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

Dan Wismar




- Saturday, October 29, 2011

- Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

- 8:00 p.m. (ET)

- TV: ESPN -

Herron_Wisc_10bThe Buckeyes host the Wisconsin Badgers on Homecoming weekend in Columbus with a chance to climb back into the Leaders Division race in the Big Ten with a victory. Any hope of that happening seemed remote a few short weeks ago, but the Badgers (6-1, 2-1) got knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten last week, and Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) could draw even with the preseason favorites if they can pull off the upset Saturday night.

This Badgers vs. Buckeyes matchup has taken on the air of a budding rivalry now that Bret Bielema has helped return the Wisconsin program to national prominence, and the two schools find themselves in the same division of the new-look Big Ten. Three of the last four meetings have been nationally-televised night games, which automatically adds some excitement to the event. Wisconsin comes into town ranked 15th in the BCS standings, 12th in the AP poll and 11th in the USA Today poll.

Last year the Badgers ambushed the No.1-ranked Buckeyes in Madison, but Ohio State had won the three previous meetings between Bielema and Jim Tressel. In fact, OSU’s Athletics Communications department is able to claim that, “the Buckeyes have won the last three meetings between the squads”, since last year’s loss has been “vacated” by Ohio State along with all 12 of their wins. Something tells me Bret Bielema hasn’t vacated that “1” in his 1-3 record against Ohio State.

The last time they played in Columbus, a 31-13 OSU win in 2009, the Badgers dominated the statistics, but lost big as OSU scored on a kickoff return TD and got two more TD’s on interception returns. The all-time series has been lopsided in the Buckeyes’ favor, as is the case with most of their conference foes. OSU leads 53-17-5, with a 29-7-3 mark in Columbus. Since 1980, the Buckeyes are 8-5-1 in the series. The two schools did not meet in either 2005 or 2006.

Ohio State will honor Eddie George at halftime to celebrate his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The Buckeyes will be wearing “throwback” uniforms, and have asked fans to dress in scarlet for the game.

State of the Bucks

osuuniform03Ohio State is coming off an open week, so they’ve had plenty of time to work on executing the forward pass since their one-completion performance in Champaign two weeks ago. Reports from practice about the way that freshman QB Braxton Miller is progressing in the passing offense have been encouraging, but he’ll have to “do it in front of 105,000 people”, as the former coach always described the challenge facing young OSU players. Ohio State is currently ranked 115th out of 120 FBS schools in passing offense at 127.86 yards per game. Yikes.

Several Buckeye players were clearly energized by the last-second Wisconsin loss to Michigan State on Saturday night, as it appeared to put the Bucks back “in control of their own destiny”, as they say. It doesn’t really do that, since Penn State currently leads the Leaders Division with a 4-0 conference mark. On the other hand, no one really believes that the Nittany Lions will come through their season-ending stretch of Illinois, Nebraska, at OSU, and at Wisconsin, with less than two losses.

In general, the Buckeyes are in good health, with no real surprises on the depth chart, viewable here, courtesy of

This being a game preview, the off-the-field stuff is usually held to a minimum, but this season has been defined by those issues, and they certainly contribute to the “state of the Bucks”. No major college football coach goes through a season without facing distractions from getting his team ready to play football, but consider what first-year OSU coach Luke Fickell has had to deal with this week.

Jaamal Berry, his 4th-string running back, was involved in his second “altercation” in as many weeks, and is now being sued as a result of one of them. Berry has been a non-factor on the field this year, but Fickell has to deal with the issue nonetheless. Ed Rife, the tattoo parlor operator at the heart of the recent OSU player violations, was in the news as well, being sentenced to a 3-year prison term as a result of a Pryor prior plea bargain. This doesn’t affect Fickell or the team directly, but it does drag the scandal through the public eye one more time.

Speaking of which...ESPN breathlessly promoted an “Outside the Lines” segment this week, featuring audio of Jim Tressel’s testimony before NCAA investigators, the complete transcript of which has been available on the Internet for months. Yawn.  And on top of it all, Fickell has to prepare for Wisconsin amid rampant rumors that Urban Meyer to OSU is all but a “done deal”, with speculation centering only on the date and manner of Meyer’s announcement as the Buckeyes new head coach. (Smart money is on halftime of the OSU-Duke basketball game on Nov. 29).

To his great credit, Fickell continues to graciously play the lousy hand he has been dealt.

Key Personnel - Wisconsin


The Badgers have feasted on some pretty bad teams in running up their gaudy offensive numbers this year...8th in total offense...8th in rushing offense....5th in scoring, for example. But they scored on the good teams too, putting 48 points on Nebraska and 31 on a good Michigan State defense.  Their rushing attack has been fearsome for several years, but the addition of transfer quarterback Russell Wilson this season has made them more balanced and more explosive.

