Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

- Saturday, September 28, 2013

- Ohio Stadium: Columbus, Ohio

- Wisconsin at Ohio State

- 8:00 p.m. ET

- TV: ABC -

OSU Wisky1The 23rd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers come to town Saturday night to face the unbeaten and 4th-ranked Buckeyes in the Big Ten opener for Ohio State, a game that could go a long way toward deciding the championship of the Leaders Division of the conference, even before the leaves fall. The Buckeyes have won 16 straight under Urban Meyer including this year’s 4-0 mark, and will contend with the nation’s #1 rusher, and the 3rd-ranked rushing attack in the country in the 3-1 Badgers.

Braxton Miller appears to have the go-ahead to start at quarterback for OSU, sending two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week Kenny Guiton to the bench. Miller is close to 100%, acc
ording to Meyer, as he shakes off the effects of a knee sprain suffered three weeks ago in the San Diego State game. Guiton will also play in the game, as Meyer insists he will “do right” by his super-sub after three games worth of heroics by the senior backup.

This series has been characterized by close games in recent years...the last-minute victory two years ago in Columbus on Miller’s game-winning TD pass to Devin Smith...and last year’s overtime thriller in Madison, also won by the Buckeyes. In 2010, the Badgers knocked off top-ranked Ohio State 31-18 in Madison, the lone blemish on Jim Tressel’s final season, and the only win by Wisconsin in the last six meetings between the schools.

Coaching Connections

Wisconsin AndersonYes, that means Bret Bielema was 1-5 against Ohio State. And Ohio State fans love to hate Bret Bielema, who by the way, doesn’t exchange Christmas cards with Urban Meyer either. But dwelling on that is so 2012.

Badgers’ first-year head coach Gary Anderson (pictured) is a friend of, and a protege of Meyer, having worked as an assistant to him at Utah, and the two are close friends, all of which has been well chronicled this week. The lesser known coaching connection in this game is also the far more unlikely one.

OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman will face off with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda for the first time since they were graduate assistants at Texas and Texas Tech, respectively. But the two go all the way back to Division III Cal Lutheran together, where Herman helped recruit Aranda.

If you think all that coziness might take some of the edge off of this rivalry...think again. Meyer was quoted this week that the Badgers were “the kings of the Big Ten”, on the basis of three straight conference titles. But Ari Wasserman reports that Bradley Roby, (and other Buckeyes, I’m sure) remember who the best team in the Big Ten was a year ago. Think Meyer’s remark was not so much the usual flattery of the opponent for the assembled media, and more a motivational barb for his own players?  If so, it appears to be working.


State of the Bucks

Braxton Wisc 2011The only thing resembling a significant health issue for Ohio State is the ongoing comeback attempt of Braxton Miller. The story of the game will revolve around what Miller does or doesn’t do on the field. Last year, the Badgers bottled him up. This year he has a whole lot more help, and another year of experience and coaching. He just needs to stay in the game.

Unfortunately, Miller has probably lost any chance at the Heisman owing to this injury, but every season brings its surprises. The good news is that the world now knows who Kenny Guiton is, and Buckeye players know that their offense can work without Braxton if and when the need arises.

Mike Vrabel’s defensive line unit gets two important players back from injuries, as junior tackle Michael Bennett returns after missing the FAMU game, and sophomore defensive end Adolphus Washington is ready to go after missing two games with a groin injury. Both are starters who will be counted on to slow down the Badger running game, so their returns are well-timed.


Wisconsin: Key Personnel

WisconsinHelmetOhio State players and coaches alike have emphasized the point that Wisconsin under Gary Anderson looks a lot like Wisconsin under Bret Bielema...and under Barry Alvarez before that. They are going to run the ball, and then run the ball some more. Montee Ball is gone, with his career touchdown record, but the Badgers rush on.

This year, they feature sophomore Melvin Gordon, the leading rusher in the country, with 624 yards in four games (156.0 avg), and team him up with James White, the active NCAA leader in career rushing yardage, with 3,013 yards, and in career rushing touchdowns with 35.

Joel Stave is the returning starter at quarterback, and so far the sophomore has completed 60 of his 95 passing attempts, for 761 yards, 6 TD’s and 3 interceptions. He may be playing without his reliable tight end Jacob Pedersen (8 receptions, 101 yds, 1 TD) who was injured last week, and has been limited in practices.

