Even when it's not at its best, No. 2 Ohio State wins at No. 8 Wisconsin

Even when it's not at its best, No. 2 Ohio State wins at No. 8 Wisconsin

Great teams find ways to win ugly. And, make no mistake about it, Ohio State is a great team and this wasn’t the prettiest game in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes weren’t at their best on this night but found a way to grind out a 30-23 overtime win at Wisconsin and remain on course for a huge season—perhaps a national championship season.

Ohio State is 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation for a reason, firmly in control of its destiny. The Buckeyes are a well coached team and have more talent than any team in the Big Ten. And the best of them all is quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was the difference in this game.

The junior rallied Ohio State to victory on a night when it appeared to be on the brink vs. a Wisconsin team that had two weeks to prep for the Buckeyes. Barrett saved his best for last, hitting Noah Brown for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown (watch it) in overtime. Ohio State’s defense did the rest, snuffing out the Badgers’ attempt to force a tie and another overtime with its fourth sack of the game (watch it).

Game over. Season saved.

The Buckeye offense struggled for most of the night, unable to get much traction vs. a tenacious Wisconsin defense that lived up to its lofty numbers, notching 411 yards. Big plays were few and far between. But Ohio State made just enough, as Barrett hit 17-of-29 passes for 226 yards with a touchdown and pick. He also ran 21 times for a team-high 92 yards and two touchdowns.

Concerns remain about the Ohio State passing game. It just isn’t clicking, as the receiving corps continues to look for playmakers. This attack needs more like Brown if it wants to reach its goal of winning the national championship. The Buckeyes continue to rely too much on Barrett. Last week against Indiana, Barrett ran the ball 26 times—much to the disdain of the OSU staff. On this night, the Buckeyes again had to rely too much on Barrett’s feet to get the job done. It worked again vs. the Badgers. But, could Barrett get hurt from over use?

The Badgers entered the night No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (12.2 ppg), No. 3 in total defense (291.4 ypg) and No. 1 in rushing defense (90.4 ypg). But, it wasn’t enough on this night.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook continues to impress. The redshirt freshman lefty was making just his third career start. And, he looked like a vet, hitting 16-of-28 passes for 214 yards with a TD and pick. Yes, he struggled in third quarter and tossed a pick that OSU turned into a TD. Still, Hornibrook settled down and made some big plays vs. a vaunted Buckeye defense.

And the UW offense benefited from a big effort from Corey Clement, who has been banged up most of this year but brought his A game tonight, running 25 times for 164 yards. If Wisconsin wasn’t hitting Ohio State with Clement, it was using Jazz Peavy on jet sweeps (70 yards rushing) or Hornibrook was finding TE Troy Fumagalli for a pass. It was enough to punch the Buckeyes for 450 yards—including 236 rushing—and keep Ohio State’s tough defense off balance for most of the night.

Wisconsin continues to impress during a brutal five-game start to the Big Ten season that has seen the Badgers win at Michigan State and lose at Michigan and tonight vs. Ohio State. Up next is a game at Iowa followed by a visit from Nebraska and a dangerous game at suddenly surging Northwestern. Can UW endure?

The Ohio State goals remain clearly in sight, but big games loom beginning next week at Penn State. There also are home games vs. Nebraska and vs. Michigan, among other tilts left. Then, the Big Ten title game, where perhaps the Badgers will await—or not.

This was a close call. But, perhaps we should have seen it coming with Ohio State’s offensive struggles the week before, when the Buckeyes had a season-low 38 points and 383 yards in dispatching the Hoosiers. So, Ohio State survived to live another day. But, it continues to play with fire. No doubt, Wisconsin had a lot to do with OSU’s struggles.

The Buckeyes know they have work to do, especially on offense. But they can breathe a sigh of relief and know this young team will grow from this harrowing victory. It’s not always going to be easy or pretty. But, just win.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.


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