Needing only three yards against Ohio State today to pass former Buckeyes star and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin for fifth place on the all-time NCAA Division I-A rushing list, Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne was certain to get that done.
More daunting were Wisconsin's chances of defeating the Buckeyes, who had dominated this series 48-13-5, including 26-4-2 here.
That domination ended today before 93,524 stunned spectators at Ohio Stadium. They watched the Badgers score 42 unanswered points--36 in the second half--of a 42-17 victory over the 12th-ranked Buckeyes, who had used a 40-yard touchdown pass to take a 17-0 lead with 10 minutes 23 seconds left in the first half. It was Ohio State's worst loss at home in 32 years.
"After our second touchdown," said Dayne, who scored both of them on his way to four for the afternoon, "I could tell those guys got tired."
The Buckeyes looked solid enough in the first half, holding Dayne to 36 yards on 11 carries. Then Ohio State's Michael Wiley fumbled the second-half kickoff at Ohio State's 14-yard line, and Dayne became energized.
In addition to his big scoring day, he totaled 161 yards on 32 carries, passing not only Griffin (5,177) on the NCAA rushing list, but also Georgia's Herschel Walker (5,259). Dayne is now No. 4 on the list at 5,336 yards. Texas's Ricky Williams is first with 6,279.
"I don't go out to prove something," the 5-foot-10, 248-pound Dayne said. "I just go out and play hard."
That was something the Buckeyes did not appear to do in the second half.
"I am embarrassed as to the way we played in the second half," said Ohio State Coach John Cooper, whose team fell to 3-2, 0-1 in the Big Ten. "We did not do anything right today."
It was the worst home loss for the Buckeyes since a 41-6 blunder against Purdue in the third game of 1967, doubly humbling since Ohio State seemed to be in control before two field goals by Wisconsin cut the margin to 17-6 at halftime.
Astonishingly, Wisconsin went on to score on eight consecutive possessions--if not a record against the Buckeyes, certainly close.
Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez seemed to enjoy most the 17-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in Vitaly Pisetsky's 25-yard field goal to end the first half.
"I thought we got a little momentum swing when we were able to move the ball the length of the field before the half, even though we only got a field goal," Alvarez said. "I thought that was the finest effort by a redshirt freshman."
The freshman in question was quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who played the whole game while senior Scott Kavanagh nursed an arm injury.
Bollinger completed 5 of 10 passes for 51 yards during that drive. Two of the balls were dropped by wide receiver Chris Chambers, who dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone against Michigan the week before.
Once, this was a series that evoked the greatest of mismatches. Between 1948 and 1980, Ohio State held a ridiculous 30-1-2 edge. From 1960 to 1980, Ohio State won all 21 meetings.
The teams seemingly traded places beginning in 1981 when the Badgers began a 5-2 run against Ohio State, including a 6-0 victory in Columbus in 1982 and a 12-7 victory here in 1985.
After that, the Badgers reverted to earlier form.
Coincidentally, the last time Wisconsin beat Ohio State--20-16 in Madison, Wis., in 1992--the Buckeyes were also ranked No. 12. The next year, the Buckeyes came from behind, then blocked a field goal attempt to salvage a 14-14 tie, but those were the only successes for the Badgers this decade.
Now, maybe another turnaround.
It might be best for Cooper to remember how he did things in 1994, when the Buckeyes were clocked, 63-14, at Penn State to drop out of the Big Ten race, then won their last three regular season games.
It could have been his greatest coaching moment. He'll need another one of those.