Saturday, October 10, 2009

WHAT A STRANGE AND UNUSUAL WIN

Ohio State linebackers' Ross Homan (51) and Brian Rolle (36) bring down Wisconsin running back Zach Brown (30) during Saturday's 31-13 Buckeyes' victory in Columbus. (Photo by Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)

COLUMBUS — How does a team that gets doubled up in total offense, scores only one offensive touchdown, has possession of the football for just a little more than 17 minutes, and still comes away with an 18-point victory?

Well ... when that team's defense prevents the opposing offense from punching one across the chalk, scores two touchdowns of their own on interception returns, and then that team's special units takes a 96-yard kickoff return to the house ... well ... that's how that team wins that game.

Saturday in Columbus, ninth-ranked Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) — powered by an opportunistic defense — handed the visiting Wisconsin Badgers (5-1, 2-1) their first loss of the 2009 season, as the Buckeyes defensive unit outscored the Badgers by themselves in the 31-13 victory.

The first defensive touchdown for the Buckeyes came with 3:48 remaining in the first quarter, when senior safety, Kurt Coleman — who was suspended for the Indiana game last Saturday — intercepted Badgers' quarterback, Scott Tolzien, at the OSU 11-yard line, took off down the home sideline behind a convoy of blockers and raced 89 yards to paydirt for the 7-0 lead.

"The interception, it really started with the D-line," Coleman said. "I knew they had a great pass rush which is why they kind of forced the high throw on the wide receiver. And for the pick, it was an easy pick for me, I was just standing right there, happened to be in the right spot.

"I had great blockers, my team led me all the way down the field. I did the easy part, they did all the work, so I give all the credit to them."

Coleman finished the game with 14 tackles, a pass break up — and off course, a pick six.

The other defensive touchdown for the Buckeyes came on the opening series of the third quarter, when Coleman's fellow safety, Jermale Hines, made an acrobatic interception at the Wisconsin 32, and weaved his way to the end zone for the touchdown and a 21-10 lead.

The Buckeyes defense out-scored the Badgers 14-13 in the win.

And boy the home team needed those defensive points, as well, because the OSU offense just wasn't on their game Saturday, scoring just 10 points in the game.

OSU quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, managed just five completions on 13 attempts for 87 yards and an interception — which set up the Badgers first and only touchdown (on a fake field goal) in the second quarter.

The sophomore signal caller looked very uncomfortable under center (and in the gun) during Saturday's game, and basically did all of his damage on the Buckeyes final series just before the half.

Pryor had runs of 27 and six yards, and pass completions of six and 22 yards, before connecting with DeVier Posey down the right sideline for a 32-yard touchdown toss to give the Buckeyes the lead for good.

Other than that, Pryor's and the OSU offensive unit's performance was quite pedestrian, to say the least.

"We hit some plays," Tressel said about his offense's final series of the first half. "(Wisconsin) over pursued on the one play and (Pryor) cut back and made, I don't know, 20-plus yards. Then we hit a couple plays that were somewhat misdirectioned, because they were fine with the ball and they overran some things and (Pryor) threw a dig backside and (the Badgers) were kind of crowding our receivers a little bit and he threw one over top of them."

Tressel said he wasn't able to pin point what went wrong Saturday, but nonetheless, the offense has to pick it up a notch if they want to continue winning games down the stretch.

"I don't think you could point to one particular thing like everyone always tries to," Tressel said. "Were we asking them to do the right things? Were they executing what we were asking them to do? What was Wisconsin doing that we needed to adjust to? It makes it hard when you're going three and out to figure it out because there's not that much data there ...

"We didn't do as well as we need to do. We've got to get better."

As for the defense, the extra time on the field didn't wear them down a bit. Sure, Wisconsin did manage to compile 368 total yards on the Buckeyes defense. But, when you take into account that they ran 89 plays in the game — that big number doesn't seem as impressive. In fact, the Buckeyes offense, as poor as they were, still averaged more yards per play in the victory.

The Buckeyes defense didn't allow a touchdown in the game — again, Wisconsin's only TD came on a fake field goal against the special teams. They held the Big Ten's leading rusher, John Clay, to just 59 yards on 20 carries (3.0 avg.) and punished the most efficient passer in the conference, Tolzien, for six sacks and two interceptions.

OSU linebacker Ross Homan was the catalyst in the Buckeyes' assault of the Badgers, recording a team-high 15 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses. Fellow linebacker, Brian Rolle, was also a monster for the Buckeyes' attack, compiling 14 tackles of his own in the win.

The OSU special teams excelled as well.

Senior returner, Ray Small, who has had a long and winding road during his career in Columbus, finally gave fans that massive explosion that they've been waiting for, fielding a third quarter kickoff at the 4-yard line, started to his left, then cut it up the middle and blazed 96 yards to the house, with nothing left but a vapor trail.

Tressel said Small looked very reminiscent to another former Buckeye and Cleveland Glenville standout — Ted Ginn Jr.

"Yeah, it was almost like he was shot out of a gun," Tressel said of Small's kickoff return. "I saw him take that thing and he downshifted and he was gone. It did look a little bit like Teddy (Ginn) and I was teasing him in the locker room. I said, 'you got one,' and he said, 'yeah, it took till I'm awfully old.'

"But it was a great thing for him and just a great lesson on perseverance and hanging in there and figuring it out and he made a nice play last week on a little reverse on the kickoff and has been doing a great job at receiver as well."

The Buckeyes remain unbeaten in the Big Ten and will look to remain perfect as they travel to West Lafayette this Saturday for a conference tilt with the Purdue Boilermakers.