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GAMEDAY REPORT - BATTLE FOR THE BIG TEN LEAD
October 10, 2009

SCS.com Welcome to another issue of the Gameday Report, this time coming to you from Columbus, Ohio. There are many locations to watch a college football game, but for an overall college football experience, Columbus is one of the best places to be. The tailgating is lively, the visiting fans are not treated poorly, the marching band is one of the best traditions in college football, and of course there's the historic Horseshoe. When the weather gets a crisp edge in October and the familiar Big Ten foes come knocking, the Horseshoe fills with over 100,000 screaming fans and it becomes quite a Saturday spectacle. Today we have by sheer luck what turns out to be an early battle for sole possession of the conference lead and a downhill road to the BCS thanks to eight separate Big Ten teams taking a loss in the first two weeks of conference play and Iowa having a bye. So Wisconsin and Ohio State meet with identical 2-0 conference records and both are looking to assert themselves: Wisconsin as a conference contender, and Ohio State as a national contender.

SCS.com In the pregame, there is tailgating. In fact, I found people ranging from the age of 90 to the age of 13 months, enjoying themselves with all sorts of great food and beverage. The town was painted red as the visitors match the color of Ohio State on this day. Having been a former Columbus resident, it was nice to see some old friends and some new friends, whether they cheer for the Badgers or the Buckeyes. While I hear the traffic patterns have been awful with the main highway through campus being reconstructed this fall, that has not put a damper on the gameday atmosphere around the stadium. After a few good conversations (a lot of people think this will be a lot closer than the 14-point line), it was time to head to the stadium.

SCS.com The pregame ritual at Columbus is all about the OSU Marching Band. Not only does the band play a warm-up "skull session" two hours prior to the game which is open to the public and well-attended. Then the Marching Band marches into the stadium 20 minutes before kickoff to a crowd standing and clapping to a rhythm with the drum core. The OSU band played all the favorites including Hang On Sloopy, the university alma mater, and the fight songs. Script Ohio got the crowd fully rocking as gameitme approached and the teams took the field. Ohio State won the toss and elected to put their offense on the field first, hoping to make a statement. And now, it's time for the stream-of-consciousness notes from the game.

FIRST QUARTER

Ohio State had a couple poor plays and a ten yard pass was not enough to overcome the losses, so a quick three-and-out which made the coin toss choice backfire. However, a 47 yard punt and a sack on first down put Wisconsin right back in a hole against the OSU defense. Two plays later Wisconsin also had a three-and-out to start the game, so three minutes in and we're already done switching possessions. A nice return by Ray Small got completely wiped out by a block in the back, so early on the sledding is tough. Ohio State moved the chains but a big sack on a third down stopped their second drive cold. You really have to be impressed with how this Wisconsin defense has come out and put some real pressure on Terrelle Pryor, which could be a key to this game. Yet again, the Buckeye defense got a good pass rush on a third and short after a couple plays to John Clay and Wisconsin punted away. Pryor had time to throw on the next possession, but the coverage was strong and the Wisconsin defense held strong. Wisconsin's third possession will start another ten yards forward at the 40, which means Wisconsin is currently slowly gaining a field position advantage. Wisconsin began moving the chains getting their first two first downs of the game and were in field goal range when disaster struck and a pressured Scott Tolzien forced a throw down the middle that SS Kurt Coleman took 89 yards for a touchdown. Right when Wisconsin had OSU where they wanted them, the Buckeyes strike with their defense for a 7-0 lead. Wisconsin kept up the pressure with some nifty quick runs to the edge by WR David Gilreath to pass midfield. The first quarter ended with wisconsin around midfield and driving yet again.

