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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Preview: Ohio State at Wisconsin
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar
Saturday night, 8 PM, national television.  Buckeyes at Badgers, playing a game that could very well determine the Big Ten champion.  You know the Camp Randall Crazies will be in rare form, and you know Wisconsin will be smarting after their second half meltdown last week at home against the Wolverines.  This should be a fun one.  And Buckeye Dan Wismar gets us all lathered up for it with an excellent preview of tonight's game. Saturday, October 4, 2008

Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin

Ohio State vs. University of Wisconsin

8:00 p.m. (ET)


Setting the Scene

Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) enters the game ranked 14th in the AP poll, and 12th in the USA Today coaches poll. They are coming off of a home win over Minnesota 34-21 in the Big Ten opener.

Wisconsin (3-1, 0-1) is ranked 18th in the AP poll, and 17th in the USA Today coaches poll. They lost last week at Michigan 27-25, in the conference opener for both teams. Prior to that game they had been ranked No. 9 in the AP poll.

Ohio State is a three point favorite.

Ohio State leads the all-time series with the Badgers 51-17-5, and 23-10-2 in games played at Camp Randall Stadium. The Buckeyes are 6-5-1 in the last 12 meetings with Wisconsin, going back to 1980. That's the good news.

The bad news is that Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team with a winning record against Ohio State in the Jim Tressel era (beginning in 2001). They are 3-2 against Tressel's Bucks, winning in 2001 by a 20-17 score, in 2003 by a 17-10 count, and in 2004, when they beat Ohio State 24-13, in the middle game of a three game losing skid for the Bucks. OSU prevailed 19-14 in 2002, and
38-17 last year in a game they trailed 17-10 in the third quarter. That win stopped a three game winning streak at the Horseshoe for the Badgers. Wisconsin rotated off the OSU schedule in 2005 and 2006.

And then there's the Badgers' home record under third year head coach Bret Bielema. 16-0. In case you blinked, that's a big fat zero in the loss column for the Badgers in games at Camp Randall Stadium since 2005. In fact, Wisconsin has lost just one home game since 2003. It's a very loud, rowdy place to play, even for a day game, when the fans have only had a few hours to get lubricated and load up with objects (cheese balls?) to hurl at the opponents. This game is at 8 p.m. No telling what kinds of abuse the fans in Madison will have on tap for this one.

It goes without saying that Bielema's Badgers will be cranked up for the Buckeyes. They were thought by most pundits to be the leading contenders to wrest the Big Ten title from Ohio State this season, and they'll still be stinging from a bitter loss last week to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The big question for Badger fans is which team will show up against OSU. The one that methodically built a 19-0 halftime lead against the Wolverines, or the one that faded under pressure in the second half, giving it all back in a 27-25 defeat.

The bottom line is that Wisconsin cannot afford to drop a second game in conference play before the leaves even turn. Their season is on the line.

Rushing to Judgment

Two of the best big backs in the country will be featured on Saturday, as both teams rely on power running attacks to make their offenses go. At the beginning of the season, only Wisconsin would have been described that way, but the Ohio State offense has been transformed over the course of the first five games into a rush first-pass second system that features Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor running the football, with Boom Herron backing up at the running back spot.

The Badgers have not one big back, but three...all talented and all powerful, and they clearly have the better depth at the running back position in this game. P.J. Hill is the headliner of that group, with 92 carries for 449 yards and 4 touchdowns already this season. The 5'11", 236 lb. junior has 33 career TD's for the Badgers, and over 3000 career rushing yards.  He is backed up by Zach Brown (33 carries, 174 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman John Clay (29 carries, 191 yards, 4 TDs) and they operate behind an experienced and massive offensive line.

Wells ran wild on the Badgers in last year's contest, scoring three second half TD's as the Buckeyes pulled away for the win. Hill missed the game in Columbus with an injury, so he'll be primed for the showdown with Wells on the national stage. If there's an edge for one team or the other, it might be that both of the Buckeyes' principal running threats are on the field at the same time, while the Badgers will rotate their running back trio in and out. Wisconsin simply can't afford to key on one or the other of the OSU running threats. Divide and conquer.

