MADISON, Wis. — Only a few players on this Ohio State team still remain from the last time the Buckeyes found themselves in the position they did against Wisconsin on Saturday — and some of them were on the field for the final play.
So when the Buckeyes defense lined up for fourth-and-goal in overtime that would ultimately determine how a season-defining road game would be remembered, Billy Price made sure he was next to somebody who remembered the feeling.
“I got close to Pat [Elflein] actually,” Price said, referencing his fellow third-year starter on the OSU offensive line. “In times like that, you’ve got to lean on the people who you’ve grown up with. I’ve been fortunate to grow up with Pat.”
On Saturday, a new generation of Buckeyes grew up, thanks to Ohio State’s 30-23 overtime win over Wisconsin in Madison. And it did so in a game eerily similar to the one that Price and Elflein were a part of two years earlier.
Watching Tyquan Lewis’ game-clinching sack on the aforementioned fourth-and-goal, it was tough not to be reminded of Joey Bosa’s walk-off overtime sack against Penn State from 2014. Just a couple of first-year starters at the time, Price and Elflein saw firsthand how the closely contested overtime outing on the road brought those Buckeyes together for a run all the way to the College Football Playoff championship.
While the third remaining starter, quarterback J.T. Barrett, was less inclined to do so, Price didn’t mind using Ohio State’s double-overtime outing in Happy Valley from two years ago to put into perspective what Saturday’s beating of the Badgers could ultimately mean.
“I said it in the locker room. I said, ‘There’s elements of the ’14 team,'” Price told Land of 10 after the game. “There’s similarities in the brotherhood and that’s something that you can’t put a price on and you can’t put words to.”
So proud of my team after a hard fought win like this, love the boys I play with!
— Billy Price (@b_price54) October 16, 2016
Had all of two — or perhaps even fewer — plays turned out differently, the Buckeyes’ tenor would have changed, but just like Ohio State learned two years ago, the winners are the ones who write the history books. So a game where the Buckeyes didn’t lead until there were less than three minutes left in the third quarter now gets to be called “gutty” and “gritty,” even though Ohio State came as close as it has all season to suffering an actual defeat.
But talking to the players afterward, it was clear they got more out of their trip to Madison than a cliche and contrived storyline. For a team that entered 2016 as the least experienced in college football, the Buckeyes did plenty of growing up on Saturday and can now add a true comeback victory to their still-growing resume.
Don’t tell these players their “brotherhood” doesn’t matter. For several of them, it seemed to be what stood out most about Saturday’s big win.
“Pat Elflein stood up after the game and said he’s been a part of a lot of big games, he’s been a part of a lot of teams and he’s never really felt a feeling quite like this with the brotherhood and how we all care about each other,” said redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard. “That’s really special to me.”
Offensively, it was about Barrett overcoming a sluggish start passing, getting into a groove and making things happen with his legs — just as he did two years ago in the Buckeyes’ big win in Happy Valley.
The similarities didn’t stop there.
As the defense lined up for what would be the final play of the game, an all too familiar feeling came over the few players left from 2014 who had been in this spot before. But as Lewis — and the rest of the Buckeyes defensive line— brought down Badgers signal-caller Alex Hornibrook, Ohio State’s attention immediately shifted from the past to the present.
“It’s another step in our journey,” Price said.
Fittingly enough, that journey will take the Buckeyes back to Penn State next weekend, where they’ll return to Happy Valley for the first time since the game that proved to be the turning point in their 2014 campaign.
Like Barrett said, every team is different — it wouldn’t be fair to compare either the ’14 or ’16 Buckeyes to one another at this point yet.
But Price is right too, because some similarities between the two teams are becoming too glaring to ignore.
“There’s an incredible trust and chemistry on this team right now,” said Price. “When the going gets tough, none of us back down.”
For those who followed the 2014 team, that sure sounds familiar.