Wilson (#16 at right) is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, although last week’s loss won’t help. He has completed 109 of 149 passes (73.2%) for 1780 yards and 16 TD’s. He’s a superior athlete who looks and plays bigger than his listed 5’11”, 201 lbs., and he can hurt defenses with his legs as well as his arm. He has rushed for 212 yards on 32 carries, with 3 rushing TD’s.

The Heisman is given almost exclusively to quarterbacks these days, but Wilson might not even be the Badger with the best shot at it. Running back Montee Ball is having an incredible season through seven games. The 5’ 11”, 210 lb. junior has 768 yards already, with an astonishing 19 TD’s, (17 rushing). (Eddie George had 25 TD’s in 13 games in 1995...and of course won the Heisman). Ball has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this year. His backup at running back, sophomore James White, has 458 yards rushing and 4 more TD’s. White was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010.

Wilson’s primary targets on the outside are senior Nick Toon (27 rec, 505 yds, 6 TD) and the versatile sophomore Jared Abbrederis (30 rec, 482 yds, 2 TD) who doubles as punt returner. Toon is a fine player who has been bothered some by injuries, but he has all the tools to play on Sundays like his dad did.

The offensive line is characteristically huge and effective, especially in run-blocking. Tackles Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby are very solid, and center Peter Konz is another standout on that unit.


Wisconsin’s defense is ranked 9th nationally, giving up just 286 yards per game. They lost their most dominant player from a year ago in J.J. Watt, but the defensive line has held its own in spite of that. DE Louis Nzegwu and DT Patrick Butrym are the guys most likely to jump out at you with their play on that line.

At linebacker, the Badgers have had tons of injury problems over the last two years, but now they have Chris Borland and Mike Taylor back healthy, and playing together they are probably the strength of the defensive unit. They run and tackle well, and both can deliver a blow.

Aaron Henry at safety and Antonio Fenelus at cornerback look like the two best players in a Badger secondary that may not be as strong as they have been in recent years. .

The Badgers have used two different kickers this season, but they have only seven field goal attempts between them, going 4-7. (Understandable when your offense has scored 46 touchdowns in seven games.)


Idle Speculation

OSU_Postgame_BandThe Buckeyes are pulling out all the stops to grab an edge in this one....from the Sea of the fancy new/old Nike the memory of Eddie George.  The home crowd and the week off to prepare are probably more likely to give them the boost they need. Even at that I’m not sure it’ll be enough.

Ohio State had a terrific run defense a year ago, and Wisconsin shredded it in Madison, on two long scoring drives in the first half, and once again when it mattered in the second half. The Badgers were very limited and conservative throwing the football in necessity. This year the rushing attack looks equally formidable, and the quarterback position has been upgraded...and not by a little bit. The Buckeyes need a 4-quarter performance from their defense like the two-and-a-half quarter performance they got in Lincoln Nebraska three weeks ago.

Dan Herron (or Hall or Hyde) running behind Mike Adams and Andrew Norwell on the left side of the line is a formula that can pay off. It’s remarkable how effective the run game has been for OSU so far this year, considering it has been against teams stacking the box daring them to throw. The Wisconsin defense is vulnerable, despite their solid statistics. Michigan State proved that last week. Once again, the development...the improvement of Braxton Miller as a passer and as a field general will have to be evident if the Buckeyes are to have a shot.

If Montee Ball gets off early it could be a long night. I think the Bucks and Jim Heacock have to sell out early to slow Ball down, and then come after Wilson with extra rushers. The Spartans had some success last week pressuring Wilson with blitzes. OSU’s coordinator Jim Heacock has not done a lot of blitzing this season, but I think he’ll have to in order to slow this group down.

Bielema might not always be the smartest coach on the field...(see his timeout on defense last week that gave Sparty the chance to throw the Hail Mary)...but he doesn’t lack for balls. Last time the Badgers played in Columbus, he went for it on 4th down five times...converting three of them...and they ran a fake field goal in for their only touchdown. The Bucks have to avoid deflating plays like those this week...and maybe even pull off a couple of their own, if this is going to be close.

I think it will be close...I think the Buckeyes will show well and at least cover. Anyone reading regularly knows that my crystal ball has been cloudy lately, because, as Yogi Berra said, “it’s tough to make predictions...especially about the future”.

I see the firepower and balance of the Badgers wearing down the OSU defense eventually, and without a defensive or special teams touchdown for the Buckeyes, I don’t see them out-pointing this powerful offensive team. May I be wrong for the third game in a row:

Wisconsin 23  Ohio State 19



OSU Athletics Communications Game Notes (pdf)

2011 Ohio State Roster

2011 Wisconsin Roster


on Twitter at @dwismar


(photo credits: Jim Davidson -

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