Jeff’s Weekly Sports Rapp: Wisconsin, Naturally
By Jeff Rapp
(Editor’s Note: Jeff Rapp has covered Ohio State athletics since he graduated from the university more than 20 years ago. He currently serves as a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust and is a longstanding member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).
Sometimes when I’m on the radio here in Columbus and I’m put on the spot to offer an opinion, I go into an ambiguous file in my brain and pull out … I don’t know quite what.
Hey, at least I’m not pulling it out of another part of my body, as I’m occasionally accused of doing.
I bring this up only because I have already delved into a touchy subject – Ohio State’s upcoming all-important football game with pesky Wisconsin – a couple times on 610 WTVN (AM Columbus) and we will get more in depth during Thursday night’s “Bucksline” program.
Already this week, I offered some thoughts to “Buckeye Rewind” host Dave Maetzold on Monday as well as morning host Joel Riley on Wednesday. Both times I surmised the following (or something to this effect): “It seems like just about every special season for the Buckeyes requires a win over Wisconsin, and a lot of the time it’s a big game in Madison.”
Well, I’ve decided to do some fact-checking on my non-scientific hunch.
First of all, it’s important to note that Ohio State leads the all-time series with Bucky 54-18-5 and has been a healthy 30-7-3 at home. That still leaves a very solid mark of 24-11-2 in Madison.
However, the fairly recent history on the rivalry – and, yes, that’s what the Buckeyes and head coach Urban Meyer are calling it – displays that Ohio State has logged some hard-earned wins over UW in standout years and also has endured more than its normal share of heartache (except when compared to, say, the Michigan game during the John Cooper years).
Wisky actually won the first three gridiron battles between the two schools and also prevailed again in 1918. But Chic Harley returned for his senior year in 1919 and helped the Buckeyes edge by UW, 3-0.
That triggered quite an impressive run of dominance by OSU.
In the decades of the 1920s through the 1970s, Wisconsin managed to eke by Ohio State exactly three times. That’s it. Richard Nixon was on more national ballots than that. John Travolta had more comebacks than that.
The teams did tie four times from 1930 from 1958. The year following the last of those, 1959, the Badgers posted a 12-3 win in Madison, which, as legend has it, set off Woody Hayes into one of his famous tirades.
Woody vowed to never lose to Wisconsin again – and he never did.
In fact, the Buckeyes rattled off 21 straight wins over UW from 1960-80. The Badgers were not ranked in the vast majority of those encounters, but they were upset in back-to-back meetings in the early 1960s.
In 1962, Wisconsin came to Columbus ranked No. 5 in the nation and left with a 14-7 loss to an unranked OSU squad. The following year, the Badgers were undefeated, hell-bent on revenge, ranked No. 2 and playing at home. Still, the Buckeyes squeaked out a 13-10 victory.
However, the tide eventually turned.
Ask my colleague Earle Bruce about Wisconsin and watch him growl and look at you like you just side-swiped his car. Bruce became known as “old 9-3 Earle” in part because he had major problems with UW, posting a record of just 4-5 in the series.
Wisconsin knocked off OSU in Madison back in 1981 and also won at Ohio Stadium the following year in a downpour. That 6-0 shutout was particularly humbling since it completed a three-game homestand in which the Buckeyes went oh-fer – a practically unheard-of string of futility in program history.
A very good 1984 Ohio State team featuring Keith Byars and a topnotch offensive line was out-toughed in a 16-14 loss at Wisconsin, and the Badgers struck again the following year. The Buckeyes were unable to follow-up their magical win over No. 1 Iowa and fell 12-7 in their very next home appearance as fullback Roman Bates fumbled near the goal line in a painful loss to UW.
Wisconsin also contributed to Bruce’s downfall in 1987 with a 26-24 win over OSU at Camp Randall Stadium. That placed Ohio State firmly out of the rankings and Big Ten contention and set up a very fateful week as the Buckeyes lost in the final seconds at home to Iowa the next week. Within 48 hours, Bruce was unceremoniously fired on the Monday of Michigan week.
Cooper needed four years to get the program on proper footing but he went 4 for 4 vs. Wisconsin from 1988-91.
In 1992, the Buckeyes maneuvered through the nonconference season unscathed and were coming off an impressive win at Syracuse prior to an all-important trip to Wisconsin. They also had an extra week to prepare for their Big Ten opener. Cooper showed his grasp of the importance of the game by closing off practice from the media.
Buckeye Nation was ready to embrace him. Ohio State was on the verge of becoming a top-10 fixture once again. Then the Buckeyes made way too many mistakes in a 20-16 loss at Camp Randall.
The following year, the No. 3 Buckeyes returned to Madison with a mark of 8-0 and had just dumped Penn State 24-6 in the first-ever Big Ten meeting between the schools. But they let opportunity slip away again and had to settle for a 14-14 tie that would have been worse if not for Marlon Kerner’s blocked field goal in the waning moments.
When the Buckeyes lost at Michigan and fell into a tie for the Big Ten title, Wisconsin earned the Rose Bowl berth and OSU had to settle for a spot in the Holiday Bowl.
