Buckeyes Practiced Hail Mary

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 10/30/2011 9:43 PM

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Buckeyes Practiced ‘Hail Mary’ On Thursday
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Luke Fickell wasn’t awake for Michigan State’s stunning last-second victory over Wisconsin last Saturday, but plenty of his players were.

They watched as Kirk Cousins’ desperation heave ricocheted off two players in the end zone before landing in the arms of receiver Keith Nichol, who barely broke the plain before being dragged back from the goal line.

Apparently the coaches were watching too.

As the Buckeyes prepared to face the Badgers Saturday night in Columbus, they wanted to make sure the players were ready for anything.

That included last-second heroics.

“It’s amazing because on Thursday we went through our two-minute offense. We went through a jump ball and they got Braxton (Miller) ready for that situation,” center Michael Brewster said.

“He did a really nice job at getting us on the ball, getting the play to me and just going. It’s great to see a young guy prepared and ready. You just never know when you’re going to need it.”

Fickell and his staff did not expect to need it after they built up a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter for Saturday’s primetime rematch with No. 15 Wisconsin. Miller’s 44-yard sprint down the left sideline looked like the dagger that would put Ohio State ahead for good at the 4:39 mark of the fourth quarter.

Jordan Hall nearly made it a 14-point game, but he was dragged down just shy of the goal line on OSU’s 2-point conversion attempt. That play left the door open for Wisconsin, who needed only four plays to reach the end zone in less than a minute.

Russell Wilson’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis cut Ohio State’s lead to 26-21 at the 3:48 mark. Wilson connected with Abbrederis again two-and-a-half minutes later, this time on a 49-yard touchdown pass that gave the Badgers their first lead since the opening quarter.

“After the touchdown I felt that we were going to come back and make a play,” freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier said.

“I believed the offense and that when they made a play we were going to stop them on defense. I never lost faith.”

That’s almost hard to believe considering everything that could go wrong for this team seemingly has over the last 11 months. One more heartbreaking loss would only fit with the rest of the 2011 season, but not with this team, not with these players.

Not with Jordan Hall, who fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own six-yard line.

Hall was not having a great game. He botched two punt returns, including one that led to a Wisconsin touchdown, and made some other questionable decisions.
“He caught one probably inside the 10 on the punt. Took one out of the end zone about six, seven yards deep. I'm not saying those are things we designed up to say we're going to do, but we'll want the ball in the guy's hands that we know can make some plays,” Fickell said.

“Just because he makes a mistake here or there, he doesn't make them too often. We're going to stick with him.”

That faith was rewarded when Hall scampered out to the 48-yard line on his kick return. It left the Buckeyes 52 yards away from the end zone with just over a minute to play in the game, but they were alive.

Devon Smith eyes in the game winning touchdown pass.
Photo by Dan Harker
Devon Smith eyes the football in.

“I was just thinking we got to get a good return, we got to get some yards to help us out, at least get in field goal range at worst,” Brewster said.

“We got a good return, we got to the 40, had a couple of decent plays.”

 Most fans were thinking overtime, but Braxton Miller had other ideas.

“He was just saying ‘give me time,’” Brewster said.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Just get the guys to give me time,’ and I thought we did and he just made a play.”

More like the play.

Facing a first-and-10 at the Wisconsin 40-yard line, Miller rolled to his right. He saw that Wisconsin’s defense was sucked inside and took off for the open space near the sideline. It was the smart play, and it would have been equally smart for him to pick up a few yards and get out of bounds to stop the clock.

“I just had to get out of the pocket and make something happen,” said Miller, who ran for 99 yards (107 before sacks).

Smith makes the grab and is drilled by Wisconsin safety Marcus Cromartie.
Photo by Dan Harker
Smith makes the grab

Normally for a freshman that means picking up yards on the ground. That’s what Terrelle Pryor would have done as a young player. Probably Troy Smith too, but Miller miraculously had the wherewithal to keep his eyes downfield.

He was the only one in the stadium looking at Devin Smith when he let the ball fly.

“It was a crossing pattern and when I looked back for the ball to see if we was going to throw it,’” Smith said after hauling in the 40-yard pass for a touchdown.

“I thought he was going to run so I was going to try to make a block, but what I saw him look at me and throw it I said, ‘I just got to make a play.’ It was good on him keeping the play alive like he always does and we just made a play.”

Smith sprawls to the turf but squeezes the football.
Photo by Dan Harker
Smith squeezes the football.

The officials immediately reviewed the play because of how close Miller had been to crossing the line of scrimmage. For the second time in two weeks the Badgers were at the mercy of the replay system.

“At first I was like man I think he’s across the line. I saw the refs talking and I was like, ‘Please after all this please don’t let him be across the line,’” Brewster said.

“I saw the ball going and it just kind of fell right into his arms, it was unbelievable, I don’t know how he was so open.”

Neither did anyone else.

“I came inside and then I pushed vertical and just went across sort of like a crossing pattern and nobody picked me up,” Smith said.

Smith celebrates the unlikely score.
Photo by Dan Harker
Smith celbrates the score.

“I believe the corner or one of the safeties was underneath me and didn't know that I was back there. And once he saw the ball thrown he came back and tried to make a play.”

Marcus Cromartie didn’t get there in time to deflect the pass, but he did get a hit on Smith in the end zone. It didn’t matter. He was holding on for dear life.

“I've always dreamed about doing that, and always wanted to do that on a level like this at Ohio State,” Smith said.

“This whole year I was hoping that I would make a play like this, and here it is. And I'm very, very appreciative.”

Appreciated, no doubt, by thousands of Ohio State fans around the world too.

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