Jack looks back | Most significant clash between Buckeyes-Badgers in 65 years

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Howard "Hopalong" Cassady turned the tide for Ohio State with an 88-yard interception return against Wisconsin on Oct. 23, 1954. [File photo]

Third-ranked Ohio State returns home Saturday for a major test against 13th-ranked Wisconsin. Both teams were expected to enter the game with 7-0 records, but Wisconsin is now 6-1 after suffering a major 24-23 upset last weekend at unranked Illinois. The Buckeyes and Badgers are each aspiring for one of the four spots in the postseason College Football Playoff, but for Wisconsin it obviously will be more difficult.

Ohio State owns a significant lead in the all-time series against Wisconsin at 59-18-5. The Buckeyes have won the last six clashes, but two of the victories were overtime games and three others were margins of only four, six and seven points. This week’s game is likely the most significant between the two since fourth-ranked Ohio State defeated second-rated Wisconsin 31-14 at Homecoming on Oct. 23, 1954. Both teams entered the game at 4-0.

Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter

The Buckeyes entered the 1954 game as the Big Ten’s top offensive team, while the Badgers were the league’s best defensively. A record (at the time) 400 press passes were issued to sportswriters and broadcasters from all parts of the country, who were covering one of the season’s top college games.

Wisconsin coach Ivy Williamson, realizing the Badgers had not won in Columbus since 1918, tried to change their luck by having his squad spend Friday evening in Springfield rather than a Columbus hotel. Winning this game was also a personal goal for Williamson, who had compiled a fine 34-12-4 record during his first six seasons as head coach. Ohio State was the only Big Ten opponent his Badgers had failed to defeat.

The Buckeyes had their chances during a bruising first half but trailed 7-3 at intermission. Late in the third quarter, Wisconsin seriously threatened to increase its four-point lead. On a second-and-4 from the OSU 20-yard line, quarterback Jim Miller took to the air. Howard “Hopalong” Cassady intercepted Miller’s pass at the 12 and, behind several key blocks, electrified the Ohio Stadium crowd with a spectacular 88-yard touchdown return that decisively shifted the game’s momentum. It was Miller’s first interception of the 1954 season, and the first time all year the Badgers had been scored upon in the second half.

Cassady’s memorable run completely fractured Wisconsin’s poise, and end Dean Dugger staged a one-man campaign against any Badgers comeback. Dugger participated in every tackle as OSU held Wisconsin on downs during a crucial series early in the fourth quarter.

Ohio State scored two additional touchdowns and a field goal to win 31-14 in a game far closer than suggested by the final score. The Buckeyes replaced Oklahoma at the top of the following week’s Associated Press poll. Wisconsin dropped to ninth.

Ohio State limited Badgers fullback Alan Ameche to 42 yards on 16 carries. Ameche would become the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner. He had been unable to score against the Buckeyes for the fourth consecutive season. Cassady captured the Heisman Trophy the following year.

Wisconsin finished the season at 7-2, good for ninth place in the season’s final Associated Press poll. The Buckeyes went on to complete one of the most successful seasons in school history with a 20-7 Rose Bowl victory over Southern California and an overall record of 10-0. Ohio State was awarded the national title by the Associated Press. Cassady and Dugger were named All-Americans.

Cassady’s 88-yard interception return will always be regarded as one of the most spectacular plays in Ohio Stadium history.

Coach Woody Hayes’ teams enjoyed great success against the Badgers, going 25-1-2 during his 28 seasons at Ohio State from 1951 through 1978.