The Badgers average 218.5 rushing yards per game, to the Bucks' 186.6 ypg, but they also average more rushing plays than OSU, with 46.5 carries per game to only 39.2 for Ohio State. The Buckeyes actually have a higher average gain per rushing attempt, 4.8 yards per carry, to 4.7 for Wisconsin. The two teams are about even in passing attempts per game, at around 25, and Wisconsin has the higher average in passing yards, at 195 yards per game, to 152 for the Buckeyes.

Those passing stats for the Buckeyes are a bit misleading though, because in Terrelle Pryor's two starts the last two weeks, OSU has run more and passed less than in the first three games. OSU quarterbacks threw only 17 times in the Troy win, and only 22 times last week against Minnesota. Pryor had only 13 pass attempts before leaving the Minnesota game in the third quarter with the Bucks in command.

So you don't have to possess the brilliant analytical football mind of, say...Tony Kornheiser, to suggest that the team that defenses the run better this Saturday will probably come away with the win. The Buckeyes would appear to have a slight edge on defense, ranking 12th nationally overall in total defense (251 ypg) and giving up 95.2 ypg rushing, to 108.8 ypg for the Wisconsin defense. The Bucks lead the Big Ten in total defense and passing defense.

Green QB's

Alan Evridge is the starter at quarterback for Wisconsin, and the left-handed senior transfer has been fairly efficient so far in his first season as a starter in Madison. He threw only 10 times in the win over Akron, and had a 300 yard game against Marshall in a 51-14 rout, pumping up the passing efficiency rating. He attempted 37 passes in the Michigan game, completing 22, but threw two interceptions to go with his one touchdown pass. One of those was a tipped-ball pick for a touchdown that put the Wolves ahead and deflated the Badgers' hopes.He also lost two fumbles against the Wolverines, so he'll have to elevate his game in order to beat the Buckeyes.

Outside of super tight end Travis Beckum, who has been hampered with an injury this season, there are few proven receiving threats for the Badgers, although their second tight end Garrett Graham (11 catches, 154 yards, 3 TDs) has come through as a replacement. Glenville's Kyle Jefferson is one big target for Evridge at the wide receiver spot, but he has only nine catches for 117 yards so far. Evridge has only four touchdown passes on the season, along with three interceptions. The OSU defense is likely to stack the box to stop the run and dare the Badgers to beat them throwing the ball.

With only two career starts on his resume, Terrelle Pryor has already thrown more TD's than Evridge in 2008. After throwing four TD's on just 16 attempts in his starting debut, Pryor added another last week against the Gophers to go with his two rushing scores. If the rushing attacks of the two teams cancel each other out, and the game is decided on the basis of quarterback play, I like the dual-threat talents of Pryor to edge out the equally green and untested Evridge.

Badger Defense Improved

The Badgers were disappointed in the performance of their defense in 2007, and that unit looks to be much improved this season. They have a good one in defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, but the back seven appear to be the strength of this defensive team. The linebackers are tough, fast and athletic, with Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy leading the way. Cornerback Alan Langford is another standout, and safety Shane Carter led the conference in interceptions last year with seven.

The Wisconsin defensive strategy will likely mirror the Buckeyes thinking. Stop the run first, and worry about the passing game when the opponent makes you respect it. The Badgers have not had a great pass rush, and will surely be keying on Pryor to run the ball more than he throws it. If the progression of the young Buckeye QB continues on schedule, he will have a handle on a few more plays in the passing game to keep the Badgers off balance.

The fact that this will be Pryor's first road start in his young career is certainly cause for concern, especially going to a venue as crazed as Camp Randall Stadium at night. But the kid has so far shown a composure and a maturity beyond his years, and he appears to thrive in the spotlight. All of the "awe" seems to be in the eyes of the beholders of this special freshman. In every game so far he has turned up several times on the highlight reel, and I expect no different this Saturday.


Ohio State is 6-3 under Tressel in Big Ten night games, including a 3-0 mark last season, with wins at Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue. One of the losses was at Wisconsin in 2003, and Tressel has only one win there in his career at Ohio State, that coming in the championship year, 2002.

Given the Badgers' track record at home, and their pressing need to even their conference record, the Buckeyes will obviously be in for a tough fight this week. But if they tighten up the chin straps and take on the powerful Wisconsin rushing attack with any degree of success, I don't think the Badgers have enough other weapons to prevail. I'll take the Bucks in a close one, 23-19.



OSU Athletic Dept. Game Notes (includes OSU roster and depth chart)

2008 Wisconsin Roster

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