With P.J. Hill out with a foot injury and Lance Smith unable to travel, the Badgers handed the ball to true freshman Zach Brown and gave him the task of running through one of the toughest rushing defenses in the nation; a front seven giving up just 49.4 yards per game and only a single rushing touchdown in five conference games.
In his first game as a starter, Brown delivered more on one carry than most running backs had done in 60 minutes against the Buckeyes this season.
With the Badgers pinned deep in their own territory and with a vibrant student section at their back, Brown bolted through the line for a 22-yard gain to get the Badgers out of harm's way and help set up the tying score early in the second half.
"That play was real big coming out, giving us some momentum," Brown said. "I was glad to get that run and give my team the momentum they need."
On the day, Brown carried the ball 20 times for 63 yards in his first start as a Badger, a 38-21 loss to the Buckeyes.
The freshman's 22-yard gain was more than three teams - Akron, Northwestern and Purdue - total combined rushing yards against the Buckeyes. Only one player – Washington's QB Jake Locker – rushed for over 100 yards against the Buckeyes and that was due to being flushed out of the pocket numerous occasions.
Brown's 63 yards were the third highest total put up by a true running back against the Buckeyes this season.
"You have to be focused with the big crowd and them being so good, you have to be on top of your game," Brown said. "That's just how I came into it. I had to go hard today."
P.J. Hill had been the workhorse of the Badger offense since the beginning of the season. In nine games, the sophomore had rushed 212 times for 1,066 yards (a 5.0 average) and 14 touchdowns on the season. Other than the UNLV game, Hill had found the end zone in every game on the season.
Last weekend against Indiana, he became one of just two players (Ron Dayne and Anthony Davis) in school history to have rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
But a hit against Indiana in the first half last weekend could not have come at a worse time. Hill, who broke his left foot in the 2005 fall camp, suffered a bruise on the top of the plate inserted into his foot. Trying to give it a go during warm ups, the pain proved too much for the power running back.
"Basically from Wednesday on, we had an idea that P.J. wasn't going to be able to go," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "I thought (Zach) would play the way he did. Zach's not afraid of anything. He didn't have big eyes and did a good job of protection down the stretch, which was a concern for us, as well."
The only setback Brown had all day was a fumble in the fourth quarter that happened due to miscommunication in the huddle. Although Ohio State recovered on the UW 16, the Badgers ended up blocking a field goal attempt to keep the score as it was.
"That was a huddle thing going on," Brown said. "I thought something else was going on and it was just miscommunication."
Special Teams Disaster
The Badgers struggled all day on special teams, which led to the offense being forced to start with horrendous field position. Wisconsin was flagged for four illegal blocks in the back – two on kickoffs and two on punts – with three of those flags coming during the third quarter alone.
The four penalties forced the Badgers to start, on average, inside their own 20 yard line, including two penalties that forced Wisconsin to start inside its own nine.
"Critical," Bielema muttered when asked about the penalties. "We came out of it pretty good, except for the last time. I really have to take a look."
Trick Plays Good and Bad
For whatever reason, Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was feeling imaginative Saturday afternoon. The Badgers ran three misdirection plays; one of which led to their first score of the afternoon.
On fourth and 12 and near midfield, punter Ken DeBauche faked the punt, rolled out to the right and threw a perfect deep pass to fellow punter Paul Standring. Standring hauled in the spiral over his shoulder for a 31-yard gain, helping to keep the OSU offense off the field and set up the Badgers first score of the game.
It was the same plays the Badgers ran last year at Purdue, but instead of Jonathan Casillas in the flat, the Badgers went with the backup punter.
"It wasn't how we practiced … he was supposed to be wide open and he wasn't," DeBauche joked. "He made a nice play on the ball, nice catch on the sideline. It was nice to have the punter-to-punter and roommate-to-roommate connection."
Wisconsin also pulled out the reserve on its first kickoff return, which was called back due to holding, and a wide receiver option play to Travis Beckum. Although Donovan rolled out and appeared to be wide open, the pocket collapsed two quick on Beckum, resulting in a nine-yard loss.
The Badgers last trick play, however, wasn't supposed to happen and it proved costly. With the Badgers deep in their own territory and down seven with over 12 minutes left, DeBauche took the snap, faked the kick and tried to scramble three yards for the first down. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis made one of his career-high 19 tackles on DeBauche before he could even come close to the first down.
Four plays later, the Buckeyes were in the end zone and held a 14-point lead.
The play was supposed to be audible to an actual punt, but the signal never reach DeBauche.
"(The fake) was an alert against a (4-3) front that we thought was there," Bielema said. "(When it wasn't there), everybody got the alert that we were punting the ball except Kenny. We should have punted it in that situation. In retrospect, I wish I had it on the play before but we didn't because of field position."
Wisconsin's Tyler Donovan was under pressure all afternoon against Ohio State. Using a combination of blitz packages and different fronts, the Buckeyes registered a season high 10 sacks for 73 yards and 13 tackles-for-losses for 78 yards.
"The blitz about once every 2.6 plays so they brought a lot of pressure to us," left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "I don't think we handled it very well. We gave up a lot of sacks."
Severe Injuries Hit Badgers
The Badger defense seems to have suffered their first major injury of the season when junior cornerback Allen Langford went down with what appeared to be a severe left knee injury early in the first quarter. Langford was put into a full-leg immobilizer and made his way off the field at halftime with the assistance of crutches.
Langford, unfortunately, wasn't the only injury victim to strike the Badger defense. After needing to be helped off the field earlier in the half, Jason Chapman was severely shaken up and needed to be helped off the field by medical personal.
"I'll refrain from commenting because I don't know how significant it is," Bielema said. "I do know that Allen's (injury) was pretty significant and so was (Chapman's)."