Saturday, November 17, 2012
Buckeyes remain perfect thanks to defense
By Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball's highlight tape of touchdowns might as well be a full-length feature. He entered Saturday with 77, one shy of the FBS all-time record.
Unfortunately for Ball, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier watched most of the movie in the week leading up to Saturday's game.
"He scores plenty of touchdowns," Shazier said. "I watched film on him, and I saw when he gets around the [1- or 2-yard line], he likes to jump. So once he jumped, I jumped, and I punched the ball out."
Shazier's forced fumble against Ball late in the fourth quarter -- just the second lost fumble in Ball's record-setting career -- ended up not meaning much. Wisconsin scored on its next possession to tie the game before Ohio State went on to win 21-14 in overtime.
But Shazier's play epitomized Ohio State's victory, one fueled by defense with a sprinkle of special teams, thanks to Corey "Philly" Brown.
Braxton Miller won't be on "SportsCenter" tonight, but Shazier should be. So should defensive end John Simon, who tied a career high with four sacks. So should cornerback Bradley Roby, who had to cover two players after a teammate blew an assignment and batted down a sure-fire touchdown catch by Derek Watt.
The silver bullets stood tall at Camp Randall Stadium, helping Ohio State secure a Leaders Division title, maintain a perfect 11-0 record and set up a chance for perfection in The Game next week against Michigan.
"Our offense kind of struggled a little bit, but at the same time, it's a team sport, so the defense, we needed to go out and do our thing," said Roby, who wore a Leaders Division championship T-shirt. "Defense wins championships. We thrive on that."
Ryan Shazier and the Ohio State defense wrapped up Montee Ball when it counted.
Added defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins: "Being here at Ohio State, the defense always carries this team."
Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) moved the ball better than Ohio State, outgaining the Buckeyes 360-236. The Badgers reached Buckeyes territory on four drives and started two others in plus territory. Ball had 191 rushing yards on 39 carries, while quarterback Curt Phillips passed the ball much more than he did the previous week with some success (14-for-25 passing).
But Ohio State allowed just 14 points.
"That's where it hurts the most," Ball said. "We're driving the football down the field, driving down the field, and we still fall short."
Ball tied Travis Prentice's Football Bowl Subdivision record midway through the second quarter and appeared ready to break it as Wisconsin reached the Buckeyes' 3-yard line with 3:44 remaining. Thanks to Shazier, Ball remains stuck on 77.
"We knew that he needed two to break the record, and we were not going to allow him to break it on us," Shazier said.
First-year coach Urban Meyer often tells his players, a team that refuses to be beat won't be beat. Ohio State at times has looked like a team that would be beat. It looked that way for stretches of the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. It looked that way for much of an Oct. 20 game against Purdue before surviving in overtime without Miller.
It even looked that way after Wisconsin forced overtime when Phillips found Jacob Pedersen in the end zone with eight seconds left in regulation.
"We were sucking our thumbs after that," Meyer said.
But once again, Ohio State made the plays it had to. Running back Carlos Hyde, who had just 13 carries in regulation, broke a tackle and ran 11 yards on the first play of overtime. Three plays later, he scooted easily into the end zone.
The defense then took over. Linebacker Etienne Sabino, playing for the first time since suffering a broken leg in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, dropped Ball for a loss of 2 yards. Safety Christian Bryant, who recovered Ball's fumble in the fourth quarter, broke up a pass on fourth down to end it.
"We can't be beat," Hankins said. "We're not settling for a loss. We want to go undefeated, and that's our goal."
Shazier called Camp Randall Stadium a "gladiator-type atmosphere," as Wisconsin fans tried boost Ball and the other seniors to a win that would have further validated the Badgers' spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1. Instead, the Buckeyes were the bad guys again, sweeping their Big Ten road schedule -- a hallmark of Jim Tressel's best teams and Meyer's first.
"You go into someone else's home, in front of their fans, their moms, their girlfriends, and you just want to dominate them," Roby said. "What's better than that? Going into somebody else's house and taking everything they have. You see that when we play away games. We play way better than we do at home."
Ohio State will have to be good at home to preserve perfection. The season ends next Saturday no matter what for a Buckeyes team that, while flawed, has managed to walk off the field a winner 11 times.
Michigan comes in with an outside chance to reach the Big Ten title game and a definite chance to ruin the Buckeyes' quest for 12-0.
"We can talk about it now," Meyer said.
The Game is here. A chance for Ohio State's sixth-ever undefeated, untied season is at stake.
"[Wisconsin] is not our rival," Meyer said. "The next one is."