Written Grant Burkhardt
In any Ohio State season of inevitable mid-major bashings and hilarious, noon-on-Saturday destructions of Big Ten minnows, there’s always one, isn’t there? There’s always that one performance that leads to fan meltdowns about play calling or questioning the team’s pre-game motivation – you’ve surely heard those crutches if you’ve ever, like — watched a sports event with any other human. But there is always that one clunker.
So, when a sheet of rain poured down on the field for one play (and seemingly one play only), slicked-up the ball, and forced J.T. Barrett into an end-zone interception, memories of former “clunkers” (Virginia Tech, first and foremost) did seem to find their way into the collective Buckeye psyche. In those situations, to oversimplify it, having Barrett is much better than not having him, and so Ohio State turned the yearly dump into a come-from-behind, overtime, 30-23 win at Wisconsin on Saturday.
But before Barrett pulled out the rabbit with a perfect back-shoulder touchdown throw to Noah Brown in overtime, there was that first half. Goodness, the melancholy of that first half was enough to put even the drunkest fans to sleep. Here was the formula: Wisconsin would run to the outside for eight yards at a time. That was it, the whole thing. Wisconsin racked up 313 yards in the first half alone. Ohio State’s coaching staff needed halftime to figure that out, but then when they shored up the edges, Wisconsin gashed them up the middle. Wisconsin was out in front on every play, and the Buckeyes were stuck. But when you’re playing an experienced, polished team like Ohio State, you have to make all the right decisions, and the Badgers made two critically bad ones.
At the end of that brutal first half, Wisconsin, somehow only leading by seven, essentially kneeled on the ball and settled for a field goal in the latest instance of a football coach making the tamest, safest choice. And then, after relegating freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook to a handoff machine for most of the second half, Wisconsin put the game in his hands late. He promptly threw an interception just before overtime and got sacked to finish it.
Wisconsin will look at that and think it was completely winnable because it was. Ohio State was bad for most of the game but the juxtaposition was that one team had a freshman quarterback with three games of experience, and the other had J.T. Barrett.
So, instead of having to spend the next six weeks engaging in Top 25 schadenfreude because of a “clunker” — Ohio State rolled its astounding road winning streak to 20 and stayed unbeaten. Cameras caught Urban Meyer – who for most of the game was hunched over, hands on knees, looking like he needed an oxygen mask – mouthing the word “wow” in the celebration, as if he couldn’t believe they’d survived the poorest performance of the season so far. But they did.
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