Badger Commentary Yet Again

Blogger’s Note:

OK, this story is almost a week old, but if you didn’t see it before, here it is:

About halfway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Badger football game, I thought I had my introduction to this week’s commentary already written.

As Wisconsin took a 17-10 lead over the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes with a second unanswered touchdown, I pictured myself writing something along the lines of, “If you’re a Badger fan fuming about the inability of Charter and the Big Ten Network to come to some sort of distribution agreement, the time has come to stop complaining and take action. Meaningful action, like switching to a satellite service. Because you are not going to want to miss any more games like this one.”

And then Ohio State scored 28 straight points to beat Wisconsin in Columbus by a final tally of 38-17.

So maybe it’s just as well that many Badger fans were unable to witness the stunning turnaround this game took in the second half.

Actually there were two stunning turnarounds in the final thirty minutes: First the Badgers took the second half kickoff and went on a beautifully executed 92-yard drive that featured two of Tyler Donovan’s best pass plays of the season – Paul Hubbard hauled in a 50-yard play that was the longest reception of his career, and then Donovan hit Travis Beckum in the end zone to tie the score at 10-10. The Beckum touchdown, besides being a beautiful diving catch on a ball thrown under heavy pressure, was notable for being the first offensive touchdown the Buckeyes had allowed at home all season.

After the Badger defense had forced Ohio State into a three-and-out, Donovan led Wisconsin on a 62-yard scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to a wide-open Chris Pressley. Once again, Beckum provided the drive’s highlight, as he bounced off tacklers and took what should have been a much shorter gain for 46 yards. The Badgers, to the astonishment of the estimated Ohio Stadium crowd of 105,449, were ahead 17-10 and seemed to be in complete control of the game.

Then, the second stunning turnaround happened. And when I say “stunning turnaround,” I mean, “The Badgers started taking an old-fashioned beating.”

After the Pressley touchdown, running back Chris Wells picked up 54 yards on the Buckeyes’ next possession, including a 31-yard touchdown run, to tie the score at 17-17. Then, the Badgers went three-and-out. Then Wells scored on another, almost identical, 30-yard touchdown to give Ohio State the lead at 24-17.

Then the game’s most bizarre play happened: Punter Ken DeBauche, who had completed a perfect 31-yard pass in the first quarter on a fake punt, tried a run on a second fake punt that was doomed from the start. DeBauche was drilled for a loss of two yards that gave the Buckeyes first-and-ten on Wisconsin’s 25-yard line. The decision not to punt was inexplicable, considering the Badgers were deep in their own territory, and were only down a touchdown with nearly the entire fourth quarter to play.

Bielema graciously laid all blame on DeBauche, saying the punter was the only Badger who thought the play was supposed to be a fake. I suspect had the play worked, Bielema would have been plenty happy to take credit for the gamble.

No matter who was ultimately responsible for the boneheaded play, it was a huge mistake, as it only took four plays for Buckeye quarterback Todd Boeckman to hit receiver Brian Robiskie for a touchdown that effectively put the game out of reach.

Two of the next three Badger possessions ended with lost fumbles — one from freshman running back Zach Brown, starting for the injured P.J. Hill, and the other from Donovan. To add further insult to injury, Chris Wells scored on his third carbon copy rushing touchdown to put an end to the game’s scoring.

Ohio State wasn’t only unstoppable in the fourth quarter; they also took the opening kickoff and easily marched down the field 75 yards for the game’s first score. The seven-play drive took all of 2:35 to complete. The Badgers came right back and drove 73 yards — a drive highlighted by DeBauche’s pass to Paul Standring — and ultimately scored on a Taylor Mehlhaff 21-yard field goal to cut the Buckeye lead to 7-3.

Despite the early scoring, the game then took a decisive turn toward the defensive, as neither team could get anything going. While the Badgers defense played admirably for much of the game’s first 30 minutes, ultimately it was the Buckeyes’ defense — which came into the game leading the nation, allowing only 8.8 points and 214.5 yards per week — which dominated.

Tyler Donovan was pressured all day long, took countless shots, and was sacked a total of nine times for a total loss of 64 yards. And while Zach Brown posted career highs in both rushes (20) and rushing yards (63), Ohio State’s defense clearly dominated the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game. Especially overwhelming were All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had 19 tackles, and tackle Vernon Gholston, who tied a Buckeyes record with four sacks.

Besides playing tough defensively for two-plus quarters, there were other bright spots for the Badgers — Tyler Donovan, especially considering the massive pressure he faced all afternoon, played well, completing 17 of 29 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Travis Beckum had another monster game, finishing with nine receptions for 140 yards, while Paul Hubbard (2 catches for 67 yards) appears to be completely healthy coming off the injury he suffered the second week of the season.

But ultimately the Badgers were simply overmatched by Ohio State, which survived not only the biggest test they faced all season but also probably Wisconsin’s best effort all year, and still managed to win by a three-touchdown margin. The Buckeyes have now rattled off a record-breaking 20 straight Big Ten conference wins.

Despite whatever misgivings most college football fans have about who is ranked where, there would seem to be little doubt after today’s game that Ohio State is deserving of being considered the best team in all of college football.

Next week the Badgers will hope to improve to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the conference as they face the resurgent Michigan Wolverines in their final home game of the season. Not only will next week’s Michigan game — scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday — be the first Wisconsin game since Oct. 13 that won’t be on the Big Ten Network (ESPN is scheduled to provide coverage), but also during the game, the Badgers will retire Ron Dayne’s number 33. Dayne will be in attendance, and maybe, especially if P.J. Hill’s injury keeps him out of action another week, he can be persuaded to suit up. Bucky might need him.

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