COLUMBUS — The biggest knock on Ohio State this season has been that the Buckeyes hadn’t faced a tough test during their first nine games, and might buckle under the pressure if the situation ever presented itself.
The Buckeyes can check “overcoming adversity” off their to-do list, after rallying from a third-quarter deficit for a 38-17 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon.
“I think adversity helps a team and helps an individual,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “I think adversity is always good, even though I don’t vote for it. It’s good for you if you survive it.”
The Buckeyes survived and then some. After the Badgers took a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter, Ohio State turned to 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back Chris Wells and the sophomore began to pound his way into the Wisconsin defense.
Wells ran five times through interior holes in the line, then used a perfectly executed cutback move to run 31 yards untouched down the left sideline and into the end zone. The touchdown tied the score at 17 and, more importantly, stopped the rush of momentum the Badgers had been building since halftime.
“I ran right back to the bench,” Wells said. “I didn’t want to celebrate in the end zone because I knew that this game wasn’t over.”
But it soon would be and it would be the sophomore powerhouse that would ensure it.
Ohio State’s defense continued to do what it’s done all year by shutting down the Wisconsin offense during the fourth quarter, and Wells began to eat up huge chunks of yardage all over the field.
In what looked like an instant replay of his first score, Wells used the same cutback move on the left side of the line and ran unobstructed into the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 24-17 lead. This time the move he put on Wisconsin’s defense was so dazzling, it left nearly a half dozen Badger defenders reeling on the turf.
“Beanie can run,” Buckeyes offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “He can run when he needs to run. He can run outside or inside or straight ahead or however he needs to run. He can do it.
“We just have to try and block for him and give him somewhere to go, and he’ll figure it out.”
Not that the rest of the offense was sleeping.
Buckeyes receiver Brian Robiskie made an athletic catch in the end zone — his second touchdown of the game — to give Ohio State a 31-17 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game, Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman made several big plays with his arm and his feet — rushing seven times for 37 yards to finish as the Buckeyes’ second-leading rusher — and sophomore receiver Brian Hartline finished with career highs in catches (seven) and yards (95).
“It was the first time all year we’ve been down like that in the third quarter and it’s kind of nice to see those guys out there hanging tough and playing hard,” Boeckman said. “(The Badgers) took the lead and I saw that look in everybody’s eyes — that we knew we were going to get the job done.”
“Our backs were against the wall and we had to do something,” Bollman said. “It was good that when we got tested, we responded the way we did. And not just offensively, but the whole football team. The defense got us some big turnovers.”
Ohio State’s defense recovered a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles, and finished with a season-high 10 sacks for minus-73 yards.
The defensive performance allowed the offense, and especially Wells, to do what it needed to do to give the Buckeyes their school-record 28th consecutive regular-season victory and their record 20th-consecutive Big Ten win.
“We practiced and prepared to not be intimidated by the atmosphere of this place,” Badgers coach Bret Bielema said of Ohio Stadium and its 105,449 inhabitants. “Our team played well overall but it was not enough. It was a tough game and Ohio State persevered.”
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CHRIS WELLS, OHIO STATE RUNNING BACK
Beanie had a measly six carries for 29 yards during the first half, then turned on his jets after the Badgers grabbed a 17-10 third-quarter lead. Wells rushed 15 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns during a second-half performance that sparked the Buckeyes to a 38-17 victory.
The three touchdowns were a career high for Wells, and the first time a Buckeye had rushed for three scores since Lydell Ross accomplished the feat against Indiana on Oct. 25, 2003. Wells’ earlier best was a pair of touchdowns against Minnesota earlier this season.
“Our guys did a good job up front and Beanie was breaking tackles at the second level,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “And when you have all that going for you, you’re going to seize back control of the game.”
The Badgers defensive backs were burned all day. No, the Buckeyes didn’t torch Wisconsin’s defense with long pass after long pass, the Ohio State players used simple cutback moves to shake the Badgers out of their shoes for several long touchdowns.
Wide receiver Brian Robiskie scored the game’s first touchdown by taking a simple 5-yard out and using a juke move to put Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu on the seat of his pants, giving the Buckeye an open lane to the end zone. Wells used the move three times for three touchdowns, the second move being so effective it left Badgers strong safety Aubre Pleasant on his back and defensive tackle Jason Chapman needing to be helped off the field.
“We missed a lot of key tackles,” Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. “OSU executed the running game really well and a lot of the cutbacks hurt us in the end.”
THE TURNING POINT
ERASING THE DEFICIT
The Buckeyes found themselves trailing for just the second time this season and for the first time in the second half after the Badgers scored with 6:53 remaining in the third quarter. Wisconsin was only leading by a touchdown, but it was obvious the Badgers had full control of the momentum and the pace of the game. The players jumped around with energy and the Ohio Stadium faithful could feel a bad situation getting potentially worse by the second.
But the Buckeyes answered on the next drive, and they didn’t do it with flashy plays or big gains. Wells pounded through the line for steady gains, quarterback Todd Boeckman threw for a short gain and scrambled for another and Wells finally used a cutback move to free himself for a 31-yard score, tying the game at 17. Ohio State added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“We kind of looked at each other in the huddle and said it was time to step up,” Buckeyes center and offensive captain Kirk Barton said. “I said, ‘Do we want to fall apart and be a good one-loss team or do we want to get it together and be a great undefeated team?’”