Sept. 28, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
After turning off the microphone from his work with the Wisconsin Sports Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers his take on the Badgers’ 31-24 loss at Ohio State.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Through its first four games, Wisconsin had not allowed a touchdown pass. Then along comes Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who threw for four TDs -- none more damaging than a 40-yard strike to Corey “Philly” Brown at the end of the first half that triggered a haunting flashback to 2011.
In his two previous starts against the Badgers combined, Miller had completed just 17 of 30 passes for a pedestrian 186 yards. In the first half alone Saturday night, Miller was 11-for-17 for 162 yards; one more completion than he had in all of last season’s game in Madison when he was 10-for-18 for 97.
Despite the fact that the Badgers were guilty of a ton of mistakes in the half -- including five penalties, two of which erased takeaways -- they made a late run at Ohio State when quarterback Joel Stave hit tight end Sam Arneson on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:30 left in the second quarter.
That third-and-10 conversion capped a seven-play, 76-yard drive and pulled the Badgers within three points of the Buckeyes, 17-14. Arneson left his feet and held on to the pass even though he took a vicious hit to his chest from an OSU defensive back who led with the crown of his helmet.
On the subsequent possession, Miller drove the Buckeyes to the UW 40 where he faced a third-and-7. His next pass should have been intercepted by Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who had inside coverage and leverage on intended receiver Devin Smith, but Shelton dropped the ball.
Given new life, Miller targeted Brown, who got open in the end zone against what appeared to be three deep or “thirds’’ coverage by the Badgers. Brown split cornerback Peniel Jean and safety Dezmen Southward. Both failed to abide by the fundamental rule of being deeper than the deepest receiver.
In the heartbreaking 2011 loss, Miller found Smith open in the opposite end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left. Both plays covered exactly 40 yards and both were inexcusable.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Wisconsin’s first touchdown was a thing of beauty in that it highlighted the timing and chemistry between Stave and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. On third-and-6 from the OSU, Stave stood tall in the pocket and delivered a perfect throw to Abbrederis, who was matched one-on-one with Bradley Roby.
Not only is Roby considered to be the best cover corner in the Big Ten, but he’s an All-American who is projected to go in the first round of next spring’s NFL draft. Roby is on the 2013 watch lists for the Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Thorpe and Walter Camp awards.
Abbrederis ate him alive and may have made some money for himself with the pro scouts. On this scoring route, Abbrederis never lost concentration on the football and cradled it to his body with his right arm while Roby was getting away with what seemed to be an inordinate amount of contact.
Stave put the ball in a place where only Abbrederis could make a play on it, not Roby. Throughout the night, the Buckeyes committed an extra defender to the tackle box to take away Wisconsin’s rushing attack and Stave and Abbrederis made them pay through the air for their strategy.
Ohio Stadium just seems to agree with Abbrederis. Two years ago, Russell Wilson was the quarterback and Abbrederis had six catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday, Stave went to him repeatedly and Abbrederis produced with 10 catches for 207 yards; shades of Lee Evans.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Because of injuries, UW linebacker Chris Borland didn’t play in last year’s game against the Buckeyes, nor the 2010 game. Borland definitely made up for lost time in his final appearance at the Horseshoe by twice coming up with “big boy” stops on 235-pound tailback Carlos Hyde.
Borland ended up with 16 tackles, reminiscent of Mike Taylor’s 22 stops in the 2011 game.
On fourth-and-1 from the UW 38 in the third quarter, Miller handed off to Hyde, who was met in the hole and stuffed by Borland. Scraping off defensive linemen Tyler Dippel -- in fact, he used his hands to bounce off Dippel -- Borland played Hyde-and-Seek, plugged the gap and held Hyde to no gain.
On Ohio State’s next possession, Borland did it again to Hyde on a second-and-goal from the UW 1-yard line. Borland met him in the hole and stopped his forward progress for no gain. Miller, though, came right back on the next snap and completed a short pass to Brown for a touchdown.
UW coach Gary Andersen had the perfect basketball metaphor for what happened. The Badgers simply gave up too many lay-ups, too many uncontested shots -- or in this case, throws -- to the Buckeyes. Three of Miller’s four touchdown passes were uncontested; simply one-on-one breakdowns.
The Wisconsin players, to their credit, were unwilling to play the “what if’’ game. More than anything, they were disappointed in their lack of execution and focus at key junctures of the game; the type of costly mistakes that you can’t make against an elite opponent like Ohio State.
But what if the Badgers made that 32-yard field goal? What if the zebras didn’t call Conor O’Neill for face-masking even though he may have grabbed Miller’s helmet? What if they didn’t call Borland for not lining up correctly on a punt? What if the Badgers didn’t give up that TD at the end of the half?
What if Northwestern beats Ohio State next Saturday in Evanston?
That’s the only thing that the Badgers should concern themselves with during their bye week because when they return to action on Oct. 12 against the Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium, the world -- at least the world of the Leaders Division contenders -- might look different to them than it does today.