Before moving on to another night-time challenge at Penn State, Urban Meyer stopped Monday to give thanks for the test Ohio State received at Wisconsin.
“As much of a root canal as that was, I’d much rather have it that way for the development of your team,” Meyer said of his team’s rally from a 16-6 deficit to win 30-23 in overtime last Saturday night.
The second-ranked Buckeyes won their first five games by at least 21 points, but then-No. 8 Wisconsin had them on the ropes for much of the night.
Ohio State gave up 313 yards in the first half to a Badger offense that managed only 456 total in its previous two games, a win at Michigan State and a loss at Michigan.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and his staff took advantage of their extra week to prepare and hit Ohio State’s defense with multiple plays designed to attack the Buckeyes’ weak points.
“But not every fight’s going to be tilted one way,” Meyer said. “Just watch Wisconsin play. We knew — maybe someone in this room was shocked about the environment or the quality of player and the quality of team we were getting ready to play — but I can assure you not one of our 70 guys were shocked. That’s why you just got to hang in there and keep swinging as hard as you can.”
It was a message that seemed to be driven home to Meyer’s players, including defensive end Sam Hubbard.
“I really believe we came together Saturday night and pulled it out for the win,” Hubbard said. “So it’s something we can really lean.”
Ironically, the next game for the second-ranked Buckeyes is at the place Meyer’s eventual national championship 2014 squad had an experience very similar to what the ‘16 team just faced in Madison.
Then unranked Penn State took 13th-ranked Ohio State to overtime before quarterback J.T. Barrett shook off some early-game struggles and an injury to key a 31-24 win.
“This is the only other one that’s been like that that I can recall that every indicator was up that we lost the game,” Meyer said. “At Penn State, the story was told. In that kind of environment, our quarterback was not playing well. We had a pick-six, I believe, in that game, and he also had a second-degree MCL sprain, and here we go. We’re going to go play overtime down in front of their end zone, and we’re seven points behind.
“So the script was written. I just remember thinking what am I going to say to this team afterwards? It crossed my mind. And he kind of just took it on his shoulders.”
Barrett, who was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after piling up over 300 total yards at Wisconsin, agreed the last trip to Happy Valley was a coming-of-age moment for him.
“At that time that was my edge, to see how far I could go because my knee was hurtin’ but understanding I didn’t want to come out of the game,” Barrett said. “I still could play and be able to make plays, so it’s just one of those things you have to be able to fight through mentally. And luckily with guys’ help I was able to do that. I would say I did grow up in that aspect, but as a team we grew up as a whole.”