There isn't any hiding the fact that Ohio State has struggled to cover the tight end this season.
In the first game of the season against Indiana, Hoosier tight end Ian Thomas caught five passes for 52 yards and a pair of scores. A week later, with Mark Andrews sidelined due to injury early, Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers stepped up in the passing game to catch seven passes for 98 yards and a score against Ohio State linebackers in the Buckeyes' first loss of the year.
In their second loss of the season against Iowa, Hawkeyes tight ends made nine receptions for 115 yards and four of quarterback Nate Stanley's touchdown passes, as the Buckeye defense was gashed for 487 yards.
Ohio State is set to face yet another middle of the field threat in tight end Troy Fumagalli, who leads the Badgers in receptions with 38 and has 471 receiving yards, in the upcoming Big Ten title game.
The recent struggles against big-bodied pass-catchers this season has been an area of concern for Ohio State's defense all season, and linebacker Jerome Baker said Tuesday that a part of it has been a lack of communication on the defensive end.
"Communication and be physical. Whatever your job is, be physical with it and make sure you talk it out with your teammates," Baker said when asked what areas Ohio State's linebackers were focusing on in the week leading up to the Wisconsin game.
Baker acknowledged that his own personal play in pass coverage has not been up to par, at least by his own standards this season.
When asked how he would grade himself in coverage this season, Baker said he would give himself a 'D'. He added, though, that linebackers coach Bill Davis graded him out at 90 percent for his performance against Michigan, despite a handful of missed assignments.
"I know what I am capable of, and I feel like I haven't done what I am capable of," Baker said. "A lot of it is eye discipline. A lot of the time, I don't just put my foot in the ground and go, that is probably the main thing. I know where I have to be, sometimes you have to just go."
Playing hesitant is not something Ohio State's linebackers can likely afford this week going up against the top rushing offense in the Big Ten. In addition, Fumagalli poses perhaps the biggest tight end threat the Buckeyes have faced all season.
Baker said he and his defense know exactly what the veteran Badger tight end is capable of, but added that he is looking forward to the challenge of matching up against someone who is almost certainly a future NFL draft pick.
"He is one of those overall guys that can just do it all. You just have to do your job. To me, it's a challenge and I love challenges," Baker said. "You just have to bring it every play and be physical with him as much as you can."