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 COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Despite a 10-0 record built on an average score of 35-10, top-ranked Ohio State believes it has been tested.
``Being down is a good situation for our team,'' linebacker Marcus Freeman said after Saturday's closer-than-the-final-looked 38-17 win over Wisconsin. ``Handling adversity is important.''
The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) have whittled their schedule down to games at home against Illinois on Saturday and a possible winner-take-all showdown at Michigan on Nov. 17.
Ohio State, which ascended from No. 11 in the preseason to No. 1 as team after team faltered, now finds it easy to focus on what's at stake.
``I just try to get better each game - and isn't that like our team?'' quarterback Todd Boeckman said after passing for two touchdowns against the Badgers.
There have been very few close calls for the Buckeyes except for their two most recent home games. They gave up two defensive touchdowns in the third quarter against Michigan State on Oct. 20, and had a few tense moments before cementing a 24-17 win.
Then against Wisconsin, they fell behind 17-10 midway through the third quarter before going on a 28-0 streak to put the game away.
That streak helped stretch several other streaks. The victory was Ohio State's 20th in a row in conference play to set a record. It was Ohio State's 28th consecutive regular-season win, sandwiched around that ugly 41-14 defeat to Florida in last year's Bowl Championship Series title game.
The Buckeyes felt it was good they had their backs to the wall against Wisconsin.
``It's the first time all season where we faced adversity late,'' said defensive tackle Vernon Gholston, who tied a school record with four sacks. ``I'm happy with the way we handled it.''
The Buckeyes haven't had to sustain a drive, force a punt or make a play late in a game to win a game yet - unlike LSU or Oregon or most of the other highly ranked teams. But at the same time, they've come up with answers when most needed.
``I'll give credit to Ohio State. They persevered and were able to be strong in the fourth quarter, which won the football game,'' said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who regretted people looking at the final score would think the game was a blowout.
Chris Wells and the Buckeyes' stingy defense were the stars in that fourth-quarter effort.
Wells, who prefers to be go by his nickname ``Beanie,'' is an inside-out runner who is built like a fast tank. When the offense most needed to play keepaway with the ball, the 235-pound tailback was the central figure.
On his first 12 carries he rushed for 51 yards without a touchdown. On his last nine, he ran for 122 yards and touchdowns of 31, 30 and 23 yards.
Ohio State's defense - which has given up only 21 more points this year than Nebraska surrendered in Saturday's 76-39 loss to unbeaten Kansas - dominated.
In the fourth quarter alone, with the game still hanging in the balance, Buckeyes defenders were regular visitors to the Wisconsin backfield. The Badgers lost two fumbles inside their own 25 and totaled 19 yards on 23 plays.
``There's definitely a reason why they're No. 1,'' Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan said. ``They have speed, strength - everything.''
They'll need all of that as they prepare for perhaps the two hardest games on their schedule.
A year ago, when Ohio State was acclaimed at the time as the best team in the land, it struggled mightily before escaping Champaign, Ill., with a 17-10 victory. The Illini just seemed to match up well.
Regardless how the game with Illinois comes out, at least a share of the Big Ten crown will be riding on the annual regular-season finale at Michigan.
When the Buckeyes trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter on Saturday, offensive tackle Kirk Barton said they started asking some hard questions.
``We were just looking at each other (saying), 'Where do you want to be in January? Do you want to be in this place or do you want to be in that place?''' Barton said. ``We know where we want to be, but we have to execute better in the first half if we want to get there.''

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