Here’s something to consider as Ohio State prepares for its huge Saturday night matchup at Wisconsin: Since Urban Meyer’s arrival at Ohio State in 2012, the Buckeyes have not lost a true road game. Yes, they fell at neutral sites to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game in 2013, and Clemson a few weeks later in the Orange Bowl, but the Buckeyes have won 19 straight road games, five of them against ranked opponents.
So Saturday should be no sweat, yeah? I mean, Ohio State did trounce these Badgers 59-0 in 2014.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This isn’t 2014. That was a different Badgers team, a different Ohio State team and a perfect storm inside a pretty Buckeye-friendly dome in Indianapolis. This is the Buckeyes at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium and the madhouse in Madison has been anything but a breeze for the Buckeyes since 2002.
In fact, even though Ohio State has won three of its last five games at Wisconsin, they’ve been outscored by the Badgers 93-88 in those contests. Ohio State’s biggest offensive outing has been only 21 points.
Let’s rewind and remember a few of the Camp Randall matchups in the last 15 years that should serve as a warning for this weekend. This isn’t likely to be easy.
Oct. 11, 2003: Gamble’s gamble ends repeat hopes
Entering a rainy Saturday night as the undefeated, defending national champion, No. 3 Ohio State had some holes but Jim Tressel’s team knew how to win close games. During a 19-game winning streak, the Buckeyes 10 wins of seven points or less and — thanks to a Big Ten scheduling quirk — were back in Madison almost exactly a year after a nailbiting 19-14 win against the Badgers in 2002. That contest was settled on a late, game-sealing interception by two-way star Chris Gamble, and he’d play a key, though less positive, role in the the 2003 tilt.
In a retrospect, it was a loss that seemed inevitable. The run of “luck” experienced by Ohio State was bound to expire and it started early that night in Madison. After losing running back Maurice Clarett in the offseason to NCAA and school-levied suspension, the Buckeyes lacked a running game despite the efforts of Lydell Ross (seven carries, 28 yards) and Maurice Hall (six carries, 17 yards). Quarterback Craig Krenzel, who had missed the two previous games with a hyperextended elbow, couldn’t establish much of a passing threat either. Still, Ohio State managed a 10-10 tie with just over six minutes left in regulation.
The rain was coming down, the offenses were bogged down and it didn’t seem either team was going to find a way to open things up until the Badgers, with backup quarterback Matt Schabert taking snaps after losing starter Jim Sorgi following a dirty play by Buckeyes linebacker Robert Reynolds that forced Sorgi out of the game, decided to take a chance and Chris Gamble decided to take a gamble of his own.
The 79-yard touchdown – the shot the Badgers took, and the fact it connected – shook the stadium and ended the Buckeyes 19-game winning streak and it left Ohio State’s team and fans in attendance, numb.
“It’s a feeling that nobody likes,” Krenzel said following the game. “At the same time it’s a feeling that you have to forget. We’ll find out a lot about our character this week.”
Ohio State would lose once more that season, to Michigan in Ann Arbor, and finished the season with an 11-2 record, capped off by a 35-28 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oct. 4, 2008: Pryor’s late touchdown run steals win from Wisconsin
After an embarrassing loss at USC early in the 2008 season, Jim Tressel had officially turned the reins of the No. 14-ranked Ohio State offense to freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was the country’s top-ranked overall prospect out of Jeannette (Penn.) High School. The change — Pryor supplanted Todd Boeckman — afforded the Buckeyes a few new wrinkles offensively, primarily a running threat at quarterback.
Though Pryor only gained 20 yards on 15 carries, his ability to run the read-option opened things up for running back Chris Wells, who piled up 168 yards on 22 carries for the Buckeyes. Still, the game was the usual, bitter back-and-forth with the Badgers. Ohio State scored first, but the Badgers knotted it up at 7-7 with 4:35 left in the first half. A 20-yard Philip Welch field goal as time expired in the first half gave No. 18 Wisconsin a 10-7 halftime lead.
Ohio State’s Ryan Pretorious nailed a 21-yard kick midway through the third quarter to tie the game at 10-10 and followed that up with a 34-yard kick early in the fourth quarter that gave the Buckeyes a 13-10 lead, but that didn’t last long. The Badgers’ John Clay ripped off runs of 14 and 17 yards to get the drive started, but it was P.J. Hill’s two-yard touchdown run that gave Bret Bielema’s team a 17-13 lead with 6:31 remaining.
