OSU vs. Wisconsin preview

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Last updated: 11/16/2012 2:36 AM
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Ohio State at Wisconsin Preview
By Tony Gerdeman

Ohio State (10-0) and Wisconsin (7-3) have met 77 times previously, with the Buckeyes holding the series edge with a 54-18-5 mark.

Ohio State has won four of the last five in this series, though they did lose the last time they visited Madison (2010).

Over their last 20 meetings, the Buckeyes are 11-0 when scoring at least 20 points.

Ohio State is 4-2-1 at Wisconsin over the last 20 years.

When Wisconsin Has The Ball

This game features the top two running teams in the Big Ten Conference. During league play, the Badgers are second in rushing, averaging 269.3 yards on the ground per game.

The Buckeye defense, meanwhile, is tops in rushing defense during conference play, holding opponents to just 101.5 yards per game, and a league-best 3.2 yards per carry.

With quarterback Curt Phillips making his second career start, expect the ball to stay on the ground whenever possible.

Tailback Montee Ball is averaging 144.3 yards rushing per game in Big Ten play, which is far and away the best in the conference. However, Michigan State held Ball to just 46 yards on 22 carries.

Ohio State gets linebacker Etienne Sabino back from injury this week and it doesn't come a moment too soon. This will be the first week with linebackers Ryan Shazier, Zach Boren and Sabino all on the field together.

The Buckeyes will play man-to-man on the outside with the receivers, which will allow the safeties to help out against Wisconsin running game.

While Ball gets most of the notoriety, he will not be the only Badger carrying the ball. James White has rushed for 647 yards this season, and Melvin Gordon has added 346 yards rushing as well.

Now with Phillips at quarterback, the Buckeyes will also have to watch for him running the ball. He will run the read option, and is a threat to keep the ball.

Along with the Badgers' normal threats running the ball, they will also bring a receiver in motion and either fake the jet sweep or hand it off. You can expect this to happen numerous times throughout the game.

Urban Meyer has talked all week about his defense remaining gap sound because of the variety of different looks that the Badgers will run the ball out of. If they stay disciplined, they've shown the ability to stop a running game that doesn't have a complementary passing game. Right now, that describes this Wisconsin offense.

This is the healthiest the Buckeye defense has been in some time, and this is usually the game that beats them up the most. Defensive end John Simon said the toughest team always wins this game, so it will be up to the defensive line to set the tone.

The Ohio State defensive line is confident it has what it takes to stop the Wisconsin offense, but it will be up to guys like defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to prove that confidence in action. The Badger offensive line is massive, per usual, but this is still the type of offense that suits Ohio State's defense better than a spread attack. Though with Phillips now at the helm, there will be some spread elements in the Badger offense.

Bret Bielema believes his team needs to come out fast on offense and score first. That has been a large part of the Badger focus this week. It will be difficult to keep the Wisconsin running game from reaching the second level, which means it will be key for safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to be sound in their tackling.

Wisconsin will also run plenty of bootlegs, which will have a run/pass option. Phillips only threw the ball seven times in last week's 62-14 win over Indiana, and he didn't look particularly smooth doing it.

His top target will be receiver Jared Abbrederis, unless he chooses to stick with easy passes to the tight ends and running backs.

The key to stopping Wisconsin's passing attack is to not get duped by the play-action, which is easier said than done when they've got the ground game working.

The Badgers have only returned 15 kickoffs this season, but they have dangerous returners in Melvin Gordon and James White. Neither has a return longer than 32 yards this season, but both have the potential to break a long one. The Buckeyes get freshman cornerback Armani Reeves back this week, and he is a key member of Ohio State's kick return defense. Ohio State is allowing 20.6 yards per kickoff including a 100-yard touchdown return.

Wisconsin is also a dangerous punt return team, as both Jared Abbrederis and Kenzel Doe have the ability to go the distance. Doe has an 82-yard touchdown return to his credit this season.

Placekicker Kyle French is 10-13 on field goals and 8-11 on kicks between 30-49 yards. Punter Drew Meyer is averaging 41.4 yards per punt, with 25 of his 54 punts landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

When Ohio State Has The Ball

The Buckeyes enter this game averaging 274 yards rushing per game in Big Ten play, which is the best mark in the conference.

