Saturday, October 29, 2011


Braxton Miller, right, and Devin Smith
(AP Photo)
COLUMBUS — Just before the final drive of Saturday night's game against visiting Wisconsin, Ohio State true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller looked at his head coach Luke Fickell on the sideline and gave him a wink.

The rest as they say is history.

With 20 seconds left in the game and Ohio State trailing 29-26, Miller rolled right in the pocket, surveyed the Badgers' defense and chucked a pass 40 yards deep down the middle of the field to fellow true freshman receiver Devin Smith in the end zone, causing pandemonium in the 105,000-plus filled Ohio Stadium.

After a few attempts in the waning seconds by the Badgers failed, the Buckeyes came away with the improbable 33-29 victory ... and a new lease on life.

"We knew all year that Braxton can throw the ball, can do some things keeping the ball alive," Fickell said. "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."

The win for the Buckeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) gives their chances of a division title a major boost, while Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) — who looked like they were in BCS championship contention two weeks ago — will now need some help just to make it to Indianapolis.

Miller finished 7-of-12 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes' win — just two weeks after completing just one pass on four attempts at Illinois.

The young buck also delivered some major damage with his legs.

On the opening series of the second half — and trailing 7-3 — the Buckeyes faced a fourth and goal at the Badgers' 1-yard line. Fickell decided to put the football in Miller's hands as he took a bootleg off the right end, juked Wisconsin defensive end Brenden Kelly out of his socks and walked into the end zone for the score and the 10-7 lead.

Fickell has stated in previous weeks that he wants to let Miller know that he has confidence in him. Well, mission accomplished. The "wink" from the young signal caller made that very loud and clear.

"I felt good about it," Fickell said of Miller's wink prior to the final scoring drive. "I think that's what you need, you have to have confidence in what you're doing. You have to have belief in what you're doing."

Miller wasn't the only freshman, though, to make his presence felt.

On the ensuing possession, with the Badgers facing a punting situation, true freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier blocked a Brad Nortman punt inside the 10, while fellow true frosh backer Curtis Grant recovered it at the Wisconsin 1. Junior tailback Jordan Hall would punch it across the chalk three plays later to give the Buckeyes a 17-7 advantage with 9:29 to play in the third quarter.

With 4:39 to play in the fourth, Miller's legs struck again. Facing a third-and-two at the Wisconsin 44, Miller took a keeper off the left end all the way to pay dirt, giving the Buckeyes a 26-14 advantage. He finished with 99 yards on 19 carries in the win.

The Buckeyes' defense also stepped up big Saturday night in a must-win situation.

After Wisconsin drove 69 yards on eight plays during their second series of the contest — capped off by a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to tailback Montee Ball — the Buckeyes' defense tightened the clamps on the Badgers' dynamic attack holding them to just 41 yards on 15 plays the rest of the first half, and forcing Wisconsin into three, 3-and-outs.

Although the Buckeyes surrendered 342 total yards to the Badgers in the game, they held them to just 89 yards rushing in the win — 163 below their season average.

Senior linebacker Andrew Sweat led the defensive effort with a team-high eight tackles, while junior defensive lineman John Simon added a game-high two sacks in the victory.

The Buckeyes out-gained the Badgers offensively with 357 total yards, including 268 yards on the ground. Senior tailback Dan "Boom" Herron powered the Buckeyes' run-game with 160 yards on 33 carries, including a 57-yard jaunt in the third quarter which set up Ohio State's first touchdown of the game.

"It was a great feeling," Herron said of the victory. "We definitely wanted this win really bad. The team kept fighting. Guys never gave up. We went out there and got it done."

Simon said the victory ends after tonight, though.

"It feels great right now," Simon said of the win. "We're going to celebrate tonight, but tomorrow we are going back to work. There is still a long season left."

A season that all of a sudden has a whole lot of meaning.