|#11 Ohio State 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||October 10, 2009 3:30 PM ET - ABC —— Ohio Stadium Columbus, OH||#24 Wisconsin 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
Saturday afternoon will mark the 74th time in the history of the two schools that Ohio State and Wisconsin will meet head to head to play a college football game. The Badgers enter Columbus red hot after getting off to a 5-0 start, including a big win against Fresno State, and will be looking to prove to the conference and the country that they are contenders, not pretenders. History will not be on their side though as OSU leads the all-time series 52-17-5 and the sting still burns from last year's heartbreaking 20-17 loss in Madison, a game in which Terrelle Pryor put himself on the national map.
The Badgers always play the Buckeyes tough and once again are lead by hard nosed play in the trenches. The game will be the first true challenge for the Buckeyes since the USC game and it will be interesting to see how both sides of the line hold up against a stingy Brett Bielema team. The Badgers are rolling, but they're about to run into the toughest game on their schedule.
When you play Wisconsin you are assured of one thing: they will run the football (okay, two things, the second being they will punch you in the mouth while doing so). Take away the fact that the Badgers have not had quality quarterbacks the last few years, Bucky always brings a talented stable of running backs to the field and this year is no different. John Clay is one of the country’s best under the radar players (for now at least) and the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of The Week leads the conference with 582 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. At 6-1/248, he is big, tough, and hard to tackle, making the game a big test against a stout Buckeye run defense.
While the last few Wisconsin quarterbacks haven't posed much of a passing threat, the Buckeyes must respectScott Tolzien, at least for now. The Big Ten’s leader in passer efficiency, Tolzien is 82-125 for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns against just three interceptions. Wisconsin has not played a defense nearly even half as good as what the Buckeyes will line up with, so it will be interesting to see what happens when OSU brings the rush against the young signal caller. The Badgers throw the ball (216 yds/game) nearly as much as they run the ball (217 per game) and are first in the conference in scoring and second in total offense, something that can be attributed to Tolzien's play.
Looking at the roster, Nick Toon, son of oft-concussed Al Toon is a threat, but the Badgers are solid in the tight end department and defending tight ends has always been a problem for the Bucks. Owen Daniels and Travis Beckum are gone from the Wisconsin program, but Garrett Graham still calls Madison home. Graham has 23 catches for 268 yards and four touchdowns and Buckeye fans should expect to see him targeted early and often, especially on play action fakes to Clay which could be very effective if Heacock and Fickell can’t make early adjustments. The Badgers are a perfect 20-20 in the red zone this season with an amazing 18 touchdowns and the play of Garrett Graham in those situations is a big reason why.
On defense the Badgers have not faired as well as the offense, ranking 70th in the nation in total defense and 64th in the country in scoring defense. They do get after the quarterback though, as they rank 17th in the country with 2.8 sacks a game. That stat has gotten a boost from the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of The Week, end O’Brien Schofield. Schofield leads the conference with 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss and will prove to be a tough match up for Mike Adams and JB Shugarts.
There’s not too much to write home about when discussing the Wisco back seven, but veteran linebacker Jaevery McFadden and safeties Chris Maragos and Jay Valai have the experience to make a difference in a close game. As mentioned in the Presser Notes on Wednesday, Valai was the player who rocked both Dane Sanzenbacher and Boom Herron in the game last year, but with the league's sudden love of suspensions, don’t expect either side to make anything of the retaliation sort from that situation.
Special teams has played a factor in this series in the past and the Buckeyes seem to have the advantage in this area. The Badgers are only 77th in the nation in net punting average at 35.1, 79th in punt return average at 6.7, and 109th in kick return average at 17.9. Field position could prove to play a big part in this game and Wisky will have to perform better then they have on special teams to win a battle against a Jim Tressel coached team.
Coming off a third consecutive victory and a 33-14 win against Indiana, Ohio State should be feeling good, but I can’t help but think about how the offense still has some growing to do. Some may say Ohio State will have its hands full with the Badgers and they probably will, but I think as long as the offense continues to grow and develop, the Buckeyes will come out on top.
Many will be interested to see if OSU will continue their aggressive play calling lead by Darrell Hazell on offense or, if like in other games against the Badgers, The Vest will revert back to his conservative ways. There is no doubt that Tressel will want to control the clock and field position in this game, but if the Buckeyes can take advantage of their edge in the talent category then they can expose some weaknesses in the Wisconsin defense early. Terrelle Pryor needs to continue to spread the ball around like he did against the Hoosiers, keeping Badger defenders on their toes throughout the game.
Another thing to watch on offense is how the running backs will be utilized. Brandon Saine is certainly proving his worth with his play so far this season, but Boom Herron is still listed as the number one back and if he is back to being 100% healthy then the Buckeyes could have themselves a very dangerous duo in the backfield. Jordan Hall has done a stellar job as the third running back, but Jaamal Berry could be in line to see playing time as comments from the coaches in the last few weeks have signaled he might get some playing time when healthy.
On defense the Bucks will have to keep the motor going as the Wisconsin offensive line is always up for a challenge. Lawrence Wilson, Robert Rose, and Todd Denlinger have really stepped up their game in the past few weeks, making this unit even stronger than we thought it was after the USC game. Jim Heacock can continue to rotate players and keep them fresh, but will be a man down this week as Dexter Larimore is out with a sprained knee. The Silver Bullets need to put pressure on Tolzien and limit Clay’s yardage on Saturday in order to ensure a comfortable victory for the Bucks. We'll be tuned in to see how the undersized Rolle does against Clay, but we're just huge Hedgehog fans.
Kurt Coleman returns in the secondary this week after serving a one game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but after Anderson Russell’s solid performance against the Hoosiers it will be interesting to see how the staff uses him and Jermale Hines at free safety and the star position. Devon Torrence has successfully entrenched himself as the second corner back and he and Chimdi Chekwa have done a fine job of keeping any damage through the air at a minimum.
Aaron Pettrey missed two "gimme's" last week, but needs to bounce back strong against the Badgers. These are the types of games that could come down to a kick or two and Pettrey needs to forget about last week and move on in order to ensure Jim Tressel that he can call on his kicker if needed this week in any situation.
While Bucky has played the Buckeyes close in the Jim Tressel era (though the series is now even at three each, Tressel started 1-3 against the Badgers), it will be very difficult for them to come into The Horseshoe and beat Ohio State. Scott Tolzien faces his first real test as a starting quarterback in the Big Ten and will have his hands full with Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson all day. John Clay may indeed be the first rusher to eclipse 100 yards against this defense on Saturday, but it won’t be enough as the Buckeyes will take care of business and handicap what has been a very balanced offense so far this season.
Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 13