Pryor and the Buckeyes took possession at their own 20-yard line. On a key early third-and-6, the freshman found wideout Brian Hartline for a key 19-yard pickup. Two plays later, he hit Hartline again – this time for 27 yards – and Ohio State was in business. The combination of Pryor and Wells ran the ball toward the Badgers goal line and ran the clock down with it. On second-and-8 with just about 75 seconds left, Pryor’s 11-yard touchdown run put the Buckeyes up 20-17, the game’s final margin.
Tressel told the media following that contest that his superstar freshman was coming of age.
“They were coming after him,” Tressel said. “They were going to make him do things with lots of people in his face and he’s coming of age.”
Oct. 16, 2010: Top-ranked Buckeyes stumble out of the gate, lose 31-18 to Badgers
An undefeated Ohio State, thanks to an Alabama loss a week earlier, strode into Madison as the country’s top-ranked team and squared off against No. 18 Wisconsin. It didn’t take long for Buckeyes fans to realize they may have walked into an ambush.
The Badgers’ David Gilreath took the opening kick 97 yards for a score. After a John Clay touchdown run on the next Wisconsin possession, it was 14-0 with 10:00 to play in the first quarter. Another Clay touchdown, following a 19-play, 89-yard drive, gave the Badgers a 21-0 lead and the Buckeyes offense, led by Pryor, couldn’t move the ball with any sort of efficiency.
Ohio State mustered only a field goal in the first half but managed to close the gap to 21-18 early in the fourth quarter. Needing one defensive stop to have a chance to take a lead, the Buckeyes couldn’t come up with an answer for Scott Tolzien, Al Toon, Clay and running back James White as the Badgers put together a decisive 10-play, 73-yard scoring drive to stretch the lead back to double-digits.
Pryor completed just 50 percent of his passes (14-for-28) for 156 yards and the Badgers hemmed him in on the ground as well, limiting the electric junior to 56 yards on 18 carries. Wisconsin shut down the rest of the Buckeyes’ run game as well, holding Daniel “Boom” Herron to 91 yards on 19 carries and Ohio State in total to 311 yards. It was a complete failure, according to Pryor.
“We just blew it as a team,” Pryor said.
Ironically, the loss to Wisconsin was Ohio State’s lone official game that season; their 11 wins were vacated due to NCAA sanctions in the summer of 2012.
Nov. 17, 2012: Shazier’s stop gives Buckeyes 21-14 overtime win
Urban Meyer’s first – and only visit – to Madison was as a 1-point underdog in mid-November of 2012.
A 15-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde put the Buckeyes up 14-0 with 11 minutes left in the second quarter but Ohio State’s offense struggled to manage much more the rest of the way, at least in regulation. The Badgers and Montee Ball pounded the Buckeyes for 191 yards on 39 carries. With a little under three minutes, trailing by a touchdown, Ball was set to break the NCAA all-time touchdown record and tie the game, swinging momentum in Wisconsin’s favor. Then this happened.
That’s where many remember that 2012 story ending, but it wasn’t the case. The Buckeyes failed to capitalize on the turnover and failed to run out the clock. Wisconsin got one more possession and scored an equalizing touchdown with just eight seconds remaining in regulation, forcing the second overtime game of the year for Ohio State.
In extra time, the Buckeyes had the ball first and suddenly the stagnant offense woke up. Hyde went for 11 on the first play, followed by a pair of Braxton Miller runs that put Ohio State in winning position. On first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Hyde punched it in and gave the Buckeyes a 21-14 lead.
Ohio State’s defense bowed their backs, stuffing Ball for a 2-yard loss on third-and-4 from the 19-yard line and on fourth down, defensive back Christian Bryant knocked down Curt Phillip’s intended for tight end Jacob Pederson’s pass to give the Buckeyes the win.
After the game, Meyer said his team, which entered the game at Wisconsin with a 10-0 record, just wouldn’t be beat. Despite being outgained — vOhio State had just 236 total yards and only 97 passing — and with the Badgers holding a near 15-minute edge in time of possession (37:11 to 22:37), the Buckeyes found a way to win.
“We have a saying, ‘A team that refuses to be beat, won’t be beat,'” Meyer said. “Somehow, someway.”