Nov. 17, 2012
After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on Wisconsin's 21-14 overtime loss to Ohio State at Camp Randall Stadium.
By MIKE LUCAS
There's no consolation prize for coming close. For losing by seven points or fewer. Maybe that's what makes it so much more gut-wrenching, especially at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday when the Badgers did so many good things well, especially on defense.
Limiting that offense to seven points through regulation was quite an achievement. Ohio State was leading the Big Ten in scoring, averaging over 40 points per game and the Badgers nearly shut down one of the elite running/throwing quarterbacks in the country in Braxton Miller. They got the ball back to the offense, which was the most important thing at the end of the game and then the offense took over.
For all the tremendous plays made by the Wisconsin defense, perhaps the biggest tackle was made by Badgers' center Travis Frederick. In dragging down Christian Bryant after Montee Ball's fumble at the one-yard line, Frederick gave UW a chance. A chance to get yet another stop and score the equalizer.
After squandering some field position throughout, Curt Phillips led a memorable drive -- win or lose -- that will still be remembered by many for the clutch plays and passes. His receivers elevated their game to such a level that Wisconsin was able to overcome the fumble on the goal line, which I think says a lot about the character, toughness and resiliency of this team.
Something to prove
Chris Borland was Wisconsin's second leading tackler, was second in tackles for loss and was leading the team in sacks. You take him out of the equation and you figure that it's going to be really, really difficult to slow down Miller and company, and yet, the Badgers use an abundance of nickel defense with Ethan Armstong and Mike Taylor as the linebackers and Darius Hillary as the nickel back and they were able to execute their assignments almost perfectly.
Take a look at some of those possessions, the three-and-outs that you could put on a highlight reel, with how to play fundamentally-sound defense. Defensive backs breaking down, linebackers breaking down and always keeping leverage on Miller, and not letting him break contain. I don't know if anyone has done it better. I'm sure nobody has done it better against Miller this year, which bodes well for this team yet this season.
I think it's been an underrated defense. People have focused on other areas with this team -- on and off the field -- and this defense has consistently played big.
Whoever Wisconsin faces in the Big Ten Football Championship game, whether it's Taylor Martinez of Nebraska or the Michigan duo of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, I think today showed people that they can handle that spread offense. That is, if people hadn't already believed in it already.
Sometimes you also have to credit the offense, and in overtime Ohio State had done virtually nothing the entire second half, but made plays. Maybe that explains why they're only one of four unbeaten teams as of right now.
Little things become big
It always seems when you're pretty evenly matched that the little things will decide the outcome of a game. In the case of this series between the Badgers and the Buckeyes, it has been special teams.
The last time the Buckeyes played here, David Gilreath's kickoff return to open the game and sort of set the tone. Last year a blocked punt gave Ohio State the momentum it needed. Today, a punt return and missed field goal.
Those things all add up.
You can talk about "the game of inches," and people can smirk at you and say, `Oh, that's so cliché, it really doesn't apply.' Take a look at this game in terms of a game of inches. We can go all the way back to the first quarter when the Badgers had the ball at Ohio State's 30-yard line and it was clearly obvious to everyone but the officials that Montee Ball was interfered with. Totally interfered with. That would've kept the drive alive and it was a scoreless game at the time, but you don't get that call, you don't get points off that possession.
That was the storyline today: Crossing midfield and not finding ways to score points. Tight games. Close games. Those things add up. So does the frustration level knowing how very close you were to two more wins, at the very least.