MADISON, Wis. - Even when Braxton Miller isn't the story, he's the story.
A single-minded Wisconsin defense took away most of the things Miller does best on Saturday, but couldn't take away what mattered most Ohio State's pursuit of a perfect season.
Ohio State survived and maybe learned a valuable lesson - that it can win without riding on Miller's shoulders - when it hung on for a 21-14 overtime win at Wisconsin.
Miller was held to season lows in rushing (48 yards) and passing (97 yards), but OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) found a way to win against the Badgers (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten).
"They keyed on Braxton. They really weren't going with the running back on the fake, they all just went the other way to try to stop Braxton. Obviously, Braxton is the big play guy in this offense and if you stop him you have a chance to slow us down," wide receiver Corey Brown said.
A chance, yes. But not a certainty.
Ohio State won this game with just enough offense, just enough defense, a big punt return and a large amount of resiliency when it let a win in regulation time get away.
"The highs and lows of this game were so crazy," said OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose fourth-quarter hit on Wisconsin's Montee Ball to force a fumble at the 1-yard line was one of the highs.
Ohio State led the entire game until Wisconsin scored with eight seconds left in regulation, but the statistical imbalance in the game made it feel at times that Wisconsin was the team with the upper hand.
The Badgers rolled up 457 yards, had the ball for 15 minutes more of playing time than the Buckeyes and held Ohio State to 85 yards of total offense in the final two quarters.
When Wisconsin scored on a 5-yard pass from Curt Phillips to tight end Jacob Pedersen with eight seconds to play to tie the game at 14-14, it appeared the Badgers might have the momentum going into overtime.
But it was exactly the opposite. Ohio State started the only possession it needed in OT with an 11-yard run by Carlos Hyde, followed that with a 4-yard run and an 8-yard run by Miller, then scored on Hyde's 2-yard run.
Wisconsin gave the ball to Ball twice for a total of six yards, threw an incomplete pass, then watched as Christian Bryant knocked down Phillips' fourth-down pass to end it.
Ball looked like the Heisman Trophy candidate he was at the beginning of the season, rushing for 191 yards on 39 carries. Phillips, a senior who has come back from three ACL surgeries, was 14 of 25 for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Hyde led OSU's offense with 87 yards on 15 carries.
"I'm happy that we won the game but I think we could have played better," Ohio State defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said. "But we won the game and we're 11-0."
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema described the loss in two words: "Tough. Tough," he said. "All our guys, players, coaches, everybody involved had a lot invested in that game."
Ohio State jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 1:58 left in the first quarter when Brown returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, going through Wisconsin's defense without being touched.
"Anybody could have run through that hole," the junior wide receiver said.
The next time Ohio State touched the ball, it drove 69 yards in eight plays for a touchdown, with the score coming on a 15-yard run by Hyde.
Ball scored on a 2-yard run midway through the second quarter to make it 14-7 and it stayed that way until the fourth quarter.
Ball's touchdown tied him for the most TDs ever by an NCAA Division I player with 78 and he appeared headed toward the record when he went diving over the top of the line from the 2-yard line with 2:46 left in regulation.
But Shazier met him in mid-air at the 1-yard line and the ball popped loose, right into the hands of Bryant.
"I saw plenty of film and saw when he got around one or two yards, he liked to jump. So when he jumped, I jumped. I didn't think, I knew they were going to give him the ball," Shazier said.
If Ohio State could have gotten a first down after that turnover, it probably would have run out the clock.
But after a 34-yard punt by Ben Buchanan, Wisconsin was able to get the game-tying touchdown in the final 1:33 without having a timeout.
"I can't tell you our emotion was high (after Wisconsin scored) but we rallied them back," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "We were sucking our thumbs after they scored. That one drive at the end was painful to watch."
But the end result, like the 10 that came before it, was something to celebrate for OSU.