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October 30, 2011
Stunned once more
COLUMBUS - If any team in the world of college football is reeling more than the stunned-again Wisconsin Badgers they can make their case outside an incredibly deflated visitors locker room on Woody Hayes Drive.
History does indeed repeat itself.
Freshman Braxton Miller hit fellow freshman Devin Smith for a 40-yard touchdown pass just seconds after the Badgers had dramatically stormed back from 12 down in the final four minutes to steal the lead and a potential victory in the 'Horseshoe.'
Trailing by three points, Miller's lob to his wide-open target essentially served as the dagger to a Badger season once primed for greatness. Instead, at least following Saturday night's 33-29 loss, UW is a 6-2-football team on the outside of a divisional championship race looking in.
"I couldn't believe how open I was," Smith, who made his only catch of the night on the 40-yard bomb with 20 seconds to play, said. "I looked back and thought Braxton was going to run and all the defenders were out.
"Braxton saw I was that open and threw a great pass."
Though communication had been harped on throughout the past couple of weeks in Wisconsin practices, it was a communication error that caused it another heartbreaking defeat.
As Miller looked to be approaching the line of scrimmage it was apparent Aaron Henry and Marcus Cromartie snuck up with hopes of containing the freshman quarterback.
As soon as Miller noticed that miscue he fired a rainbow of a pass that hung in the air dramatically before falling into Smith's arms. It was the first-year player's only touchdown of the game and just his seventh completion on the night. He finished 7-of-12 for 89 yards passing, 40 of which came on that deciding play.
"We let the receiver get behind us and had a communication breakdown," UW head coach Bret Bielema, who has yet to win in Ohio Stadium, said. "They're going to be tested in an unbelievable fashion after the last two weeks.
"I can't describe the feeling of having to face those guys after all they put in."
Miller also rushed for 99 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown scamper with just more than four minutes to play that gave Ohio State a 12-point edge.
Wisconsin, led by senior quarterback Russell Wilson stormed back, scoring a quick touchdown capped by a 17-yard Jared Abbrederis catch. UW's defense held Ohio State to a quick three-and-out, setting the stage for one of the more dramatic finishes of the day.
With just 2:36 remaining on the clock, Wilson led a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive capped by a 49-yard Abbrederis touchdown. On the play the sophomore wideout, who finished with a game-high six receptions for 113 yards, was found wide open down the near sideline after Ohio State safety Christian Bryant decided to double team Jeff Duckworth.
Wilson calmly looked off the safety and delivered a strike to Abbrederis. The score and resultant two-point conversion gave UW a short-lived 29-26 lead. But it also gave the ball back to Ohio State with too much time left.
"I thought we had it," UW junior running back Montee Ball said. "I thought we had a great rally back and that we were going to finish the game strong.
"I know we started slow but I thought we were going to finish strong."
But it just wasn't meant to be.
"Any time you keep a good ball club in the game, on the road and in their environment anything is possible," Henry said. "These last two weeks we literally let them get away.
"Opportunities we had to put the game away where it wouldn't even be close we let those opportunities get away."
The same ugly tendencies reared their head Saturday night, just as they did a week ago in East Lansing. UW had a punt blocked early in the third quarter that set up an Ohio State touchdown. That two-yard Jordan Hall score gave OSU a 17-7 lead.
Wisconsin didn't force any turnovers other than a muffed punt. UW failed to convert on a fourth and two situation midway through the fourth quarter when it trailed by six. And most importantly, the defense that was once ranked in the top 10 nationally couldn't get off the field.
UW's defense, led by Mike Taylor's career-high 22 tackles, gave up 11 third down conversions, 268 yards of rushing offense and 357 yards of total offense.
"It's something that is really, really hard to swallow," Henry said of communication miscues that plagued the team. "We go over it day-in and day-out. It happened. It's over with.
"Hopefully never in my life will I again have to relive the last two weeks or something similar to this."