Ohio State clinched one title, and kept its slim hopes for another alive.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes won the Leaders Division crown outright Saturday, beating Wisconsin 21-14 on Carlos Hyde’s 2-yard scoring run in overtime. Buckeyes safety Christian Bryant batted down Curt Phillips’ pass on fourth down to preserve the win.
Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for the postseason as part of its punishment for NCAA violations under former coach Jim Tressel.
The best the Buckeyes can hope for is to finish the regular-season unbeaten, then have the teams above them all lose at least once to give them a shot at playing spoiler for The Associated Press title.
“We have a saying, ‘A team that refuses to be beat won’t be beat,’ ” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “Somehow, someway.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, blew its chance to show it deserves its spot in next month’s Big Ten title game. The Badgers (7-4, 4-3) are third in the Leaders Division, but they’ll be playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl because neither the Buckeyes nor Penn State are eligible for the postseason. No one else in the division will even finish with a winning record.
“I’m sure winning in Indy and going to the Rose Bowl and winning there would erase all the losses we’ve had,” Montee Ball said. “Because that’s our goal.”
At least the Wisconsin fans got to see Ball get the major college record for career touchdowns in his final home game. Or, part of the record anyway. Ball scored his 78th TD in the second quarter, tying the mark set by Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) in 1999.
But he fumbled what would have been the record-breaker with 2:46 left in regulation. Ball held the ball in front of him as he leaped over the pile on the goal line, and Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier met him with both fists and punched the ball loose.
“That’s a dumb decision on my part,” Ball said. “But I just felt like I needed to get the ball in the end zone.”
And the Buckeyes felt just as strongly that they needed to keep him out.
“We knew that he needed two to break the record,” Shazier said. “We were not going to allow him to break it on us.”
Ball finished with 191 yards on a career-high 39 carries.
The Ohio State-Wisconsin rivalry hasn’t reached the heights of “The Game” between the Buckeyes and Michigan. But it is not exactly warm and fuzzy, either, especially not after the previous two games.
Two years ago, Wisconsin ended Ohio State’s hopes of a making a run at the national title, handing the then-No. 1 Buckeyes their first loss at Camp Randall. (Ohio State’s 2010 season was later erased by the NCAA sanctions.) Last year it was the Buckeyes stunning the Badgers, with Braxton Miller dancing around like a jitterbug before launching a 40-yard, game-winning heave with 20 seconds left.
Though there wasn’t any obvious chippiness Saturday, the brutal physicality of the game left no doubt the teams have begun to use each other as a measure. Wisconsin’s defense was downright nasty, limiting the high-powered Buckeyes to a mere 236 yards of offense, more than 200 yards below their average. The Buckeyes crossed the midfield only once after halftime, and the Badgers largely kept the dynamic Miller in check.
But Miller made plays when he needed to, and Hyde continued to impress.
“We’re certainly not a finished product on offense, and it showed,” Meyer said. “But to come down in that overtime. I think we need to give [Hyde] the ball a little bit more.”