The appetizer is done with. Ohio State’s four non-conference games featured four blowouts and the sudden emergence of Kenny Guiton. Now, it’s on to the main course.
The Wisconsin rivalry has developed into one of the Buckeyes’ biggest games of the season. It will die down some with Bret Bielema’s departure and divisional realignment in the Big Ten. That won’t diminish Saturday night’s primetime matchup.
At Urban Meyer's weekly press conference today, he said he expects Braxton Miller to play Saturday, putting him at 90% right now. When asked whether we could see Guiton and Miller on the field at the same time, Meyer said, "I don't know. I don't know if that's a reality."
- Asked how much Ohio State is giving Wisconsin to prepare for defensively, Meyer said they want to try to give the Badgers a lot to think about. Things may look different, but the schemes are similar and the "window dressing" gives them something to look at.
- Meyer on what happened with Braxton Miller before the game: "We wanted to get him in, but we didn’t feel comfortable putting him out there." Meyer went on to say it was a mutual decision between the coaches and Miller.
- Asked if he's confident Miller will go Saturday, Meyer said he was very confident, mentioning that Miller practiced hard yesterday, which they normally don't do. Meyer pegged Miller's chance of playing at 90%.
- Meyer said he was a little concerned about how the team will be going in the 4th quarter when asked how he flips the switch to play a full 60-minute game with his starters.
- Meyer said he's very comfortable with both quarterbacks, though he expects Braxton to have a little bit of rust. He said Guiton improved a lot during the spring and has shown him that he can go out there and win. Meyer said he didn't see that from Guiton last year in practice and praised Tom Herman for being a great quarterbacks coach.
- Asked whether Wisconsin looks a lot differently than last year, Meyer said they do, and they're more creative on defense than last year. Playing 3-4 and 4-3 causes problems for offenses.
- Meyer said he feels Saturday's game will be a "classic game" and that preparation has to be flawless. He mentioned that rivalry games come down to one or two series to win the game and that it came down to a 4th-and-goal stop for Ohio State last year.
- The new front seven on defense hasn't received a challenge yet, Meyer said and they will get one Saturday. Meyer said this may be the front's biggest challenge of the season and if they aren't gap sound, they can get embarrassed really quick.
- Meyer said Michael Bennett is back (100%) and that Adolphus Washington is 90%, or probable for the game.
- Braxton Miller has been putting in extra conditioning and has been handling his recovery "like a pro." Meyer said Carlos Hyde and Corey Linsley also handled their recoveries like pros and that the strength program did an excellent job getting them ready to play.
- Do you miss Bielema? "No, I'm good with Gary."
Updates from WR coach Zach Smith:
- On scheming against conservative looks from the Wisconsin defense: "We’re more comfortable with things this year we weren’t last year. This year we’ll be more competent at taking advantage of their weaknesses. Last year we didn’t feel great about attacking their defense’s weakness, this year we feel better."
- Smith confirmed freshman wide receiver James Clark is likely out for the season with an ankle injury suffered against Florida A&M. He's on track to receive a medical redshirt. Smith said he's really excited about Clark's development and looks forward to getting him back.
- Smith also essentially confirmed Corey Smith and Michael Thomas will likely redshirt, saying he didn't want to waste a year on them in mop-up duty. Smith said both players are okay with a redshirt because they know it's good for their future.
- On throwing the ball a lot in the first half against FAMU, Smith said they did so because they feel like that aspect of their game has improved a lot and they wanted to get more live reps.
- Smith expects more press-coverage from Wisconsin, but nothing dramatically different from last season.
- It's not surprising that Devin Smith is a talented deep threat, Smith said Where he's really putting in work is on intermediate routes and he's become very effective in every aspect of the passing game. Teams fear him deep which opens up everything else for Smith.
- Smith, discussing the multiple guys on the team with two touchdown games, points out how critical it is for Ohio State to develop multiple weapons this season so teams can't lock down two guys and get away with it.
- Are the wide receivers ready for more competitive opponents? "That's what we've worked on for 12 months – who's going to respond when the pressure is on? We feel confident in that."
- Smith mentioned' Hyde's power run from 25 yards out and into the end zone as a play that stood out last year against the Badgers.
- Evan Spencer was singled out as a much-improved player by Smith. Said he's running routes, blocking, getting open. Every aspect of his game has improved. He has become a very consistent, reliable receiver, which he wasn't last season.
- On Guiton's performance last week: "Kenny understands football very well. He's a distributor." Smith mentioned Guiton really shines on his progressions.
- When asked if there was pride on the line against Wisconsin (running game vs running game), Smith said there was a little because we do the same things, both being power teams.
- Asked about integrating Braxton Miller back into the offense, Smith quipped that it wasn't like he was a on two-week vacation.
- The highlight was when Doug Lesmerises asked Smith if he missed Bret Bielema: "You always miss great coaches," Smith deadpanned.
Updates from co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell:
- When asked if it was easier to prepare for a team that runs right at you, Luke Fickell said it does not, pointing out the unique aspect of college football is having to prepare for something different every week.
- Fickell confirmed a likely redshirt coming Mike Mitchell's way saying that with young guys, opportunities arise at the right times. The staff didn't want to play him last week and burn the redshirt on meaningless time.
- Developing depth is a big concern. Fickell points out that Ryan Shazier is the only linebacker with a lot of experience and that they lost five or six guys that would be around, but aren't.
- Asked whether linebackers look forward to weeks like this, Fickell said, "I hope so."
- On Joel Hale, Fickell said he's a unique individual and doesn't look for personal credit. Said he's a leader because he makes guys around him better. He was more excited about other guys getting opportunities last week than himself.
- The game is won upfront, so this is a huge week for the defensive tackles. Fickell said if the team does a great job upfront, they'll be in good shape.
- Fickell said Guiton has a passion for the game of football and when you know what you're doing, the passion shows.
- Asked what stands out about Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Fickell said he has great speed combined with the ability to break tackles and that isn't something you always see. Fickell said Gordon used to just be a jet sweep guy, but he's playing very physical now, too.
- Fickell said the Wisconsin offense is not that different under new coach Gary Andersen and chalked that up to good coaching.
- On guys moving from defense to offense and vice versa, Fickell said all of the guys that have switched sides have the ability and bring a passion to the game that makes it easier to learn. He points to a guy like Chase Farris who maybe wasn't growing on offense, but now something clicked and he's thriving on the defensive side of the ball.
- Asked what stands out about Wiconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Fickell said whether he's asked to crack block or catch passes, he's the guy for them. Everyone has confidence in him, so he's given a lot of opportunities. Teams load the box and he has a 1-on-1, so he'll be a focus.