Sat Oct 29 11:38pm EDT
Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29.
Two weeks ago, Ohio State could barely complete a pass, any pass. One bye week later, freshman Braxton Miller broke Wisconsin's heart for the second week in a row on one of the throws of the year, and simultaneously kept the Buckeyes' long-shot pursuit of a seventh consecutive Big Ten title alive.
Miller's 40-yard bomb to fellow freshman Devin Smith didn't have quite the urgency of Michigan State's last-second Hail Mary to break up the Badgers' perfect season in East Lansing — Miller let fly with more than 20 seconds remaining, on first down, plenty of time to set up a game-tying field goal — but it matched last week's finish for both improbability and plane geometry. Miller started out on a dead sprint, clearly intending to run before spotting Smith and pulling up for the heave at the last second. His momentum carried him across the line of scrimmage as the ball came out of his hand (a forward pass over the line would be illegal), but like last week, the line carried the signature of the Badgers' defeat.
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It also reaffirms the main thrust of the second half of the season, namely Miller's transition from wobbly a change of pace off the bench to a full-time starter for the rest of his Buckeye career. Not that Ohio State will ever not be about the defense and the running game: Wisconsin managed just 104 yards on the ground, their worst number since 2009 and exactly half their previous low for the year, and Miller himself was far more effective as a runner (98 yards, 2 TDs on 19 carries) than when the ball was in the air. It was only in the air 12 times, at that. But he was efficient, didn't turn the ball over and delivered Ohio State's play of the year at the most crucial moment.
In one swoop, the Buckeyes pull into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten's "Leaders" Division with Wisconsin and Illinois — both of whom OSU has now defeated — with division frontrunner Penn State looming on Nov. 19. Assuming Ohio State gets by Indiana and Purdue over the next two weeks, a win over the Nittany Lions would put them within a) One game of finishing off the regular season with a six-game winning streak at Michigan, a la the 2004 team that started slow, discovered Troy Smith and hit the gas; and b) A Penn State loss against Nebraska or Wisconsin from a division title.
I'm not sure how likely that scenario is to come true a month from now. But it's certainly more likely from this vantage point than beating Wisconsin to pull back into the thick of the Big Ten race seemed at this time last month. Miller is still very much a work in progress, but considering he just outdueled the guy on top of a lot of Heisman Trophy lists eight days ago, I'd say the progression is slightly ahead of schedule.
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