Eleven Warriors Roundtable: On Wisconsin

By Chris Lauderback on December 6, 2019 at 8:35 am
Justin Fields ran for a touchdown and threw for two more in a 38-7 win over Wisconsin back in October.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

After taking Michigan behind the woodshed and sweeping the Big Ten's major individual awards, No. 1 Ohio State looks to claim a third-straight Big Ten championship game win against No. 8 Wisconsin tomorrow night in Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Ohio State smoked Wisconsin by 31 points back in late October but it was actually a 10-7 contest early in the third quarter before Ohio State went on a 28-0 blitz to close the game.

The Badgers have won four straight since that night and now have a chance at revenge. Does Wisconsin have the juice to pull an upset? Can Johnathan Taylor finally have a productive night against the Buckeyes?

Our very own Kyle Jones, Johnny Ginter and David Regimbal offer thoughts on those questions and more in a Big Ten championship edition of the 11W roundtable. 

I don’t typically like living in the past like Michigan fans but let’s all make one quick exception considering the pregame, in-game and post-game hilarity from the 56-27 win. What was your most favorite singular aspect of the entire weekend and why?

Kyle: J.K. Dobbins is a wizard. Behind an OL that was simply mauling their opponents, Dobbins turned short gains (or losses) into 8, 9, or 10-yard runs thanks to his otherworldly vision and agility. For people that miss ‘the old days’ of power Big Ten football, this was it and then some. Ohio State won the game by smashing the ball straight down the throats of the team from Ann Arbor, and now he’ll possibly get a well-deserved invite to NYC. Buckeye legends are made in The Game, and now Dobbins gets a place among the all-time greats after that performance.

Johnny: There was a seven minute stretch of time during Saturday's game where I'm fairly sure that I felt every emotion that a human is capable of. Watching Justin Fields get hurt, realizing that he was possibly very hurt, believing Twitter, MD when it said that his leg had sepsis and had to be amputated, and then not believing my damn eyes as he came back in and threw a 30 yard frozen rope for a touchdown was a freaking rollercoaster that I'm glad didn't end up with me watching Chris Chugunov recruiting tape highlights on YouTube.

David: I can't stop thinking about how absolutely hyped Jim Harbuagh was after Michigan scored the first touchdown of the game. Just watch his reaction after Giles Jackson took a perfectly executed sweep 22 yards to the house on the game's opening drive.

That, right there, is a desperate man who just swallowed an ocean of hope. In that moment, he believed his team had the horses to run with Ohio State, and he was asking the Michigan faithful in attendance to stand up and believe right alongside him.

The good part started on the very next drive when Dobbins stole both the lead and that hope from Michigan.

Blowout or not, the Michigan victory can take a lot out of a team, both emotionally and physically. This one also comes on the heels of the Penn State game which was easily Ohio State’s most challenging game thus far. Now, the Buckeyes must get turned up to play a solid Wisconsin team they already waxed earlier this year. Any concern the Buckeyes might come out flat? Why or why not?

David: It would concern me more if Ohio State was going up against a more well-rounded team.

That's not meant as a slight against Wisconsin. They're eighth in the latest College Football Playoff ranking and that's where they belong thanks to a generational talent at tailback and a stingy defense. But the Buckeyes defense is just too strong and disciplined to be beaten by a one-dimensional offense. The Badgers bring the nation's 98th-best passing attack with them to Indianapolis. Ohio State's going to load the box and ask the Badgers to beat its pair of first-round cornerbacks.

It worked for the Buckeyes in October, and it'll work for them in Indy.

Johnny: I'm actually a little worried about that, not because they've played two consecutive games in extremely tough situations, but more because most people are expecting Ohio State to waltz right though the Badgers and into the playoff. On the other hand, Ryan Day has done an incredible job at getting his teams mentally prepared for every opponent this season (another area where you can directly point to an improvement over 2018), so I still expect the team to come out and play well. I just wouldn't be shocked if they didn't, at least at first.

Kyle: Despite mid-season hiccups over the past couple seasons, one thing this program has proven capable of is following an emotional victory over their rivals with a big performance in Indy. All season, the players and coaches have made it clear that their goal is to go undefeated, and this is just another step in that journey. This is a business trip, and will certainly be looked at as a play-in game, so I have no concerns about coming out flat.

Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan completed just 10 of 17 passes for 108 yards in the first matchup while Johnathan Taylor rushed for only 52 yards on 2.6 per attempt. What are the chances the passing or rushing attacks fare any better this time around against an elite Ohio State defense? What is an adjustment or two Ohio State’s defense might need to be looking for on Saturday?

