The biggest game of the year-to-date is almost upon us as Ohio State prepares to take a Big Noon all over Wisconsin tomorrow in the Shoe.
The Badgers bring the nation's third-leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor and a defense giving up just 7.6 points per game despite stumbling last weekend at Illinois.
Meanwhile, Ryan Day's killing machine stands 7-0 after a 52-3 throttling of Northwestern. Justin Fields paced the offense with four touchdown passes while the defense allowed just six completions and 42 yards passing.
Can Ohio State keep the good times rolling? Will J.K. Dobbins upstage his more-celebrated counterpart?
Whether or not Ohio State’s defense can keep Jonathan Taylor in check will presumably go a long way in determining the game’s outcome. What kind of day do you expect from Taylor on the ground?
Dan: I expect him to have a more productive day than the 41 yards rushing he had against Ohio State in 2017 – considering that's the least productive game of his entire career – but I don't see him rushing for 200 yards, either. Ohio State's rushing defense has been mostly dominant this year, so I think the Buckeyes will be able to keep him mostly in check. This is the toughest test that the Buckeyes' run defense has faced this year, so I expect Taylor to have a big moment or two, but an objective for the Buckeyes will be to make enough stops on Taylor to put the Badgers into third-and-long situations that force them to throw the ball downfield – and if they can do that, they should be able to keep Wisconsin's offense out of rhythm.
Andy: Against Illinois, Taylor recorded 132 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries… not a terrible day, at 4.7 yards a carry, but well off his season average of 6.1 per carry, and matching his season low for scoring. He only averaged 3.1 yards per carry in a romp against Michigan State the week prior to the Illinois loss, so I’m pretty bullish on the Silver Bullets’ chances of bottling him up and keeping the Badgers one-dimensional. The Buckeyes are only allowing 93 yards rushing per game on average this season, and have been even stingier at home at 67.5 yards.
Andrew: I can see Taylor getting a few chunk plays and even catching a few passes thanks to his newfound receiving skills, but I just can’t foresee a huge game like he had against Michigan. I think the Heisman candidate will rush for around 80 yards and probably gets a score, but Wisconsin should have to do plenty of passing as I expect they’ll be playing from behind.
Wisconsin still has the nation’s No. 1 ranked Total Defense giving up 194 yards per game including the No. 1 ranked run defense surrendering only 58 yards per contest on 2.2 yards per carry. Will Ohio State’s offensive line be able to control the line of scrimmage? How will Dobbins fare in trying to outperform his tailback counterpart?
Andrew: I’d be a little worried if Thayer Munford was going to miss the game, but I do expect Ohio State’s line to get plenty of push against the Badgers; even if it does take a drive or two to get settled in. The total defense ranking is all fine and dandy, but you have to remember they’ve played some inept offenses like Michigan and Michigan State. Dobbins should outperform Taylor Saturday night as I continue to think Justin Fields’ mobility is one of the best things to happen for the Buckeyes’ tailback.
Andy: While this is the toughest test Ohio State has faced all season, the Buckeye rushing attack has shown little in the way of red flags against stiff fronts. The hogs up front have held their own, youth and all, and this will game is a chance for them to answer any “they haven’t played anyone yet” doubts from fans or critics.
Dobbins is running with the proverbial chip on his shoulder this season, and I think he’ll have a Heisman-worthy outing against a quality opponent. Add to that the fact that his backfield running mate Master Teague is the No. 4 running back in the conference, and the importance of accounting for Justin Fields as a rusher, and the Badgers will have to pick their poison and likely choke on the option they didn’t pick.
Dan: This will be a tough test for Ohio State's offensive line, but the Buckeyes showed over the past two games that they could run the ball against a pair of solid run defenses in Michigan State and Northwestern, so I think there's reason to be confident that the Buckeyes up front can open up holes for J.K. Dobbins once again. Like Taylor, I don't expect Dobbins to run for 200 yards either – because I think Wisconsin's defense, especially its front seven, is legitimately very good – and I'd expect Zack Baun and Wisconsin's other pass-rushers to get some pressure on Justin Fields at times. As well as Ohio State's front five has played this year, though, I think the offensive line will hold its own and enable Dobbins and others to make their share of plays in the running game.