Borland1 copyThe Badgers wide receiver group doesn’t have a lot of weapons outside of Jared Abbrederis, who had 49 catches for 837 yards and 5 TD’s a year ago. Somehow Abbrederis manages to get open despite the lack of any real depth in the unit to take the pressure off him, and he’s off to a good start in 2013 with 23 receptions for 365 yards and 3 TD’s. The alreadyd thin receiver corps is further depleted by injuries to Kenzel Doe and Jeff Duckworth that will keep them out of Saturday's game.

On defense, the Badgers’ front seven is an experienced group, led by their All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Borland (30 tackles, 1.5 TFL) a Dayton native that Meyer is sorry OSU let get away. The defensive line of Dean Hemer, nose tackle Beau Allen, and Pat Muldoon are all returning starters in a standard 3-4 look.

Borland (pictured) and Ethan Armstrong return as inside backers, but the two outside linebackers, and three of the four defensive backs are first-year starters for Anderson’s defense. Desmond Southward is a big, physical safety who anchors the DB unit, and so far they have not yielded a touchdown pass this season. Cornerback  T.J. Reynard will miss the game with an injury.


Stat Story

OSU Wisky2011The Badgers rank 3rd in the nation in rushing at 349.8 yards per game, but the Buckeyes are not far behind at #6, with 311 yards per game. And that has been accomplished in the absence of their best rusher, Braxton Miller (1,271 yds, 13 TD in 2012) and their second best rusher, Carlos Hyde (970 yds, 16 TD), for three of their four games.

Neither team is among the leaders in passing offense, with OSU ranked 76th (218 ypg), and the Badgers at 90th (198 ypg) OSU is 4th in the nation in scoring offense at 52.5 points per game, while Wisconsin is 24th, averaging 41.0.  

Defensively, both teams have stopped the run, although the poor quality of the non-conference opposition for both teams makes this statistic less than reliable. The Badgers rank 6th, giving up 76.3 yards on the ground per game, while Ohio State is 9th, allowing 82.3 ypg. OSU allows 200.5 yards per game through the air to rank 48th, and Wisconsin is #19 in that department, giving up 167.0 yards passing per game.

One other eye-popping statistic...and one that tends to favor the Buckeyes. The OSU offense has been in the red-zone 22 times, and has scored on 21 of them, (0.955)  but more importantly, 20 of those 21 scores have been touchdowns, with just one Drew Basil field goal. That ranks 11th (10 teams are a perfect 1.000, although with fewer red-zone attempts), while Wisconsin is tied for 63rd with 15 scores (11 TD, 4 FG) in 18 tries.


Idle Speculation

OhioStadiumNightLike most football games, this one will likely be won by the team that runs the ball and stops the run better than the other guys. The mismatch in this game however, appears to be the superiority of the Ohio State passing attack over that of Wisconsin. If OSU can fight the Badgers to a draw on the ground, the Buckeyes’ talent and speed moving the ball through the air could supply the winning edge.

Last year, OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman admitted that Wisconsin defensive coordinator Rick Ash out-coached him, as the Badgers shut down Braxton Miller on the ground, holding him to 48 rushing yards. The OSU passing game just wasn’t sharp enough to force Wisconsin out of the box, and the result was a frustrated, harried Miller all game long.

This year’s Buckeye offense barely resembles the group that was just trying to learn the Meyer-Herman system a year ago. The key to OSU success this Saturday will be forcing the Badgers to defend sideline to sideline against the speed of the OSU backs and receivers. The short to intermediate passing game should help loosen up the middle of the field for the running attack to prosper as the game goes along.

On defense for OSU, the keys will be effective linebacker play from Curtis Grant, Josh Perry and Ryan Shazier. This should be the first game we see the Buckeye defense in their “base” 4-3 look for an extended period. Meyer has called this game the most important game of Grant’s career at Ohio State.

The other issue for OSU on defense will be sound tackling technique and pursuit angles to limit the big plays in the rushing game by Gordon and White. Clearly the OSU plan is to load up against the run and force Stave to try to beat them through the air. If Bradley Roby can neutralize Abbrederis, it will be hard for Wisconsin to hurt the Buckeyes with any other downfield weapons.

I like the Buckeyes defensive line, with Bennett and Washington back to join Noah Spence and Joey Bosa and Joel Hale in controlling the line of scrimmage and slowing down the Badgers on the ground. I think the Buckeyes have too many different weapons and too much speed for the Badgers to hang with them for four quarters.

OSU pulls away to win by more than two touchdowns. Let’s call it 35-19 Buckeyes.


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