COLUMBUS, Ohio - The little things kept the No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers from beating the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night. Penalties, a missed field goal, and a late score in the second quarter all played a roll in Wisconsin's 31-24 loss to the Buckeyes, who are now heavy favorites to represent the Leaders division in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Badgers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) saw the game start to slip from their grasp at the end of the first half, just after Joel Stave cut Ohio State's lead to 17-14 with an 11-yard touchdown to Sam Arneson. But Braxton Miller found a wide-open Corey Brown in the end zone to put the Buckeyes up 24-14 with one second left in the first half.
That touchdown was ultimately the difference in the game, and Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen gave credit to the Buckeyes for making the most of the opportunities they had.
"At the end of the day we gave them too many lay-ups," Andersen said after the game. "That's speaking giving complete credit to Ohio State for making the plays when they were given the chance. But we have to be able to make it difficult."
"You can't give those things up if you're going to come in to a place like this, play a good football team. You have to make those plays. It's hard enough to stop them, it's hard enough to score, it's hard enough to play well on special teams."
The Badgers struggled on the ground for most of the game, with Ohio State holding the Badgers to just 104 net rushing yards on 3.9 yards per carry. But while Melvin Gordon and James White struggled to get much traction, Stave and Jared Abbrederis found their stride for most of the game.
Stave completed 20-of-34 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns in the game, while Abbrederis caught 10 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown. Their efforts kept the Badgers in the game when the running game stalled out, but ultimately it wasn't enough for the Badgers to overcome a tough Ohio State defense and their own self-inflicted wounds.
"It doesn't matter how good you played, you've got to be able to win the game," Abbrederis said after the game. "At the end of the day it's not a 'W.' We left some yards out there."
The Badgers were also penalized eight times for 54 yards in the game, with several coming in key spots that either killed a drive or negated a big play. A facemask call on Conor O'Neill and an illegal formation penalty on a punt negated two would-be fumbles that the Badgers recovered, but Andersen took the blame for not putting his players in a position to succeed.
"Apparently we weren't close enough to the line of scrimmage," Andersen said. "That's another huge play in the football game. That's inexcusable. I think we jumped too, they could have thrown either flag. That's poor execution- bad coaching by me."
But at the end of the day Andersen said he doesn't think Wisconsin's conference title hopes have been completely dashed. Ohio State now owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, but Andersen and the Badgers still have an outside chance of returning to Indianapolis if the Buckeyes lose two games and the Badgers take care of business in the rest of their games this season.
"These guys are in it, and where they end up this time matters. We don't control our own destiny, but if we take care of our business one game at a time I like our chances," Andersen said. "Someway out there will be another big game for us to play to put ourselves in a position to do some special things this season. These kids will come back, they'll be ready to roll."
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.