Then there are the more recent unpleasantries for the Buckeyes and their fans – Ron Dayne running wild on the Ohio Stadium turf in 1999, the first home loss of the Jim Tressel era in 2001, a 19-game win streak ending in 2003, the loss in the midst of a three-game losing skid in 2004 and the 31-18 setback at Camp Randall in 2010.
That last game technically didn’t happen, as the university had to vacate the entire 2010 season as part of a lengthy NCAA punishment. Still, the pain is real to the veteran members of the team.
Wide receiver Corey Brown professed a hatred of the Badgers because of it. Zach Boren jokingly said he “loves” Wisconsin, which appears to be OSU code for “abhors.”
Even first-year coach Urban Meyer didn’t discount the rivalry factor and professed a respect for UW – but did not specify any affection for smirky Badgers coach Bret Bielema.
After that setback, I wrote the following for my website, SportsRappUp.com:
“There is no denying that the Badgers played an outstanding football game. Bret Bielema has been gunning for Ohio State since he took over the UW program and the importance of his first win over the Scarlet and Gray was written right into his three-mile-wide grin after the game.
“The Buckeyes, on the other hand, well, looked devastated. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who endured a shaky outing, appeared sulky in the game’s final minutes and didn’t seem to play with any fire once OSU fell behind 28-18.
“The players said throughout the team’s 6-0 start that the goal was to run the regular-season table. With so many other programs off to hot starts it appeared more and more likely that any blemish on the record would cost Ohio State a chance to return to the BCS National Championship Game.”
Ohio State dropped from atop the polls to No. 10, scandal that is now known as “Tattoo-gate” erupted in December, and the Buckeyes played Arkansas in a suspect Sugar Bowl victory that now doesn’t count.
In that 2010 loss, John Clay became the first running back in 30 games to manage a 100-yard rushing output against the OSU defense, a run that dated all the way back to the debacle at USC in 2008 when Joe McKnight proved elusive. It didn’t help that leading tackler Ross Homan was out of action because of injury.
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt put Pryor in the torture chamber with four tackles, three for loss, two sacks and a QB hurry. In short, he victimized every part of Ohio State’s line.
The following February, Thad Matta’s top-ranked, undefeated men’s basketball team trekked to Madison, built a 15-point lead and, well, you probably remember the rest.
This is what I wrote for SRU after that contest:
“The Buckeyes went to Wisconsin’s intimidating Kohl Center on Feb. 12 and shot 54.3 percent from the field, made their free throws, committed just seven turnovers in a Big Ten slugfest and won the battle on the boards with the pesky Badgers.
“They also lost – 71-67 – and it stings for a team that entered Madison 24-0 and for a fan base that for the second time in four months saw their beloved Buckeyes fall from grace at, of all places, Wisconsin.”
OK, so we’ve established that the Badgers have been a pain in the derriere to Ohio State since the 1980s. But what about my assertion that the Buckeyes’ special seasons have included big wins over Bucky?
Let’s start with the national championship seasons.
OSU’s first-ever national title in 1942, ironically, included a 17-7 loss in what has been dubbed the “Bad Water Game.” Several Buckeyes got sick on the train ride to Madison and OSU played anything but like the No. 1 team in the country. However, Ohio State won out and reclaimed the top spot in the polls.
In 1954, the No. 4 Ohio State spanked No. 2 Wisconsin 31-14. Check. In 1957, OSU edged homestanding UW 16-13 and won another national championship. Check again.
The ’61 team recorded a big 30-21 win at Wisconsin. In 1968, OSU flushed Wisky 43-8 on the road. Two years later, the Buckeyes won 24-7 in Madison. In 2002, Ohio State produced a 19-14 triumph there. More checkmarks.
The Buckeyes swamped UW in all four of the Archie years (1972-75) and absolutely romped in the undefeated regular season of 1979 in a 59-0 win.
And, yes, there have been a few ultra-important OSU wins at Camp Randall in the last 20 years. Along with the ’02 victory, Eddie George and crew won a 27-16 decision there in 1995 and Pryor emerged in a clutch 20-17 survival in the Big Ten championship season of 2008.
P.S. – Matta’s Buckeyes got their revenge, too, just as they did in the home finale of 2007 after getting clipped at Kohl.
Basically none of this has anything to do with Braxton Miller and Devin Smith, who were the heroes in last year’s surprising 33-29 win over Wisconsin, but it’s still Wisconsin week, and that means just about anything is afoot.
The Buckeyes are 10-0, one of only four unbeaten teams, and there is no way in H-E-double hockey sticks they will be able to accept getting off the ride now. Not against this team. Not with the 2010 game in their minds. Not knowing the pure satisfaction it would provide to rowdy UW fans.
The prediction here is the Buckeyes simply won’t allow it to happen. But they might want to stock up on bottled water and bring an extra linebacker just in case.
*This is the latest installment of Jeff Rapp’s Weekly Sports Rapp on The-Ozone.net. He is a regular voice on 610 WTVN in Columbus and long-time reporter covering the Buckeyes. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out more of Jeff’s work on SportsRappUp.com.