Wisconsin’s formula wasn’t enough to beat Ohio State

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin was as close to the College Football Playoffs as they’ve ever been. The Badgers came into the Big Ten Championship with a perfect 12-0 record and ranked No. 4 in the country. A win against Ohio State would have given them a berth in the semi-finals.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Badgers finally dug a hole too deep for themselves to climb out of. Time and time again they were a team that was much better in the second half of games than they were the first. Saturday night was much of the same for Wisconsin.

To close out the first half, Wisconsin defensive back Nick Nelson blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt off the right foot of Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger to keep the score at 21-10 in favor of Ohio State. At one point, Wisconsin faced a 14-point deficit, their largest of the season.

The Badgers were able to turn things on in the second half. They outscored Ohio State 11-6 and had the opportunity to win the game in the final two minutes. This time, they just couldn’t pull through.

Wisconsin had gotten as far as they did by managing the game in the first half and taking control in the second half. Ohio State was simply too talented for that to happen, despite Wisconsin’s best efforts.

The Buckeyes built their first half lead on big plays and speed that Wisconsin hadn’t seen to date this year. They struck first on an 84-yard touchdown pass from quarterback J.T. Barrett to wide receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin beat Wisconsin safety Joe Ferguson deep over the middle and won a footrace to the end zone.

After Wisconsin tied the game on an Andrew Van Ginkel interception returned for a touchdown Ohio State responded with another big play. Buckeye wide receiver Parris Campbell caught a swing pass from Barrett, broke a tackle from Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson, and took it 57 yards for another Ohio State touchdown.

Add in a 77-yard run from running back J.K. Dobbins to set up a Barrett touchdown run from a yard out and the Badgers had given up three plays of 50 or more yards in the first half. In their first 12 games combined they had only given up three such plays.

The second half was a different story, while they still allowed a 53-yard run to Dobbins, the defense was much better. After allowing a whopping 309 yards of offense in the first half, the Badgers only gave up 140 yards in the second half, despite the 53-yard scamper. The defense looked much like it had all season after halftime, keeping Ohio State out of the end zone.

Offensively, the Badgers were never able to get their running game going. The staple of Wisconsin football was only able to muster 60 total yards on the ground. That was partly due to playing from behind and partly due to Ohio State’s defensive line having their way with Wisconsin’s offensive line. Linebackers Jerome Baker and Tuf Borland were free to make tackles. Baker finished with a team-high 16 tackles and Borland was behind him with seven.

Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was unable to generate any running room, finishing with 41 yards on 15 carries, by far his lowest output of the season. That meant the Badgers had to rely on the arm of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He attempted a career-high 40 passes, completing 19 of them for 229 yards and two interceptions. One interception came while searching for tight end Troy Fumagalli deep in Ohio State territory. The other pick came on the Badgers’ final offensive play, a fourth down with 20 yards to go with 1:16 on the clock.

Wisconsin was set back in the fourth and long situation due to a holding penalty on offensive lineman Michael Deiter on first down. On that same play, Hornibrook looked for wide receiver Danny Davis down the field. Davis was tangled up with an Ohio State defensive back on a play that certainly could have warranted a flag. In fact, the field judge grabbed at his penalty flag before having second thoughts.

If that penalty flag comes out, there’s no telling what happens. It might have changed the game, it might not have. It certainly made Wisconsin’s comeback effort more difficult.

In the end, everything was too much to comeback from. The slow start, the big plays, the lack of a rushing attack, the questionable no call on the final drive, it was all too much to overcome.

The Badgers simply couldn’t follow the same formula they had used to reach the Big Ten Championship to find a way to the College Football Playoffs.

Wisconsin’s sum is greater than the individual pieces

INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State’s football program is nationally regarded as one of the historic powers of the sport. The Buckeyes have won eight national championships, possess seven Heisman trophies, and have won the Big Ten 35 times in the program’s history. The program is filled with star power, both currently and traditionally. Head coach Urban Meyer is considered one of the best in the world at his profession, and the program is truly elite. The operation run in Columbus, Ohio is one that nearly every program in the country strives to be. Very few can boast more impressive historical resumes.

For as good as Wisconsin has been in recent memory, they don’t have the historical relevance that the Buckeyes do. That won’t matter on Saturday when the two teams square off in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.

The Badgers aren’t trying to close the gap on Ohio State as a program, they’re trying to win one game and earn their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

“It’s tough, obviously they have a lot of talent, but we have a lot of talent,” linebacker T.J. Edwards told the media. “The [recruiting] stars and stuff, it doesn’t mean much going into this game. We know we’re going to get their best and that’s not really something we’re focused on because we know we can match just about anything in the country.”

Since 2000, Wisconsin has had 38 recruits that have garnered either four or five stars, per 247. Ohio State has had 227 such players. The Buckeyes currently have more four and five-star players on their current roster than the Badgers have had in the past 17 years.

This isn’t something that’s new. Looking at the top eight in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, the Badgers are far behind the other seven teams. There are currently six players on Wisconsin’s roster that garnered a four-star rating out of high school, and none that were five stars. Ohio State has 62 such players rostered.

Ohio State is as successful of a program as they are in part due to the gaudy number of immensely talents players they’ve brought in. Wisconsin does things much differently. The Badgers develop kids and take an incredible amount of pride in their walk-on program. Very few, if any, other major college football programs have had this much success with that method.

The Buckeyes enter the game favored by nearly everyone. Despite their two losses this season, they get the benefit of the doubt. The Badgers are routinely criticized for going unbeaten through a primarily weak schedule, despite having two more wins against bowl-eligible teams than Ohio State does. Part of the reasoning for that is due to the amount of respect Ohio State gets natural talent the Buckeyes have, and possibly a little bit of disrespect of the way Wisconsin develops their talent.

The Buckeyes are going to continue to be in the national spotlight, and they’ve earned that. The Badgers shouldn’t be slept on, however. Wisconsin has been one of the best in the country over the past decade. They’ve won 100 games over the past 10 years, which is no small feat. In fact, only a few teams have won more games in that span, and Ohio State (110 wins) is one of them.

“I think it’s another great opportunity to prove that we are legit, that we are the team that we think we are,” tight end Troy Fumagalli, a former walk-on, said of the matchup with the Buckeyes. “I think it’s another great opportunity with another great team.”

The Buckeyes have an immense amount of talent. They’re one of the most talented in not only the Big Ten, but the country as well. At times, however, they haven’t shown up. There have been a number of occasions this season where Ohio State has failed to play up to their capabilities. Their 55-24 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes was the most drastic instance. On a weekly basis, the world can question as to which Ohio State team is going to show up.

The Badgers had moments where they didn’t play to their highest potential against lesser opponents, but still found a way to win. That’s the sign of a team that has things figured out despite not always being the most talented on the field.

Ohio State hasn’t had a game this season where they haven’t had the talent edge. Even in their two losses, the Buckeyes could make the argument that they had more individually talented pieces. In all of their wins, the Badgers have been able to say that the sum of their parts is greater than the individual pieces.