Five for Friday: Keys to a Buckeye Win
by Tony Gerdeman
Saturday night's game between Wisconsin and Ohio State is the biggest home game of the year for the Buckeyes, and that might be reason enough alone why they'll win it. However, in the off chance that it will take more than just a home-field advantage to best the Badgers, I've provided a few keys to securing a victory for Ohio State.
It shouldn't take all of these in order to win the game, but it sure wouldn't hurt.
1. Contain the edges. While everyone likes to talk about Wisconsin being a team that pounds the ball up the middle, it will likely be the edges that determine how well the Badgers move the ball. Running backs James White and Melvin Gordon will both be used on fly sweeps, as will receiver Jared Abbrederis. If the Ohio State defense can contain these plays and funnel everything back into the middle of the field, they should win this game. This will be the biggest responsibility that players like Doran Grant, Tyvis Powell and Joshua Perry have ever had. If they do their jobs properly, things should go relatively well for the Buckeyes.
2. Hold the Badgers to field goals. The Badgers have scored touchdowns in just 11 of their 18 (61.1%) trips into the red zone, which is good for just eighth in the Big Ten. Ohio State, meanwhile, is tied for the top overall red zone defense in the conference, allowing opponents to score just 66.7% of the time they reach the Buckeye 20-yard line and beyond. If Ohio State is going to win, both of the these tendencies need to reflect Saturday's game. Both teams are going to be moving the ball in this one, but the game could be decided by those final 20 yards. The team who kicks more field goals could very well lose this game.
3. Spread the field. This is Urban Meyer and Tom Herman's vision for this offense. Stretch every last inch of the defense, until something breaks. Eventually the stress is too much to bear. If the Badgers want to pack the middle in order to stop the inside run, then that will just invite the wide stuff with the likes of Braxton Miller and Dontre Wilson. Given Ohio State's ability to run up the middle, Wisconsin's defense will have almost no choice but to try and stop that first. It will leave them vulnerable elsewhere on the field, and it will be up to Miller and Herman to pick the weakest spots to attack. For instance, freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton would seem a logical candidate to attack. The play-action over the middle should be very effective also, as linebackers come crashing down to defend the run. Ohio State's plan of attack should be just fine; it will simply come down to execution. The intention, however, will be to spread the Badger defense out and stress the weaknesses.
4. Let Braxton Miller shake off the rust. The Buckeyes could start rather slowly in this game as Miller gets his football legs back under him. Even though he's had a week of practice, doing it in a game is a little different. If he starts slowly, fans can't be murmuring for Kenny Guiton. They need to give Miller time to get comfortable. There is no doubt that Meyer will give him time, but it would be beneficial to Miller and the team's psyche if the crowd was as patient with Miller as Meyer would be.
5. Ride Carlos Hyde to victory. If this game is close, then the fourth quarter should feature about 15 carries from Carlos Hyde. He is a closer, and he'll be fresher than anybody else on the field. Running backs can talk about being hungry, but Hyde is starving. You can see his football ribs poking out. He wants the ball very badly this week, and I would be surprised if he isn't fed heavily to close this game out.
Bonus: Don't get caught peaking. Wisconsin's passing game focuses quite a bit on the play-action, especially downfield to Jared Abbrederis. Whichever cornerback is matched up with him will have to have one eye on the run and the other on the pass, and somehow a third eye probably wouldn't hurt in this situation at all. A cornerback can be lulled into thinking about constant run support, and once they do, the Badgers have a knack for attacking that defender down the field. Abbrederis is a tremendous route runner and is a mismatch for a distracted cornerback. If his eyes are somewhere they aren't supposed to be, the Badgers could capitalize.
Bonus: Run the Wisconsin defense into exhaustion. If the Buckeyes are interested in pounding the Badgers in the fourth quarter, then running them ragged for the first three quarters is one way to help that plan along. The Ohio State offense is versatile, and they can do a lot of different things with the same five offensive players on the field. Expect them to run a lot of no huddle in an effort to keep the Badger defense from substituting. If they can find a mismatch, expect them to exploit it until it gets corrected. The only concern here is if the Badger offense has success running the ball, and the Buckeyes aren't giving their own defense enough time to recover.
Bonus: Create echoes in the backfield. The Ohio State defensive line doesn't have to get pressure on quarterback Joel Stave on every snap, but if they get enough pressure, the reverberations could affect him throughout. Stave isn't the most accurate guy, and he has thrown some interceptions this season. If he's worried about what he can't see, then he'll lose focus on what he can see, which will make things all that much better for the Buckeye defense.
Bonus: Don't miss tackles. This can't be stressed enough. With so many defenders brought into the box to stop this offense, one missed tackle could be all it takes for a Badger to go 80 yards. Gary Andersen talked about this earlier in the week, and said that teams will probably stop putting eight in the box against them just so that they can keep a last line of defense in the secondary to stop any home runs.
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