MADISON, Wis. — When it mattered most — and where it mattered most — Ohio State’s defense shut down Wisconsin Saturday night.
The second-ranked Buckeyes are still unbeaten because of their red-zone defense. There will be plenty of mistakes to dissect from the 30-23 overtime win given the ease with which No. 8 Wisconsin moved the ball, but Ohio State suffocated the Badgers when they neared paydirt.
Three of Wisconsin’s four red zone trips ended with scores, but the Badgers ultimately only came away with 13 of 28 possible points. To illustrate just how well Ohio State’s defense played in the red zone compared to the rest of the field, Wisconsin finished with 450 total yards but just 1 yard on 16 plays in the red zone.
|Quarter of drive||Number of red-zone plays||Yards in red zone||Outcome|
The game-saving sequence came when things looked most dire. Ohio State was giving up huge chunks of yardage to the Badgers late in the second quarter, and Wisconsin looked well on its way to turning a 4-point lead into an 11-point advantage. Instead, the Buckeyes buckled down when Wisconsin reached the 10-yard line and made the hosts settle for a field goal.
Less than a minute later, with 1:57 left in the half, Wisconsin got the ball back after an Ohio State punt. The Badgers rushed for 15 yards on the first play and passed for 15 on the next, and it wasn’t long before they were back in the red zone. After a 1-yard rush sandwiched by two incompletions, the Badgers kicked another field goal. What could have been a 24-6 halftime lead after those two possessions was instead a much more manageable 16-6 lead.
“They not only know what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said of his players in the red zone. “They can make adjustments and changes. And then we can let the corners play (more aggressively). When we can do that, we can be good inside. That’s one of the bright spots from tonight aside from the celebration and the win.”
Although the Buckeyes conceded a red-zone touchdown in the fourth quarter, which was also the first rushing touchdown they’d allowed all year, they bounced back with a game-winning stop in overtime. Once again Wisconsin had success prior to the 20-yard line, passing for a 21-yard gain that put the hosts just 4 yards from tying Ohio State. What followed was a rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, a rush for no gain and an 11-yard sack on fourth down that ended the game.
Ohio State’s defenders are longer, faster and more athletic than Wisconsin’s players, and this is the type of execution that the Buckeyes needed from the Silver Bullets. Although there are still some overall concerns, the fact that this unit looks like it was specifically engineered to dominate when the field shrinks should allow Ohio State fans to breathe easy.
“The front end complements the back end, and we just play fast,” OSU defensive end Jalyn Holmes said. “We pride ourselves on not letting them score.”