MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin would have deserved it. Every last soul-crushing, fist-through-the-wall, let-one-get-away, bit of it.
The hurt would have been lasting and damaging. It would have flowed through the Badger bloodstream for years. Wisconsin had a brilliant game plan against No. 1 Ohio State, then almost puked it away.
One of the unwritten rules of the game goes like this: You never, ever, go up 21 points at home against the nation's top-ranked team while pounding it into the carpet, and then it slip away. But that's exactly the prospect Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was facing with 11½ minutes left at Camp Randall Stadium: How to wrestle that ranking and momentum away from the Buckeyes.
Instead of checking his play chart, it seemed Paul Chryst, Wisconsin's offensive coordinator, checked his sanity at the door. He called for passes. Four of them. In a row. If the reeling Badgers were going down -- they led by only three points at that point in the fourth quarter -- they were going down firing.
"We were starting to get them on the ropes," Ohio State center Mike Brewster said.
It was so much against the Wisconsin ethic, right then and forever. The Badgers had gotten up by three touchdowns pounding the ball Bucky-style. A 19-play, 89-yard, 10-minute, 4-second drive in the first half was Wisconsin's longest in at least 10 years. Going into the fourth quarter, Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien had thrown only 11 times. That game plan was obvious.
"We play football here," AD Barry Alvarez reminded reporters afterward, "We don't play basketball here."
While Bo Ryan might have his feelings hurt with that assessment of Wisconsin's national scene-shaking 31-18 win over the Buckeyes, he was nowhere to be found Saturday night. This was a night for bum-rushing the field. This was a night for the P.A. announcer scolding those bum-rushers like a school marm: "Sections M,N,O,P, stay in your seats." This was a night for pounding the Buckeyes then defeating them with a little finesse.
With his team hovering somewhere between a choke and a gag, Chryst watched Ohio State load the box. Then Tolzien completed three of those passes. Then with the Badgers in Ohio State territory, Chryst did something else odd to seal Wisconsin's first win over a top-ranked team in 29 years. He trusted the game to true freshman tailback James White. While White has established himself as the quicker complement to 255-pound junior John Clay, it was somewhat surprising to see him have the last three carries in the clinching touchdown drive that made it 28-18 with seven minutes left.
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"Nobody expected us to go out and beat Ohio State the way we did," Wisconsin defensive back Aaron Henry said. "I can't even explain it."
Oregon thanks you, Badgers. Boise State, TCU and Oklahoma too. The order of the first BCS standings released on Sunday just became a little clearer. Jerry Palm says there is a high probability that Oklahoma and Boise State will be the top two teams in some order. Oregon will probably become the third No. 1 in the human polls in as many weeks, without playing. The Ducks had the best bye week in history, sitting on the couch waiting for Thursday's game against UCLA.
The mash up at the top came quickly and in consecutive weeks with Alabama and Ohio State going down to lesser, but more motivated home-standing programs.
"It depends on if other teams lose," Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor said considering his team's chances of getting back to No. 1. "We've got to stop taking stuff for granted."
It's getting a little late. Saturday marked the halfway point of the season (seven weeks down, seven to go.) Two of the top three spots in the polls could be occupied by non-BCS schools (Boise, TCU). The best team in the state of Alabama, isn't Alabama. Oh, and Jim Tressel, despite a national championship, won't shake the label of not being able to win the big one anytime soon. Fair? His team's are 15-4 when ranked No. 1. Two of those losses came in BCS title games. Another came to Illinois in 2007 when the Bucks were getting to a BCS title game ... and Saturday.
"Oh man," Pryor said, "We just blew it as a team."
Blew it as in allowing a 100-yard rusher (Clay, 104 yards) for the first time in 30 games. Blew it in allowing Wisconsin's David Gilreath to deliver the first knockout blow. In the second week of the season Wisconsin's returner was taken from the field after being concussed against San Jose State. So when his 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game touched off Ohio State's fall from poll-topping grace, Gilreath was doing nothing more than sharing the feeling. From hospital to hyped, from MRI to MVP, from knocked out to knocking out the nation's No. 1 team.
Don't blame this on Pryor or his injured quad suffered two weeks ago against Illinois. The Buckeyes' quarterback may have looked hobbled in the first half. It's hard, though, to get loosened up when you have the ball for only five possessions -- one of them a meaningless snap to end the first half. The quad had nothing to do with Wisconsin being up 14-0 before Ohio State's second possession. The quad had nothing to do with Wisconsin making Ohio State its (rhymes with) witch in that game-defining, will-breaking 19-play drive that took up more than one-third of the first half.
"They lined up toe to toe and beat us," Ohio State middle linebacker Brian Rolle said.
The best Ohio State memory from Saturday should be Pryor, who looked Heisman-like in the second half, using his legs and his arm to maneuver the Buckeyes into position to steal one in Mad Town.
"We're men and this loss doesn't define us as a team," Pryor said. "It doesn't define me, I know that. There's going to be plenty of more cheers and joy. We thought we had the best team."
So did a lot of us. The best Jim Tressel team since the 2002 national championship year limped back to Columbus trying to figure out how it got pushed around by a team that it knew would try to push it around.
"Sometimes you have to get kicked in the butt a couple of times," Buckeyes defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.
Check the rankings Sunday. It may turn out that Ohio State couldn't survive one butt kicking.