Nov. 19, 2012
By MIKE LUCAS
Wisconsin safety Shelton Johnson was trying to come to grips with what he was feeling after Saturday’s overtime loss to Ohio State; the second overtime loss in as many home games.
“I feel like someone stabbed me in the heart,” he said.
Johnson is one of three seniors in the Badgers secondary.
“This being my last opportunity to play in Camp Randall Stadium, you want to go out on a high note,” Johnson said. “You want to beat the No. 6 ranked team in the nation.
“You want to win and you want to do the Fifth Quarter just like everyone else has done my whole career here. It hurts. That’s really all I can say about it.”
Wisconsin had been 6-0 on Senior Day under coach Bret Bielema.
Traditionally – during the postgame band show, the Fifth Quarter – the players take off their pads in the locker room following the final home game and return to the field to celebrate.
“The seniors have done so much for us, we didn’t want to send them out this way,” said tight end Jacob Pedersen. “They battle every day for us and I know they’re going to keep battling.”
One of those seniors, Marcus Cromartie, brought context to the season.
“Adversity makes for a better story and a better journey,” he said. “Obviously, we still have our goal in front of us – we can still reach the Rose Bowl.”
That realization didn’t lessen the pain from losing another one possession game.
“You’re still unsatisfied because you want the win,” Cromartie acknowledged. “But, at the same time, we can use this as a stepping stone that we can build upon.”
All of the UW players were dealing with a kaleidoscope of emotions.
“When you play a game like this,” Cromartie said, “momentum can shift in a second.”
That was the case from the onset.
On the first offensive series, the Badgers had a chance for a big hit through the air but wide receiver Chase Hammond couldn’t control the ball when he was brought down to the turf.
On the second possession, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier tackled tailback Montee Ball before the Curt Phillips pass arrived on a flat route. TV replays confirmed Shazier interfering with Ball.
The no-call came on a second-and-12 from the OSU 30.
The Badgers ended up punting and, thus, came up empty-handed on a 10-play, 69-yard drive.
On top of that, Drew Meyer’s punt went into the end zone for a touchback.
“It’s one thing to have a half-way decent drive,” Pedersen said. “It’s another thing to have a drive that you’re capitalizing on and getting points.
“We have to finish. We can’t have a good drive that stalls on the 30.”
In the second half, the Badgers had three consecutive possessions end on the Ohio State 23 (missed field goal), 45 (punt) and 3 (lost fumble) without getting any points.
“It’s really hard when you cross mid-field and you don’t get into the red zone,” said UW center Travis Frederick. “It’s going to happen when you’re playing a field position game with great defense.
“But we needed to be able to move the ball more, and capitalize more.”
Wisconsin’s defense bottled up Braxton Miller and kept the Badgers within striking distance even after the Buckeyes jumped out to a 14-0 lead; the first score resulting from a 68-yard punt return.
“After last year’s game against him (Miller),” said Cromartie, “we made a big emphasis on keeping him inside and making him earn his yardage by breaking tackles.
“We tried to force him to make plays with his arm. We wanted to limit his running and make it tough on him when he got four or five yards. We wanted him to feel it when we tackled him.”
The Badgers played without their second-leading tackler, Chris Borland. More often than not, in lieu of replacing Borland with another linebacker, they went to their nickel defense with Darius Hillary.
“Miller is a phenomenal athlete,” said UW defensive end Brendan Kelly. “But it was a fun challenge. We had (tailback) Jeff Lewis running the scout team and he did a great job.”
In most cases, the defense was fundamentally sound in its techniques; breaking down in the open field and maintaining leverage on Miller so that he had trouble getting outside of contain.
“We really didn’t treat him any differently than any other running-threat quarterback,” said Johnson, who led the Badgers with 11 tackles.
“We did the same things that we did with (Nebraska’s) Taylor Martinez and the other scrambling quarterbacks. We played disciplined and got him down – we made tackles basically.”
The overtime was another story. The tone was set on Ohio State’s first snap; a stretch play on which tailback Carlos Hyde got to the near boundary and picked up 11 yards.
“In overtime,” Johnson said, “we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
On second-and-6 from the UW 10, Miller gained 8-yards around left end before getting knocked out of bounds. The Buckeyes appeared to get a major break, or benefit of the doubt here.
Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert was prevented from making a play on Miller by OSU tackle Jack Mewhort who swung his head around and looked for a penalty flag upon “releasing” Gilbert.
The frustration level was understandable given that a few weeks prior UW tight end Sam Arneson was flagged for holding Michigan State defensive back Johnny Adams; a penalty which erased a touchdown run.
That the Badgers even got into overtime against Ohio State was a reflection of their resiliency; especially after Ball fumbled while attempting to dive over the pile on a fourth-and-1 from the OSU 2.
Shazier made the hit and Ohio State defensive back Christian Bryant grabbed the ball out of the air. Only an alert play by Frederick – who tackled Bryant on the 6 – kept Wisconsin alive.
“I didn’t see it get knocked loose,” Frederick said. “But I saw him (Bryant) catch it and I grabbed on to him. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hold on, but luckily I was able to.”
Without that tackle, Bryant may have scored and sealed the win for Ohio State. At the very least, he could have dramatically altered the field position with any type of return.
As it was, the UW defense rallied one more time and forced a three-and-out.
“Our defense played incredibly,” said Frederick. “They’ve been playing great all year.”
The Badgers got the ball on the OSU 41 with no timeouts and 1:33 left in regulation.
“Curt just said, ‘C’mon, we can do this,”’ Frederick recalled. “We had been moving the ball all day and towards the end of the game we felt good about what we had going.”
On first down, Phillips was sacked for an 11-yard loss by John Simon, who had four TFLs.
Phillips, though never lost his poise.
After a couple of nine-yard completions to Kenzel Doe and Pederson, the Badgers faced a fourth-and-3 from the OSU 34. Phillips kept the chains moving with a 14-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis.
“Guys had to make plays,” Pedersen said.
Phillips and Pedersen combined on the biggest play – a 5-yard touchdown pass with eight second remaining that sent the game into overtime after a successful PAT.
“It’s a route that I’ve run since I got here,” explained Pedersen, a junior. “I saw that I was working on the linebacker (Zach Boren) and when I came out of my break, Curt made a good throw.”
The Badgers came back to the same play on fourth down in the overtime.
This time, the Buckeyes made the play with Bryant knocking the pass down.
“Give credit to Ohio State,” Pedersen said. “They would bend but they wouldn’t break.”
Asked where this rated on the “gut-wrenching” meter, Frederick said, “It’s up there. Anytime you lose in overtime – especially an up and down game like that – it definitely hurts and drains you.”
Wisconsin will close out the regular season Saturday at Penn State.
“It was a disappointing loss in the end,” Kelly said. “But you saw this team battle; you saw that nobody gave up. Everybody kept battling and competing. That’s the type of mentality we have.”