Ohio State football is no stranger to “madness in Madison”. Six times in the past 20 years, the Buckeyes took a perfect record into a game at Wisconsin, and three times failed to return home unblemished.
In 1993, OSU was 8-0, and ranked third in the country, before tying the Badgers 14-14 (as a college junior, I road-tripped to that game with my roommate…remains the coldest I’ve ever been in my life). Ten years later, and again ranked third, the Buckeyes saw a 19-game losing streak end with a 17-10 loss. Then in 2010, ranked first in the polls, OSU was upset 31-18, ending a 12-game Buckeye win streak.
So that’s the glass is half-empty approach. The optimists will point out that in three of those games (1995, 2000 and 2002), the Buckeyes kept perfect records alive with wins at Camp Randall.
While that might be interesting, it also has zero percent of an effect on Saturday’s game.
The Lead Up
Ohio State has already clinched a share of the Big Ten’s Leaders Division title, and with a win in either of its final two games, can claim the crown outright. Of course, because the Buckeyes are ineligible for post-season play, Wisconsin has already clinched the division’s spot in the Big Ten Championship game for the second straight year.
With two wins (vs. Ohio State and at Penn State), and two OSU losses, the Badgers could earn that trip to Indianapolis. You better believe that is what is being discussed this week by Bret Bielema and his coaching staff.
The Buckeyes are coming off a bye week, while the Badgers are coming off an impressive 62-14 rout of Indiana in which Wisconsin had 564 yards. Not of offense…of rushing offense, a school record.
While OSU is carefully tip-toeing through the schedule in hopes of a perfect 12-0 season, Wisconsin has already found three land-mines, with losses to Oregon State, Nebraska and Michigan State, coming into this game at 7-3.
All-time, The Bucks enjoy a 54-17-5 series lead. However, since 1981, that margin shrinks to 15-11-1. Since 1999, it’s only 6-5.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Quietly, Ohio State has climbed to 8th in the country in rushing offense, averaging over 256 yards per game, which is actually higher than Wisconsin’s. Of course, Braxton Miller is accounting for nearly 117 of it per contest from the quarterback position. While Miller is elusive and running back Carlos Hyde powerful, let’s not overlook the role of the offensive line.
All five starters have started all ten games. This unit has also worn down just about every defensive it has played this season, too. In a physical game, which these contests with Wisconsin always are, that could be a huge advantage.
With two weeks of preparation time, I’m interested to see what (if any) wrinkles we’ll see in the play calling from Urban Meyer and Tom Herman. Much like the OSU defense, Wisconsin can be susceptible to a short passing game. Might that be something that the Buckeyes try early on to stretch out the defense, and open up the running game?
If Miller is able to complete some passes, whether they are short or deep, that would help Ohio State’s chances considerably.
Wisconsin’s defense doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it is pretty good. The Badgers are 13th in the FBS in rushing defense (103.4 YPG), 15th in total defense (309.6 YPG) and 12th in scoring defense (17.2 PPG).
The Buckeyes will have be to patient and opportunistic in this game, and will need to take care of the ball.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
When Wisconsin has the ball, the Badgers prefer to give it to Ball…as in 2011 Heisman finalist Montee Ball. He needs just two touchdowns on Saturday to pass former Miami University star Travis Prentice for the most career touchdowns (78) in Division I. He’ll likely break that record.
While Ball hasn’t had the monster year he did last season, he still has run for over 1200 yards, and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 5 yards a carry. He is supplemented by James White (who had a touchdown vs. OSU in 2010), who has run for 647 yards and 8 scores.
Limiting the run game will be paramount. The Bucks’ defense gets a boost with the return of senior linebacker Etienne Sabino, who suffered a broken leg against Nebraska. That gives OSU, along with Ryan Shazier and Zach Boren, three healthy linebackers. It’s one of a just a few times this season the Buckeyes will be expected to play mostly with three linebackers in at the same time.
What has been key during Wisconsin’s wins over Ohio State has been the passing game. Not all out aerial assaults, mind you, but completing key passes at big moments, and also preventing the Buckeyes from loading up the box to stop the run.
The Badgers are only passing for under 167 yards a game, some 23 or so yards a game less than an Ohio State attack that is tied for 98th best in FBS. Complicating matters, quarterback Curt Phillips is only making his second career start. The fifth-year senior got the call in last week’s win over Indiana, but was only needed to attempt 7 passes (completing 4 for 41 yards and a touchdown).
Phillips will need to do a lot more than that to engineer a win over the Buckeyes. Ohio State will force the Badgers to throw, and will sell out to stop the run. If Phillips doesn’t complete many passes, it will be a long day. One player to watch will be Jared Abbrederis, who has 38 catches for 689 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
One thing to watch for will be getting the ball to wideouts in the backfield or near the line of scrimmage with short passes, end around plays or reverses. Wisky has used David Gilreath in this role in recent years, and while it doesn’t always yield a big result, it helps to soften up the defense.
Much like what happened in 2010, I see Wisconsin playing off the crazy crowd at Camp Randall and building an early lead. I think it will take the OSU defense some time to adjust, and as long as the Buckeyes don’t fall too far behind (like they did in 2010), it should just be a matter of time.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest key for Ohio State will be not making mistakes. That’s not limited to turnovers, either. Special teams (long returns, punts blocked, etc.) cannot happen Saturday.
Miller will cause the Wisconsin defense trouble, especially if linebacker Chris Borland (an Ohio native) isn’t 100%, as reports indicate.
Ohio State is the better team, and if there’s isn’t too much rust to shake off at the beginning, I like the Buckeyes to improve to 11-0 with a 28-17 win.
The coverage on 10TV and www.10tv.com/BuckeyeBlitz
will continue all weekend long. Dom Tiberi and David Wilkinson will be in Madison on Friday and Saturday, and we’ll post game pictures and analysis on our Buckeye Blitz web page. We’ll wrap-up the game with our new “Gameday” coverage at 7pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports
at 11:35pm. Former Buckeye Roy Hall will join Beau Bishop to break things down.