SECOND QUARTER

Another sack on a third down cut another Wisconsin drive down, as the Buckeye defense bends but sure knows how to come up with a timely stop. On the ensuing possession, a sack and an interception set up the Badgers nicely at Ohio state's 12-yard line. The Buckeye defense stuffed the Badgers but Wisconsin faked a field goal and made it into the endzone on a 9-yard rush by FS Chris Maragos. The play was reviewed but there was not quite enough evidence to overturn the touchdown, which allows the Badgers to return the favor of a touchdown off a turnover, tied 7-7. Gutsy call by Coach Bielema in this game, but he understands that sometimes you have to be bold to win. Still, wisconsin is dominating the Buckeye offense right now so it's hard to imagine they will not be back down in the red zone again this game. The Buckeyes were not able to capitalize on the next drive and have only had one first down in five possessions so far. As was expected, these teams have locked into a defensive struggle. Wisconsin got rolling again with a health dose of running via John Clay and picked up a crucial fourth down conversion to keep the drive going in Buckeye territory. The Badgers stalled out after the conversion and had to settle for a 50-yard field goal which was converted easily by Philip Welch for a 10-7 Badger lead. Going into halftime, Ohio State really needs a good two-minute drive as the Badgers have held the ball for over 20 minutes in the first half and even a great defense will wear out at that rate. And just on cue, Pryor runs for 27 and then 5 yards, then begins an aerial assault that ends with a 32-yard bomb to DeVier Posey for a touchdown and the 14-10 lead. Wisconsin got into range for a 57-yard field goal attempt but it ended up wide right and Wisconsin, who thoroghly outplayed Ohio State for 28 minutes of the first half, ends up on the wrong side of a 14-10 halftime margin.

HALFTIME THOUGHTS

Well if anybody questions the merit of Wisconsin as a Big Ten contender and a team that should be ranked, those questions dissipated in the first half here in Columbus. The Badger defense has been rock solid, only giving up a 89 yard drive in a two-minute drill and one first down in five other possessions. The Buckeye defense has played well considering how much they have been on the field, but Wisconsin is starting to find holes in the rushing game and I believe has found a go-to play with the WR edge runs by David Gilreath. Look for more of the same in the second half, as Wisconsin will win this game if they continue the same type of play in the second half. It will be very interesting to see if OSU goes with an uptempo two-minute style of offense in the second half after using it to great success. The only problem is that this will exacerbate the time of possession problem, and you do not want the defense to get tired and fail late. Stay tuned, as we have a classic brewing in the Horseshoe.

THIRD QUARTER

Wisconsin started at their own 20 and grabbed a first down before the drive fell apart. After a couple of negative plays, FS Jermale Hines tipped a pass to himself and returned it 32 yards for a second interception-return-for-touchdown for the Buckeye defense on the day. All of a sudden it's 21-10 after the Badgers had all the momentum in the game with two minutes to go in the first half and the kickoff to them in the third quarter. A personal foul on the Buckeyes set up the Badgers with good field position on the next drive, starting at their own 31. The Badgers immediately ripped off a 33 yard pass and that led to a 46-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-13. And yet again the Buckeyes came up big on a special teams play with a 96 yard return for touchdown by Ray Small to make it 28-13. All of a sudden, Ohio State has doubled their score in 5 minutes without having a single offensive snap. If Wisconsin is going to hold a 15 minute advantage in time of possession, this is how you have to win, with special teams and defense. Wisconsin was buried at their own 5 yard line to start the next drive, but again the Badger offense kept rolling right out of trouble and moved the ball rights down the field on a long drive including 5 first downs that ended in a missed 33 yard field goal attempt. Over thirteen minutes off the clock now in the second half and OSU still has not had an offensive snap; however, they now hold a 15 point lead and will finally get the ball. Hard to believe the last time Pryor touched the ball, OSU was down by 3 points. Wisconsin has also not had a three-and-out since the beginning of the second quarter, which is a testament to how well the Badgers are playing against this OSU defense. The quarter ended with OSU picking up a first down on their first offensive possession since the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Badgers have their best unit on the field right now in their defense, but they will need a big play or two to turn this game back around. The Buckeyes drove right down the field quickly to start the fourth quarter and made it a three-possession game with a 37-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey, now 31-13. Without something drastic and soon, Wisconsin will be leaving Columbus without their undefeated record. Wisconsin picked up another first down but could only punt the ball away and watch as Ohio State began working on the clock in earnest. Ohio State was forced to punt on a couple more drives, but Wisconsin put in some second-stringers for the experience and the game stayed right where it was at an 18 point margin. So on a day when the battle appeared to be the Wisconsin offense versus the Buckeye defense, it was the Wisconsin defense who stood tall and dominated most of the game surprisingly in a losing effort. Both defenses have to be happy, but the Buckeyes simply made more turnovers and big plays from those turnovers.

POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE

Now Ohio State and Wisconsin operate press conferences at the same time, so I chose to discuss the victory with the new Big Ten sole leaders. Coach Tressel highlighted the defense and special teams as expected, but he did say the biggest tow plays of the game for him were when the offense put up points at the end of the first half on a touchdown and the last field goal to put the game seemingly out of reach. After the Navy game, no lead is taken for granted in that clubhouse. No defensive touchdowns allowed and only 6 points surrendered is an awesome job even though Wisconsin was able to drive quite a bit, according to Tressel. The strategy on the last drive of the half was not to take advantage of a prevent defense but instead use misdirection to overcome the Wisconsin defenders who were aggressively overplaying a bit at that point in the game. As for the captains, Kurt Coleman would not comment on the suspension from last week other than to say it was the hardest week he's had to go through watching his compatriots battle without him. But coming back and getting a big interception return was just what the doctor ordered this game. Jake Ballard said the offense got mighty cold and frustrated having to watch the whole third quarter after wanting to get back out there with the momentum, but he will never complain about the defense and special teams making it easy on them. Ray Small waited four years to break out and get a touchdown in the return game, but now he has one and he feels like it could not have come on a better day. Small looks to improve both as a returner AND a receiver even though his reps at wideout have been limited in the past. The overall feeling from multiple guys going into Purdue is that they will have to make some serious adjustments to be ready but that they are continually striving to become better week to week, including the defense who some are already calling elite.

Comments from the Wisconsin side included QB Scott Tolzien saying he needs to make some better reads if they are to come to places like Columbus and leave with a victory. Defensive back Chris Maragos said that the score right before halftime was the turning point, as things were deflated at halftime a bit and did not get any better as Wisconsin gave up another interception return for touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Coach Bret Bielema thinks that they can easily win games like this and proved their worth by outplaying the Buckeyes except for the big play mistakes today. Bielema looks forward to the next challenge at home against Iowa and hopes that his defense continues to play as strong as they did to contain Pryor and company all day.

So in summary, the Buckeyes came out and did not hold the ball for very long, but the defense held up the offense yet again. It's being said in Big Ten country that OSU will likely not need to score more than 20 points per game the rest of the way to end up in the BCS and perhaps the national championship with this defense. After seeing them bend but not break again today, this defense reminds me a lot of the 2002 defense. A scrappy defense who will get the big play every once in a while will give Pryor and the offense time to develop and do just enough to win. For Wisconsin, this was still a good statement despite the final score. Wisconsin will of course be disappointed to drop out of the conference lead and lose the undefeated label, but another big opportunity awaits in the friendly confines next week to re-establish themselves and get into the national rankings. As for Ohio State, it's high time for them to regain a little national respect after gutting out a tough win after some blowouts. Ohio State proved yet again that they are the team to beat in the Big Ten and the road to the Big Ten title will go through their house. Congratulations to the Buckeyes, good luck to both the Badgers and the Buckeyes in continuing your seasons. Also, a special thanks to the Ohio State athletic department for allowing us the privilege to cover this game. We appreciate the opportunity to bring our readers great coverage from the biggest venues, and the Horseshoe is one of the best. See you next week readers!

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