In any other season, a matchup between the top two teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division would draw some national interest. With Ohio State ineligible to win the division title and the conference struggling as a whole, this game has lost some of its appeal.
Urban Meyer’s tenure in Columbus is off to a great start. The Buckeyes are 10-0 for the first time since 2007. And despite a trip to Madison and the huge rivalry game against Michigan on Nov. 24, this team has a good shot at finishing 12-0. Even though Ohio State can’t play in the Big Ten title game, Meyer has done a good job of navigating through this season and keeping the team motivated to play each week.
With Ohio State out of the picture, Wisconsin was a heavy favorite to win the Leaders Division in the preseason. The Badgers started off slow with a 3-2 record but have won four out of their last five games.
Ohio State has won four out of the last five in this series, with Wisconsin’s only victory during that stretch coming in 2010. The Badgers lost last season’s matchup 33-29 in Columbus.
When the Ohio State Buckeyes have the ball:
The Badgers are quietly one of the nation’s best defenses. Wisconsin is allowing just 17.2 points a game, while ranking 15th nationally in yards allowed. The Badgers have not allowed their last five opponents to score more than 16 points a game and only one team has managed more than 27 points this season.
Those numbers will be put to the test against Ohio State’s offense, especially as Wisconsin tries to find a way to slow down Braxton Miller. The sophomore has carried the Buckeyes’ offense this year, recording 2,919 yards and 27 overall scores. Miller is still developing as a passer but is a dangerous runner and will have 15-20 carries on Saturday night.
Although Miller is one of college football’s top quarterbacks, he needs help from his supporting cast. Running back Carlos Hyde has three 100-yard efforts over his last five games and has 11 scores during that stretch. Corey Brown leads the way at receiver, catching 48 passes for 526 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes are looking for more playmakers to step up in the passing game but that figures to come over time, especially with only one senior (Jake Stoneburner) in the two-deep at receiver.
Even though the Buckeyes are finding more help for Miller, the key to beating Ohio State remains stopping the sophomore quarterback. The Badgers have two of the Big Ten’s top linebackers (Mike Taylor, Chris Borland) who will be very active around the line of scrimmage. It’s important for Wisconsin to make Ohio State drive the field, rather than hit on a few big plays for short scoring drives. The Badgers haven’t had many matchups against dual-threat quarterbacks this year, but they allowed 288 total yards against Taylor Martinez and 256 to Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton.
When the Wisconsin Badgers have the ball:
Just as the Badgers appeared to be finding their rhythm in the passing attack, quarterback Joel Stave was lost for the season with a collarbone injury. With Stave sidelined and Danny O’Brien struggling earlier this year, the Wisconsin coaching staff turned to Curt Phillips under center. The senior has battled knee injuries throughout his career but turned in a solid performance against Indiana, throwing for 41 yards and adding 68 on the ground.
With Phillips still getting comfortable under center, expect a run-heavy approach from Wisconsin. The Badgers have a deep collection of running backs, led by Montee Ball. The senior has 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns this season and will be spelled by James White (7.3 ypc) and Melvin Gordon (8.2 ypc).
Ohio State’s defense has allowed at least 20 or more points in five Big Ten games this season. This unit has struggled to stop the pass (259.7 ypg), but the rush defense has been steady most of the year. Only two opponents have managed more than 150 yards, and Ohio State has held its last two opponents to less than 75 rushing yards. The Buckeyes have struggled to stop teams that run the spread, but Wisconsin should be an easier matchup with its limited passing game.
Expect the Buckeyes to load up against Wisconsin’s rushing attack and force Philips to win this game through the air. The Badgers don’t need to throw it 30 times, but they need to hit on a few passes early on to keep Ohio State from loading up the box against Ball, White and Gordon.
Establishing the rushing attack is crucial to Wisconsin’s chances at winning. The Badgers don’t want to put the game on Curt Phillips’ shoulders, but he has to throw for more than 41 yards this week. If Wisconsin struggles to establish the run, it will be an uphill battle to win on Saturday. The Badgers defense will keep Braxton Miller in check for a half, but the Buckeyes’ offense eventually gets on track, which is just enough to escape Madison with an 11-0 record.
Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 20
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