses in the SEC are not an afterthought. A couple of the usual elite ones are just really young this season. Lost a lot of good players to the draft last year. More than normal. They'll improve as the season goes on. Btw ... Bama's defense has only had 1 game where they gave up a ton of points, TAMU (42pts). That game featured JM so you can't really hold it against them too much. The other games were VT (10pts), CSU (6pts), and Miss (0pts).

Scott74
Scott74

@Cliff1 @KidHorn If you opened up your Ohio St eyes and actually watched the play, the Ohio St defensive back was holding No.4 all the way down the field from the line of scrimmage and had he not been doing that and looked back, he would have picked the ball.  Great pass and catch, poor coverage by Ohio St., he didn't even see the ball come in to the receivers hands.  No. 4 was being held all night, they finally started calling it in the second half...neither effected the outcome though.