COLUMBUS, Ohio — No quarterback controversy here. Braxton Miller is back and there is no question who will be leading Ohio State as it tries to get back to the top of the Big Ten.
Miller matched a career-high with four touchdown passes in his first game in three weeks and No. 4 Ohio State ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games with a 31-24 victory over No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday night.
Miller missed the last two games with a sprained left knee, but didn’t show the slightest bit of rust. The junior threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 40-yarder to Corey Brown with 1 second left that put Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) up 24-14.
“I’ve been working really hard this last couple weeks because I’ve been hurt, fundamental-wise. That’s how I get things going,” Miller said. “I felt pretty good. My leg felt good, energy-wise. I wasn’t out of shape.”
Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis kept the Badgers (3-2, 1-1) in it. Stave threw for 295 yards and two TDs. Abbrederis caught 10 passes for a career-best 207 yards and a score, winning most of his one-on-one matchups with star cornerback Bradley Roby.
James White ran 17 yards for a touchdown with 13:47 left in the fourth quarter to cut Ohio State’s lead to 31-21.
“It was a game of swings, a game of big plays,” said first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who worked under Ohio State coach Urban Meyer at Utah.
Wisconsin got within 31-24 on a 42-yard field goal by Kyle French with 2:05 left in the fourth, and got the ball back at its own 10 with 1:29 left but Ohio State didn’t even give up a first down.
The Buckeyes’ first big game of the season lured Ohio native LeBron James to the Horseshoe and turned Ohio Stadium into the most-scarlet place on earth. Just about everyone in the crowd of 105,826 — third-largest in Ohio State history — was donning the Buckeyes’ shade of red.
The Buckeyes had been off the radar for the first four weeks, beating up on overmatched foes and dropping a couple of spots in the Top 25.
The only news from Columbus was Miller’s injury early in the second game of the season, though the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat without him. Kenny Guiton stepped in and won consecutive Big Ten offensive player of the week honors.
Guiton was so good some Buckeyes fans wondered aloud whether he should keep playing even if Miller was ready to play.
Miller said he wasn’t paying any attention.
“I’m proud of Kenny, the way he stepped in,” said Miller, who passed for 198 yards and ran for 83. “I look at him as a big brother.”
And Meyer said there was never a question Miller would start if he could.
“No, not if he’s healthy,” Meyer said.
On Ohio State’s first series, Miller fired a 25-yard touchdown pass to Evan Spencer.
Stave matched Miller, carrying the Badgers’ offense. He was never better than when he hit Abbrederis with a perfectly thrown deep ball for a 36-yard score to make it 7-7.
“No. 4, he’s got my vote for All-Big Ten,” Meyer said of Abbrederis.
Miller hooked up with Devin Smith for a 26-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
Stave found Sam Arneson for an 11-yard touchdown to cut the Ohio State lead to 17-14 with 1:30 left in the half.
Too much time.
Miller drove the Buckeyes to the 40 and underthrew a deep pass on third-and-7 that hit Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton in the hands, but the freshman dropped the interception.
“Man, it slipped out of my hand,” Miller said. “I told Coach let’s do it again and made up for it the next throw.”
Brown got behind the Wisconsin secondary by a step and Miller threw a dart that hit his receiver in the chest for a 40-yard touchdown with a second left in the half.
“It’s basically a play that shouldn’t happen,” Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward said. “There was no miscommunication. It was just a bad play.”
Miller gave the touchdown signal, a couple of claps and a clumsy hip bump with a teammate. Ohio State went to the locker room up 24-14 on the three-time defending Big Ten champions.
Meyer called the Badgers the kings of the Big Ten this week, ignoring the fact that Ohio State beat Wisconsin during its undefeated season last year. Because Ohio State was NCAA-banned from postseason, Wisconsin went to the Big Ten title game from the Leaders division.
It was a not so subtle message to the Buckeyes from Meyer, who has never met a motivational ploy he didn’t try to exploit.
The Buckeyes took a big step toward taking that crown from the Badgers, though they lost starting safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle, Meyer said.
Melvin Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher, was held under 100 yards for the first time this season for Wisconsin. He had 74 yards on 15 carries before limping off with an apparent leg injury early in the fourth quarter. Andersen said he thought Gordon would be OK.
Roby had a rough day overall, but his interception of an errant pass by Stave in the third quarter set up Miller’s 1-yard TD pass to Brown with 2:18 left in the third quarter to make it 31-14.