In Ohio State's six conference games, both quarterback Braxton Miller (120.8 ypg) and tailback Carlos Hyde (104.7 ypg) are among the Big Ten's top five rushers. Together, they alone are outrushing eight of the 12 Big Ten teams.

Wisconsin boasts a pair of 300-pound defensive tackles, and they certainly have the Ohio State offensive line concerned. Much of the Buckeyes' running success comes from their ability to pound the middle with Hyde, and then go outside off of that. If the middle is not a viable option, Ohio State running lanes become limited.

Wisconsin middle linebacker Chris Borland suffered a leg injury last week, and there is concern that he won't be able to play much this week. If that is true, it will be a huge loss for the Badgers because Borland is everywhere on the field.

Weakside linebacker Mike Taylor is healthy, however, and he currently leads the Badgers in tackles with 95, and tackles for loss with 12.

Urban Meyer would like to use some two back sets with Hyde and Rod Smith, but with the Buckeyes down to two healthy tailbacks, that look will be limited this week. Still, Smith has played well of late and will see the ball.

Even though the Badgers do not blitz a great deal, they have an aggressive safety in Dezmen Southward. However, if he over-pursues, it could leave plenty of room for the Buckeyes to run.

With two games left, there isn't as dire a need to preserve Braxton Miller as there was back in September, and with the Buckeyes having the past week off, expect Miller to carry the ball quite a bit.

Both teams are going to try to establish the run, and the team that does it best will likely win. But if neither team can run the ball, then it will be up to the team that can pass it to get the job done.

Braxton Miller had his best passing day of the season against Illinois, and spent the last week cleaning up some fundamental issues. Wisconsin has one of the best pass defenses in the conference, but if Miller can complete 60% of his passes and hit a big one somewhere along the way, you have to like the Buckeyes' chances.

However, if his passes are floating, and his accuracy is waning, the Badger defense will not be kind to him.

Since his two-touchdown performance against Indiana, receiver Devin Smith has caught three passes for 57 yards in three games. He only has seven receptions in Big Ten play and needs to re-establish himself as a game breaker. Remember, the Buckeyes are 7-0 when he catches a touchdown in his career.

In Smith's "absence", leading receiver Corey Brown continues to produce, and even with a contribution for Smith, they'll still need Brown's usual five or six touches.

The Ohio State special teams have been an area of concern all season long, and it will be an even bigger concern on the road.

The Buckeye return game is non-existent at the moment, and there really isn't anything that can be done at this point. Corey Brown does have a 76-yard punt return touchdown, but his other 10 returns have averaged 4.6 yards.

Placekicker Drew Basil is just 4-6 on field goals this season, as the Buckeye redzone offense has only really needed him for extra points. Punter Ben Buchanan is averaging 41.5 yards per punt this season, and has put 12 of his 47 kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

How It Will End Up

Wisconsin is intent on scoring first in this game, so the Buckeyes should expect a frenzy, and they'll need to be able to withstand it. Fortunately for them, many of the current members of this team were in Madison in 2010, so they shouldn't be caught off guard by the environment.

The Ohio State coaches have had two weeks to prepare for this game, so they should be well-versed on what the Badgers are going to do on both offense and defense, though not having much film on Curt Phillips could pose an issue. But forcing him to throw the ball a good number of times may pose an issue for the Badgers.

While the Badger run defense is well thought of, the fact remains that they have only faced one spread rushing team on par with Ohio State, and that was Nebraska. The Huskers rushed for 259 yards in a 30-27 win. There is room to run for the Buckeyes, though Miller may have to clear that room with some passing first.

Even though the Badgers have a power running game, they have much shiftier tailbacks than the Buckeyes have seen in other power games. This isn't Michigan State's offense. Montee Ball is several levels above Le'Veon Bell in terms of making defenders miss.

However, when given the chance to impress against a quality opponent this season, the Badgers have failed every single time. And they weren't even dealing with a 10-0 Ohio State team who was coming off of a bye week.

In the end, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde run their way to a Buckeye victory, and Miller hits a couple of home runs in the passing game.

Ohio State 31 - Wisconsin 21

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