It’s fair to expect the usual suspects like Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins on offense or Chase Young on defense to make major impacts on the game but who's another guy – offense or defense – you’ve got your eye on as poised to have a meaningful impact? Why?
Dan: We haven't seen K.J. Hill have any huge games yet this year, but this is the type of game where he could play a very important role. Hill often becomes a go-to guy in third-down situations where the Buckeyes need to move the chains, and against one of the best defenses in the country, Ohio State is likely to face more of those situations this week than it has all season to date. While Fields has done a great job of spreading the ball around to Ohio State's deep group of receivers all season, Hill's still the receiver the Buckeyes will likely rely on most whenever they end up in a competitive game where they need to convert first downs through the air to keep drives going, and that could potentially come this week.
Andrew: Baron Browning missed last week’s game against Northwestern, but I believe he would have suited up had the stakes been higher. Wisconsin’s offense is fairly predictable, and Browning (as well as counterpart Tuf Borland) will be key cogs in helping to stop the Badger ground attack. He should see plenty of action on Saturday and I think he’ll continue to flash while forcing a turnover and getting to Jack Coan once or twice as well.
Andy: On offense I’m eager to see which receiver has a highlight reel day Saturday. This feels like a game where Ryan Day’s creative playcalling will give Fields an opportunity to take shots downfield, and someone like Chris Olave capitalizes once again. Defensively, #BIA should have some chances to be ballhawks if the Badgers get behind schedule and the Buckeyes pull ahead by two or three scores. Jack Coan isn’t a pick machine by any stretch, but if he ends up eating turf two or three times under pressure from Young and company, the DBs should be in position to make plays - I’m excited to see how they show out in a Big Noon Game against a B1G opponent.
There’s been some talk this week about Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois costing the Buckeyes a chance to host ESPN’s College GameDay although Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff crew, including Urban Meyer, will be live from Columbus. Some argue missing out on hosting GameDay is meaningful in the world of recruiting and program prestige. Are you in that camp? How important is it to have GameDay on campus in 2019 for a program like Ohio State?
Andy: Eh, GameDay is cool, and it’s better to have it come to Columbus than not… but I don’t think it’s the end of the world that Herbie and crew are going to the hinterlands instead of setting up shop on the Oval or in the shadow of the Horseshoe. Given the hype surrounding Meyer’s breakout season and how Fox’s noon-time gamble is paying off, I’m expecting the game to be one of the highest-rated outings of the season - with or without GameDay.
Dan: Having GameDay on campus is a nice bonus for a program and its fanbase, but I don't think it's crippling for Ohio State not to have it. Wisconsin's loss to Illinois definitely knocked some of the luster off this game – and I'm guessing GameDay would indeed have come to Columbus if that didn't happen – but even so, it's still the biggest game of the weekend, and the lack of an on-site ESPN pregame show doesn't change that. If anything hurt the recruiting impact of this game, I think it's the game is at noon rather than at night, but even that I don't think matters all that much. The biggest tool Ohio State has for building interest from both recruits and fans is one that the Buckeyes can control: Just keep winning.
Andrew: I used to be in the “GameDay is so awesome” camp. I no longer feel that way as it’s honestly become a bit too gimmicky for me (or perhaps I’m just getting old). I rarely tune into the show anymore, and while I’m sure it’s cool for the students and whatnot, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The last time it impacted recruiting in any way was when Micah Parsons was photographed on the stage during his official visit and Ohio State subsequently stopped recruiting him due to the NCAA violations.
Ohio State is a 14-point favorite heading into tomorrow’s matchup. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score.
Andrew: I think Ohio State covers with relative ease and I’m calling for a final score of 44-16. Jack Coan is going to have to make some plays, and while I think he’s far better than Alex Hornibrook ever was, Chase Young and the defense should be able to force 3+ turnovers to help the home team pull away.
Dan: I think Vegas set the betting line right where it should be, and I'm predicting a push: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17. I'm predicting the Buckeyes will be held to their fewest points of the year, against the best defense they've played and with rain in the forecast, but that they'll also hold Wisconsin to its fewest points of the year for a multi-score win in what will still be Ohio State's most competitive game of the year to date.
Andy: Buckeyes cover, 35-7. Ride the wave, baby.