October 10, 2009

Miscues, costly turnovers doom Badgers at OSU

COLUMBUS - The Wisconsin football team had exactly twice as many total yards as Ohio State, ran more than double the plays the Buckeyes did and had the ball for nearly three-quarters of the contest.

On defense, the Badgers held Ohio State to only 184 total yards and kept Terrelle Pryor in check, allowing him to have only 35 yards rushing and 87 yards passing.

So, judging by those stats, Wisconsin won, right? Maybe even easily, right?

Not so fast.

Because Scott Tolzien threw two interceptions that Ohio State returned for a touchdown and the special teams allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as several drive killing penalties, the Buckeyes improved to 3-0 in Big Ten play with a 31-13 win over the Badgers.

"It's a 31-13 game and 21 points were scored when our defense wasn't on the field," UW head coach Bret Bielema said after his team fell to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. "Anytime that happens, you absolutely have no chance of winning on the road in the Big Ten."

It was a shame to see such a feisty, opportunistic and sound defensive effort go to waste for the Badgers. They only allowed one drive of substance to an explosive Ohio State team with playmakers at all skill positions throughout the entire game.

They kept Pryor down for most of the game and gave their offensive colleagues plenty of chances to make some noise and drive for the upset. Instead, the UW offense struggled immensely against a stellar Buckeye defense throughout and never saw much momentum build in its favor.

"Our defense played a good game," UW defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We can't ask for much more than holding them to 10 points. But as a team we need to play a little bit better."

In fact, after Chris Maragos scored a touchdown to tie the game on a fake field goal early in the second quarter, the UW defense once again forced a OSU punt for the fourth time in five drives to that point.

And after the offense put together a solid drive, Philip Welch hit a 50-yard field goal to give the Badgers a 10-7 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half.

At that point, the Badgers had already overcome Tolzien's first interception that Curt Coleman returned 87 yards for the games first touchdown and with the way the defense was gelling, they had the momentum.

But, Pryor then broke out of his struggles and showed the types of plays he is built to make.

Though the defense had held the Buckeyes to only one first down and 36 total yards to that point, Pryor finally broke contain and jumpstarted a drive that would give Ohio State a lead it would never relinquish.

On the first play, Pryor looked started to his left on an option read, but when he saw the Badger defense covering the play to a tee, he stopped and ran to his right where the field was wide-open.

Twenty-seven yards later, the Buckeyes were finally in business. Still, the Badger defense eventually forced them into a third and 15 scenario, but Pryor noticed Devier Poser in single coverage on the far sideline.

Figuring it was his best chance to make a play, he threw a great pass and Posey hauled it in over Antonio Fenelus for the go ahead touchdown with 35 seconds left in the half. It was a turning point in the game, even though the Badgers were still well within reach.

"I thought the moment at the end of the first half where we went down and scored was very critical," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "It gave us the lead back and seized the momentum as we went into the half."

Wisconsin started the second half with the ball and a chance to reestablish momentum, but on second and 17, that all fell by the wayside.

Tolzien dropped back, eyed his receiver Nick Toon and tried to throw it over Jermale Hines who was flanking the zone. Instead, Hines athletically tipped it to himself, made the interception and turned it into a backbreaking touchdown return.

"There was a linebacker dropping and I thought I could get it over the top of him," Tolzien, who finished 27-of-45 for 250 yards and two interceptions, said. "It was too close to call. At that point I shouldn't throw it. I should work through my progression and move onto the next play."

Tolzien was under fierce pressure the entirety of the contest, and never had a legitimate opportunity to get comfortable in the pocket. Entering the game, the Badger offensive line had only given up two sacks. During Saturday's game, OSU got to Tolzien and brought him down six times.

That stat alone is a telling sign for the way the Buckeyes defensive line, one that rotates upwards of 10 players, established its dominating presence from the start.

"They have great depth and their two's were really good," UW left guard John Moffitt said. "They were physical. They were big guys and they were fast. They were a good defensive line. They were."

In the end, it was a game of missed opportunities and self-inflicted miscues. The Badgers had seven penalties that cost them 60 yards and halted drives that had potential to be successful. They had turnovers and shoddy special teams play. And as it turns out, it cost them, even though they statistically dominated most categories.

And it's that fact that will leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Badger players and coaches.

"This team is flying home disappointed," Bielema said. "We had 70 guys come over here with the intent of winning a football game and it's not an easy thing to swallow and we don't ever want it to be.

"I hate losing to these guys. It's something I absolutely can't stand. But bottom line, to have to do it again, it's something we'll continue to look at from this point until we have another opportunity next year."

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