Kyle: Wisconsin won’t be surprised by Ohio State’s anticipated 4-4 defense this time around, and will surely have some wrinkles to try and get Taylor free. But Coan was throwing in the same miserable weather as everyone else the first time around, and in the dome I expect the Badgers to take more shots downfield. With the defense likely often playing only three DBs, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Wisconsin look for Quintez Cephus in one-on-one matchups, especially against the smaller Damon Arnette. Additionally, knowing the Buckeyes linebackers will have their eyes in the backfield against Taylor, I expect play-action with the tight ends and fullback to be an important piece of the Badger game plan.

David: I expect Wisconsin to have more success moving the ball against Ohio State this Saturday. There's the revenge factor. It's hard to beat the same team twice in a single season for a reason. But as Kyle mentioned, neither team will have to throw the ball in a torrential downpour.

What does that mean for Wisconsin? The Badgers scored seven points against the Buckeyes in Columbus six weeks ago. I expect them to score seventeen entire points Saturday.

Johnny: Part of the reason why Wisconsin is such a heavy dog to Ohio State is because though the Buckeyes have shown weaknesses defensively, particularly against mobile quarterbacks who can roll out effectively and run an RPO-heavy offense, Jack Coan isn't quite that dude. What he is, however, is a highly accurate guy who can complement Taylor once an opposing defense has to scoot their linebackers and safeties closer to the line. What this means for Ohio State is that hopefully a banged-up secondary can play a decent amount of man coverage to keep Taylor from consistently pushing the chains. Do that, and the Buckeyes should be good to go.

Justin Fields had season-lows in completions (12) and completion percentage (54.5%) and was sacked a season-high five times  in the first matchup with the Badgers though he did throw for two scores and ran for another. Obviously, the weather wasn’t great the last time and on Saturday it’ll be perfect weather inside Lucas Oil stadium.  Will Fields and the offensive line enjoy better results through the air Saturday or might the Buckeyes do most of their damage on the ground?

Johnny: Ryan Day and company will probably seek to establish Dobbins early, as they have in their previous two games, but I don't think they have to. Fields is going to be less mobile than he's been all season, but that might actually help him here; I'm not sure Wisconsin can deal with an Ohio State offense that's easily picking up 6-8 yards on simple first down passing plays to the boundaries, because as soon as they compensate for that, that's when you hit them in the mouth with J.K. Wisconsin's pass defense is still very good, but they've gotten progressively worse in the last half of the season, and I expect that to continue on Saturday.

Kyle: Wisconsin’s 3-4 alignment gave Ohio State some trouble early on in the first matchup, but by the second half the Buckeyes had adjusted, allowing Dobbins to break a number of big runs. Additionally, Ryan Day seemed to have Jim Leonhard’s number, scheming up countless open routes against the Badgers’ Quarters defense. However, the pass protection was an issue, as OSU seemed baffled by the countless stunts run by the Badgers. I’d imagine that will be the top focus for the OSU offensive line this week, knowing how important it will be to keep Fields upright and healthy.

David: Day will likely call as many running plays for Fields this Saturday as he does for me, the 33-year old father-of-two whose belly jiggles when he brushes his teeth. 

With a quarterback nursing an MCL sprain, I'm expecting a game plan built around Dobbins and a quick-strike passing attack. Day absolutely cannot afford to lose his superstar behind center with the Buckeyes on the doorstep of their first playoff berth since 2016. 

It wouldn't surprise me to see a relatively conservative game plan from Day and the offensive staff. Even that strategy won't prevent the offense from doing what it needs to do against the Badgers.

Ohio State is a 17-point favorite over the Badgers. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP. 

David: I have the Buckeyes winning it 42-17. It'll stay close in the first half, but a steady dose of Dobbins (who'll run for 200 yards and earn game MVP honors) and Teague will keep the Badgers offense from triggering a rally.

Kyle: Though I expect Dobbins to have another big game, I can see Fields coming away with the headlines thanks to another hyper-efficient, 4-touchdown game as the Buckeye receivers light up a fast track inside the dome. Buckeyes win 42-14.

Johnny: I think they will cover, although I'm constantly having to fight these "they're due" impulses in my head when it comes to Wisconsin running backs getting stymied by Ohio State defenses. Point is, I'm emotionally hedging against the Badgers shocking everyone, but I have to remind myself that's a personal problem and probably not super reflective of reality.

42-17 Ohio State, Justin Fields throws for 300+ and is the MVP.

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