Opportunistic defense, special teams carry No. 9 Buckeyes past Badgers
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three plays will torment Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema for another year.
Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines returned interceptions for touchdowns and Ray Small brought a kickoff back 96 yards on Saturday to lead the ninth-ranked Buckeyes to a 31-13 win, despite getting badly outgained by the self-destructive Badgers.
"I hate losing to these guys," Bielema said. "Absolutely, it's something I can't stand for whatever reason. The bottom line is I have to do it again. It's something we'll continue to look at until we have another opportunity next year."
Wisconsin outgained Ohio State by nearly 200 yards, and had 22 first downs to the Buckeyes' eight. None of it mattered in the end.
"It was obviously a different type of football game," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "When you get two defensive touchdowns and then a kickoff return touchdown, that's more than you could ever wish for. Those three moments were critical."
Coleman, playing his first game since a Big Ten-mandated suspension for a late hit, was the only person near Scott Tolzien's pass in the first quarter and returned it 89 yards.
"It was just an easy pick for me," Coleman said. "I just was standing right there, happened to be in the right spot and my team led me all the way down the field. I did the easy part. They did all the work."
After Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) made it 14-10 early in the third quarter, the Buckeyes (5-1, 3-0) padded their lead when Hines tipped a pass, pulled it in and followed a glut of blockers on a 32-yard return.
The Badgers countered with a field goal, but Small brought back the next kickoff.
Wisconsin dominated the statistics, leading in first downs 22-8 and total offense 368-184, but the three big returns spelled the difference.
Tolzien, intercepted just three times on 125 attempts in Wisconsin's first five games, completed 27 of 45 passes for 250 yards but threw the two costly picks. Sacked just twice all year, the Buckeyes managed it six times and harassed him all day.
"There were some times when he was under amazing duress and he still delivered the ball," Tressel said while praising his defense. "There were also some times when he didn't have a chance."
The Buckeyes and quarterback Terrelle Pryor didn't have the ball much and didn't have to do much with it when they did.
Wisconsin dominated time of possession 42:47 to 17:13. The Buckeyes had the ball for less than 2 minutes in the third quarter alone, yet outscored the Badgers 14-3.
Pryor, who finished 5 of 13 passing for 87 yards with one interception, looked completely confused by Wisconsin's defense -- at least until late in the half.
He was picked off by linebacker Culmer St. Jean, who returned it 13 yards to the Buckeyes 12. Four plays later, holder Chris Maragos took the snap on a fake field goal and ran around left end, stretching the ball out with his right arm to touch the pylon for a 9-yard score that tied it at 7 midway through the second quarter.
The Buckeyes had just 36 yards of total offense on their first five possessions until Pryor found his footing late in the second quarter with Wisconsin on top 10-7. He hit half of his six passes in a quick 88-yard race against the clock, capped by a 32-yard scoring pass to DeVier Posey with 40 seconds left.
That was it for the offense. But the interception return by Hines and Small's kickoff return virtually ended the suspense.
"We always say if you can do something special in the special teams and win the turnover margin, you're going to have a chance to win a tough game," Tressel said.
2022 Big Ten Conference Standings