COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The throne is waiting.
After playing up the royalty taking the field on a big stage under the lights leading up to Saturday night’s showdown, Ohio State answered the subtle challenge from its coach to reclaim its perch atop the Big Ten from Wisconsin, the team Urban Meyer called the current “king” of the league.
The No. 4 Buckeyes were clearly the preseason favorite to take the crown after going undefeated in Meyer’s first season, but they reaffirmed that status with a 31-24 win over the No. 23 Badgers at sold-out Ohio Stadium to take early control of the Leaders Division.
It was over when: The Buckeyes didn’t even have a full two minutes to work with before the end of the first half, and they almost squandered a productive drive with a penalty and a poorly thrown ball from Braxton Miller. But he followed it up with a pinpoint, last-second strike to Philly Brown from 40 yards out after the Badgers blew a coverage to push the lead to 10, and the Buckeyes never gave back the momentum and the game never got closer than the final margin.
Game ball goes to: Miller’s job was never really in question, but he silenced any remaining skeptics who believed Kenny Guiton might supplant him on a full-time basis with one of the most efficient passing performances of his career. The junior wasn’t perfect with all of his reads or throws, but he completed 17 of his 25 attempts for 198 yards and four touchdowns. He made some big-time passes he might have missed last year to lead the Buckeyes to yet another win -- and perhaps reentered the Heisman Trophy conversation as well.
Stat of the game: Melvin Gordon was an effective rusher by normal standards, but such an explosive start to the season moved the bar higher for the Wisconsin running back, and the Buckeyes can consider it a resounding success to have held him to fewer than 5 yards per carry. Coming into the weekend, the sophomore was averaging 11.8 yards per touch on the ground, but the Ohio State defense both held him under 100 total yards and out of the end zone on his 15 carries.
What it means: The Buckeyes don’t have many opportunities to make statements against ranked teams, and they didn’t waste the one the Badgers gave them in front of the third-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history and a national audience. With a logjam of quality undefeated teams still at the top of the polls, this victory could carry some weight if a gritty Wisconsin team bounces back in Big Ten play.
Meanwhile, the Badgers find themselves in an early hole in the Leaders Division with Ohio State now claiming a head-to-head tiebreaker. And fair or not, coupled with the officiating debacle that cost them a win at Arizona State, they could find themselves unranked on Sunday afternoon thanks to their two losses.