Sunday, October 17, 2010

#18 Wisconsin Badgers beat #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Usually the Sunday Funday posts look back at a great moment in Cheesehead sports history from years or even decades ago unless it is one of my player rankings posts but yesterday the Wisconsin Badgers pulled off one of the most improbable victories in the history of the program by thumping the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 31-18 at Camp Randall Stadium, so I couldn't resist taking a look back at the game.

The number 29 was the key number for the Wisconsin Badgers in their triumph over the Buckeyes. It has been 29 years since the Badgers knocked off a #1 ranked team and 29 games since the Buckeyes allowed a 100-yard rusher. Nugget alert...both of those numbers were toppled on Saturday night by the Badgers in front of 81,194 people at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI.

Only five weeks after getting knocked out cold on the same field returning a punt, Badger wide receiver David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97-yards (4th longest in school history) to put the Badgers up 7-0. The return was a testament to Gilreath's explosive return capabilities but more importantly to the Badgers special teams as a whole because Gilreath wasn't even touched en route to the end zone.

The opening kickoff return for a touchdown made Gilreath the Big Ten's all-time leader in kickoff-return yards with 2,611 kickoff return yards (passed Michigan State's Derrick Mason who amassed 2,575 kickoff return yards from 1993 to 1996). That was also the Badgers first kickoff return for a touchdown since Lee Evans (who served as an honorary captain for the game) returned an onside kick for a touchdown in 2000 at Indiana. One last note on Gilreath's return to open the game, it was the first time the Badgers opened a game with a kickoff return for a touchdown since Fred Owens did it against Illinois in 1989.

Coming into the game, the Buckeyes had the 4th ranked rush defense in the nation. The Buckeyes only allowed 78.7 rushing yard per game and 2.7 yards per carry. Before the game, Badger running back John Clay carved the numbers of his offensive lineman into his hair. Good move by Clay because each one of those offensive linemen deserves credit for the big Badger victory. Left to right, the Badgers offensive line against the Buckeyes was Gabe Carimi (LT), John Moffitt (LG), Peter Konz (C), Kevin Zeitler (RG), and Ricky Wagner (RT). Besides that, reserve offensive lineman Bill Nagy served as the "jumbo" tight end. In certain rushing packages. There is no way the Badgers come close to beating the Buckeyes without the aforementioned 6 offensive linemen.

Thanks to a very impressive offensive performance to start the game, the Badgers lead the Buckeyes 21-0 with 13:15 left in the first half. That marked the first time the Buckeyes trailed a Big Ten opponent by 21 points since 2004. Following a Buckeye field goal, the Badgers lead 21-3 with a few minutes left in the first half thanks in large part to forcing the Buckeyes to settle for a field goal attempt despite having a first and goal from the 3-yard line.

Instead of going for the kill shot at the end of the first half up 21-3 with the ball, the Badgers elected to play conservative and run the clock out. You can't argue with the results since the Badgers ultimately won, but if I were coaching the Badgers at the end of the first half I would have tried to put more points on the board. Either way, at the end of the first half the Badgers held a surprising 21-3 lead over the Buckeyes.

Ohio State Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel must have given a passionate halftime speech because the Buckeyes started the second half on fire rolling off touchdown drives of 77 and 94 yards respectively. Add in a successful two-point conversion and the Badgers only lead the Buckeyes 21-18 with 11:38 remaining in the game.

The Badgers handled the challenged and scored a touchdown and field goal to take a 31-18 lead and the Badgers put the game away with Badger linebacker Blake Sorensen intercepting Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor with 1:13 remaining in the game.

On the night the Badgers were much more efficient in all phases of the game that the Buckeyes. On special teams the Badgers returned a kickoff for a touchdown while the Buckeyes failed to create their own game changing plays on special teams.

Despite throwing no touchdowns and 1 interception, Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien was very efficient going 13 for 16 for 152 yards and no sacks. Quick side note, the worst personal foul I have ever seen was called on the return of Tolzien's interception. If anything, the Badger players were blocked into Buckeye linebacker Andrew Sweat as he ran out of bounds.

What made this victory extra sweet for Tolzien is that he avenged his horrible performance last year at Ohio State when two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns en route to a Buckeye victory at The Horseshoe in Columbus, OH. Last year the Badgers won the time of possession battle (42 minutes and 47 second to 17 minutes and 13 seconds), first down battle (22 to 8), and the total offense battle (368 yards to 184 yards) but ultimately failed to score more points than the Buckeyes losing 31-13 in Columbus.

Tolzien's much more hyped counterpart, Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, went 14 of 28 for 156 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. Pryor also had 18 carries for 56 yards and no touchdowns. Pryor is a physical freak at 6'6" and 233 pounds with speed (runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4. seconds) that is often compared to former Texas Longhorn and current Tennessee Titan quarterback Vince Young. Both Pryor and Young may be able to create yards with their feet but Young is a much more accurate passer, which not really a complement to either player. With all of that as a backdrop, that shows that Pryor will most likely struggle in the NFL if he stays at quarterback.

Moving from the quarterback position to the running back position. The Badgers ran the ball early and often, pounding the ball through the Buckeyes much hyped defensive line. When the dust settled, John Clay ran for 104 yards on 21carries and 2 touchdowns. Clay's performance was the first time the Buckeyes allowed an opposing running back to eclipse 100 yards in 29 games (USC's Joe McKnight ran for 105 yards on 12 carries in 2008). Freshman running back James White was no slouch himself, rushing for 75 yards on 17 carries and 1 touchdown. The Buckeyes' featured running back Dan Herron had a good game in his own right running for 91 yards on 19 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Buckeye fans, Herron didn’t have anywhere close to the impact that the two-headed monster of Clay and White had on the game.

Finally on defense, J.J. Watt and company held the aforementioned Terrell Pryor in check all game with Watt even registering 2 of the 3 Badger sacks on the always-slippery Pryor. Probably the most telling stat of the game was how well the Badgers defense played. The Badgers defense held the Buckeyes offense to their lowest point total of the season and 25.2 points less than their season average.

As mentioned above, it has been 29 years since the Badgers last defeated a #1 ranked team. In 1981 the Badgers defeated the Michigan Wolverines 21-14 at home. The Badgers victory over the Buckeyes pushes their record to 4-18 all-time against #1 ranked teams and 2-6 over the Buckeyes when they were ranked #1 in the country.

Bret Bielema also got his first victory against the Buckeyes, moving his career record at Wisconsin against the Buckeyes to 1-3. The victory over Ohio State pushed Bielema's record to 2-8 against ranked Big Ten teams and 5-9 against all ranked teams.

With their win over the Buckeyes, both the Badgers and Buckeyes are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The only blemish on the Badgers' record was a road loss to the Michigan State Spartans. That said, the Badgers face another tough road test next week when they play the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are coming off a huge road victory over the Denard Robinson lead Michigan Wolverines so the Wisconsin/Iowa game has tons of post-season implications for the entire Big Ten Conference.

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