Just a year ago, the Buckeyes were in the BCS driver’s seat. They had climbed the polls to #1 and winning out would have seen Jim Tressel in his fourth National Championship Game, tying him with Bob Stoops of Oklahoma.
Ohio State simply had to go into Camp Randall and dismantle the Badgers of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Scott Tolzien and the Bucky offense had other plans. Tressel, Pryor, and company left Madison disheartened, beaten, and out of the National Championship picture.
Wisconsin found themselves in a similar situation on October 22nd against Michigan State. And just like the Buckeyes, Bret Bielema and crew left the stadium -- their hopes of a National Championship run behind the skill of Russell Wilson and Montee Ball -- all but dashed on a last second Hail Mary.
They came into The Horseshoe with a chip on their shoulder and a point to prove. They set out to show that they are the new premier team in the B1G, even though they were looking up at Penn State in the Leaders division.
Bielema had said during the week that he missed Terrelle Pryor, if only because he wanted to shove Pryor’s words back down his throat. Pryor may have left Ohio State -- a trail of devastation in his wake -- but Daniel “Boom” Herron picked up his words and tossed them back to the Wisconsin sidelines.
Coach Fickell may have tried to downplay the revenge aspect of this game, but apparently nobody informed the team, least of all freshman phenom quarterback Braxton Miller and All-Everything tailback Boom Herron.
The previous game against Illinois saw just one completed forward pass from Ohio State. The Buckeyes were determined not to have that happen again. Not in a stadium filled with high profile recruits such as Bri'onte Dunn, among others.
Not during Homecoming Week.
Not on the night that Heisman Winner Eddie George was being honored at halftime for his contributions and being recognized for getting elected to the college football Hall of Fame, to which he will be inducted next summer.
And most definitely not on the night that the Buckeyes honored the 1961 championship team with their Nike Pro Combat Uniforms.
Ohio State was a perfect 2-0 in games in which they had worn the throwback alternate jerseys, and the sheer awesomeness of the uniform (I personally love the hell out of it, especially the helmet) would hopefully carry some luck into the game against the 15th ranked Badgers.
If you consider Jim Bollman to be an inept offensive coordinator, then Jim Heacock is the polar opposite. All season long the major bright spot of this team has been the extraordinary defense. This time would be no different. They swarmed the ball carriers, determined to contain the legs of Ball, White, and Wilson. And contain they did.
It wasn’t until about 5 minutes into the game that Ball caught a bullet from Wilson over the middle. Christian Bryant had read the play beautifully, and just missed the interception, and a probable pick-six.
Ball grabbed the pass and scampered into the Promised Land to give his team an early 7-0 lead. The defensive slugfest continued into the second quarter and culminated with a sack by Adam Bellamy, with a little help from defensive juggernaut John Simon to end the first half.
Ohio State took the second half kickoff and immediately came out swinging. Starting from their own 25 yard line, Braxton and company went to work. They reeled off 75 yards on seven plays during the march down the fiel.
Herron broke loose for a 57-yard run down to the Wisconsin 18, and then continued with another 18 yard run to put the ball on the 1. Initially, the call on the field was a touchdown, and would have given the Buckeyes a 9-6 lead, but upon official review, the call was overturned and the ball set back at the one-yard line.
Braxton punched it in for his first rushing touchdown of the night. On the very next drive -- after a three-and-out forced Wisconsin to "attempt" to punt -- Ryan Shazier came flying in from the left side and blocked the punt.
Ohio State recoverd on the one-yard line and three plays later, Jordan Hall skipped and pushed his way to the end zone to make the score 17-7.
The Badgers responded with an 11 play drive that ate up over five minutes of game time and 43 yards, culminating in a Montee Ball 1-yard touchdown run that closed the gap to three. Neither team would score the remainder of the quarter and Ohio State was set to start the final quarter with the ball, clinging to a slim three point lead.
One wrong move -- one false start -- or one stalled drive could end their Cinderella run. The first drive ended in a field goal, giving the team some breathing room, but not enough to to solidify their comfort level, or the eventual victory.
They led by just six, and desperately needed to stop the vaunted offense -- that had been averaging 47 points a game -- that Bielema brought to Columbus.
It wasn’t until their second drive that Ohio State got the cushion they were looking for in the form of a 44-yard run by Miller to record his second TD on the ground. The two-point conversion failed, but the Buckeyes still held a two possession lead, at 26-14.
But, as often happens -- even to a great defense in the latter stages of a supremely physical game -- the Silver Bullets gave up two huge plays that put the victory in jeopardy.
In just the span of two and a half minutes, Russell Wilson heaved TD passes of 49 and 17 yards to Abbrederis, giving the Badgers a one point lead. Bielema wisely chose to go for two, which the Badgers converted when Wilson tossed a clean shovel pass to Ball, who went virtually unmolested into the end zone, to give his team a 29-26 lead with just under a minute and a half left in the game.
Ohio State got the ball back with about a minute and 18 seconds on the clock after a fantastic return from Jordan Hall, all the way out to the 48 yard line.
From there, Buckeyes took over and finally showed the balanced offense that the coaches were talking up all week. After a 3 plays that garnered 12 yards, Miller took the snap, eluded a blocker -- or five, rolled to his right, and right as it appeared that he was going to take off running once again.
When he stopped short of the line of scrimmage and heaved the ball down the field, the collective breaths of 105,110 faithful also stopped short. It wasn’t until fellow true freshman Devin Smith came down with the ball in the end zone that anyone dared to breath. But when they did, it was to let out the loudest celebration yell the stadium had heard all night.
The Buckeyes had done the improbable. With 20 seconds left on the clock, the phenom had put his team on his back and delivered the go ahead touchdown. Wisconsin was out of timeouts. They had no way to effectively stop the clock.
Perhaps fearing a kickoff run back, Basil kicked the ball out of bounds and let Wilson take over at the 40. After two tosses that fell incomplete thanks to Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett, Wilson heaved another desperation pass into double coverage.
The clock ran down to zero, but then, the yellow death came flying onto the field.
The Buckeyes were charged with two penalties, one declined, but the other, a facemask personal foul, was accepted -- giving the Badgers the ball in Buckeye territory for one, final, untimed down.
Wisconsin had one last chance. Wilson took the snap, had a decent pocket, and stepped up to the right. And just as he was about to unleash his own desperation Hail Mary, LB Andrew Sweat hit him from behind, sending the pass lazily to the turf.
It was done. The ongoing mission to shock the world and every sports pundit out there had finally come to fruition.
The fans began to rush the field for what was clearly an emotional win, given the past year for the squad. But tattoos, money, charities, and suspensions mattered not on this night.
This night, Ohio State showed the world that they can face severe adversity and punch it directly in the nether regions.
With Penn State unbeaten in, and atop the Leaders division, the Buckeyes nearly control their own fate from here on out. They face Penn State at home in three weeks, and Penn State also has to face Nebraska and Wisconsin.
If OSU wins out, and Penn State loses to either the Cornhuskers or the Badgers (a very distinct possibility), the Buckeyes will have their spot reserved in Lucas Oil Stadium for the inaugural B1G title game on December 3rd.
Buckeye Nation has renewed optimism and fervor for this team -- one that has been cobbled together by some members of its' own fanbase as a roster full of so-called misfits, thugs, and cheaters.
There was no inkling of that on the field last night, however -- and the scene for the post game rendition of Carmen, Ohio was nothing less than truly emotional.
The Buckeyes won't get to rest again the remainder of the season. They must ride this high into next week’s game, and through the season finale' in Ann Arbor on 11/26/11, if they have any intention of continuing this once improbable run towards yet another Big Ten Championship.