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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Braxton Makes Buckeyes Believers
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Braxton_Wisc2011bAs Braxton Miller took the field with 70 seconds to play against Wisconsin, and his Buckeyes down to the Badgers 29-26, he winked at Luke Fickell and said "don't worry coach, we've got this".  Miller would make a believer out of his coach four plays later, launching a 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith to turn what looked like another deflating defeat into a thrilling Buckeye victory, as Ohio State held on to trip up the No. 12 Badgers 33-29.

When Miller dashed 44 yards for a touchdown with 4:39 to play, giving the Buckeyes a 26-14 lead, the upset win for OSU looked secure. But quarterback Russell Wilson rallied a Badger offense that had struggled all night, and stunned the Buckeyes with two TD passes to Jared Abbrederis in a span of two and a half minutes to retake the lead with 1:18 on the clock.

Jordan Hall, whose fumble on a punt return had set up an earlier Wisconsin touchdown, gave the Buckeyes hope when he returned the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the OSU 48. Four plays later, Miller would etch his name into Buckeye lore forever with a scrambling, improvised strike to a wide open Smith that had to be reviewed by officials to be sure Miller hadn’t crossed the line of scrimmage.

Devin_Smith_Wisc2011a“I couldn’t believe how open I was”, Smith said afterward. “I looked back and thought Braxton was going to run, and all the defenders were out. Braxton saw I was that open and threw a great pass.”

But the high drama that saw four touchdowns scored in the final 4:39 was not yet over. Wilson and the Badgers had 20 seconds to play with, and Drew Basil’s kickoff out of bounds set them up on their 40 with a chance for a Hail Mary (or two) of their own. A facemask penalty on OSU with no time remaining gave Wilson one last shot on an untimed down from the OSU 45, but Adam Bellamy pressured Wilson on the play, and Andrew Sweat hit his arm as he threw, forcing the game-ending incompletion.

Third Quarter Jolt

Anyone watching OSU post their three first half points might have bet the family farm they would not score ten times that many in the second, but that’s exactly what the Buckeyes did. Down 7-3 at the half, Ohio State came out on fire in the third quarter. Dan Herron bolted off tackle on the first play for a 57-yard gain down to the Wisconsin 18. Facing a 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line a few plays later, Miller faked a handoff, juked a Badger defensive lineman out of his jock strap, and casually strolled into the end zone from four yards out.

It was a night for heroics from OSU’s true freshmen, and linebacker Ryan Shazier joined Miller and Smith among the heroes when he crashed in to block Brad Nortman’s punt on the next Badger possession. Another freshman linebacker, Curtis Grant fell on it at the Wisconsin 1-yard line, and Jordan Hall scored on third down to give the Bucks a 17-7 lead.

Run the Ball...Stop the Run...

The old formula for winning football was working like a charm for OSU, as the defense completely shut down the vaunted Wisconsin rushing attack, holding the Badgers to 10 rushing yards in the first half. Tailback Montee Ball eventually got his customary two touchdowns, the first on a 22-yard pass reception on the Badgers’ second possession of the game, and the second on a short TD run after Hall’s fumble set up Wisconsin to tighten the game at 17-14 in the 3rd quarter.

The final rushing numbers help tell the tale of the Buckeye victory. Ohio State rushed for 268 yards, while Wisconsin tallied just 89, with 40 of those coming on one draw play by Ball in the frantic Wisconsin comeback in the final minutes.  For OSU, Miller rushed for 99 yards on 19 carries, and Herron racked up 160 yards on 33 attempts (4.8 yd avg).

Simon_Wisc2011cOne factor that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but that was obvious to the viewer, was the play of the Ohio State defensive line. That unit had been handled and embarrassed by the Badgers’ offensive line in Madison a year ago, and they told reporters afterward that they were determined to learn from some intense film study, and fill gaps better, and tackle better this time around.  Mission accomplished.

They also pressured Wilson consistently, sacking him three times (two by John Simon, one by Adam Bellamy) and forcing some bad throws. Jonathan Hankins led Buckeye linemen with seven tackles, as he joined Simon and Bellamy in neutralizing the big Badger offensive front. Linebacker Andrew Sweat (8 tackles) and safety C.J. Barnett (7 tackles) stood out for the OSU defense behind that dominating performance by the D-line, and the pass coverage by OSU cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby was solid, save for one mix-up on the second TD to Abbrederis.

Coming Out Party

There must be something about playing Wisconsin that inspires freshman Buckeye quarterbacks. It was a game in Madison in 2008 that was the backdrop for some last-minute drama by then-freshman Terrelle Pryor to secure an OSU victory, and Miller’s clutch performance Saturday night was every bit as thrilling.

Miller and the OSU coaches mixed the run and pass effectively in the early going, as the freshman found some rhythm with Corey Brown (4 rec, 34 yds) in the passing game, and had first half runs of 14, 13 and 7 yards to keep the Wisconsin defense off balance.  And the young man’s poise and calm seemed to belie his tender years. His coach was impressed.

“We knew all year that Braxton can throw the ball, can do some things keeping the ball alive”, Fickell said after the game. “And he had confidence.  It was amazing to see that from a young guy like that as he walked out there in the last minute and ten seconds and he looked at me and winked.... It's a confidence thing.  And I think I've talked about it all year long or as long as Braxton has been the quarterback, it was about confidence.  He's learned to grasp things a lot more.”

OSU_Wisc2011BandBack in the Race

The victory puts Ohio State (5-3, 2-2) back in the thick of the race for the Leaders Division crown in Big Ten play. Penn State leads with a 5-0 conference record, but the Lions close with games against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, so there’s a good chance they’ll be coming back to the pack.

The remaining schedule is no picnic for the Buckeyes either, with tough games remaining at Purdue, at home against Penn State...and that late-November date in Ann Arbor. They also need to survive the soon to be arriving NCAA Hammer, which could still rule them ineligible for postseason play and make moot this whole discussion.

In the meantime though, they’ll permit themselves to revel in a satisfying win over a quality opponent...(on a night that also served as the official visit for several key recruits), and take comfort that their young quarterback has taken a big step on the road to maturity.


OSU Athletics Communications Official Box and Complete Stats

ESPN Recap

Ozone Photos


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(photo credits: Jim Davidson and Dan Harker -

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