Badgers bring power, not mystery

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Last updated: 09/23/2013 11:01 PM
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Badgers Bring Power, not Mystery
By Rob Ogden

Luke Fickell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

New year, new coach, same smashmouth style of football.

That's how Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell described Wisconsin as the Buckeyes prepare to face the Badgers in their first Big Ten game of the year on Saturday.

"There's no disguise as to what they are going to do," Fickell said.

"I don't think it's changed at Wisconsin in a long time, but that doesn't make it any easier to prepare for by any means."

It's no secret, Wisconsin is going to run, run and run some more. The Badgers rank third nationally in rushing yards per game. They lead the nation with 1,399 total yards on the ground — 155 yards more than the next closest team, which happens to be Fickell's Buckeyes.

"The unique thing about college football in general is each and every week, you're going to get something a bit different, and you have to be able to do it, adapt and adjust," Fickell said.

"Two weeks ago we were at Cal, and that was a unique, different offense. … This is a unique, different offense that is going to run the ball right at you and be a bit more of a smashmouth and do what they do."

The Badgers' downhill running attack isn't a one-man show. Sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White each rank in the top 10 in the nation in rushing yards and average more than 100 yards per game.

Gordon is the nation's leading rusher with 624 yards and White is the nation's leading career rusher with 3,013 yards during his time at Wisconsin.

Even after losing Montee Ball — the all-time FBS leader in career touchdowns — Wisconsin is averaging almost 350 rushing yards per game as a team.

"They have two great backs," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I don't know where the heck they keep getting these guys but they have great backs, and we have our hands full."

New coach Gary Anderson can't take credit for bringing Gordon and White to Wisconsin, but the former offensive lineman can take credit for keeping the Badgers' running identity alive.
In his final three seasons at Utah State — Anderson's previous stop — the Aggies ranked in the top 26 in the nation in rushing offense each year.

In 2011, Utah State running back Robert Turbin ranked 10th in the nation in total rushing with 1,517 yards. Last season, Aggie runner Kerwynn Williams ranked 11th with 1,512 yards.
Fickell and linebacker Curtis Grant both said Wisconsin's offense isn't much different under Anderson from what it was under former coach Bret Bielema.

"They're a big powerhouse team. We know what to expect," Grant said.

"They've got big linemen and they're going to pound the ball. They're gonna run the ball at least 40-to-50 times a game, so you've got to prepare for that."

During the first four games of the year, the Buckeye defense has played a lot of snaps with five, six or even seven defensive backs on the field. That likely won't be the case Saturday, and Grant said he's just fine with that.

"I like to hit people," he said. "When you're out in that spread, a lot of times you don't get to run into a lot of people, so these are the games that I like."

Meyer said Saturday's game will be the biggest test thus far for the Buckeyes' defensive front seven —  a unit that played last week without two of its regular starters in Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett.

"They have not received a challenge yet like this one," Meyer said. "Cal was a tremendous challenge but that was more we were playing dime defense and it was all about pass rush. This is going to be you have two backs averaging I think 150 each, and this will be the biggest challenge to this point, maybe the rest of the year, for our defensive front seven."

Fortunately for Ohio State, Meyer said Bennett will be back this week and called Washington probable. Fickell said they're going to need them.

"The game is won up front … and it will be evident this week," Fickell said. "Whether it's their offensive line or our defensive line, or our offensive line or their defensive line; that's where the game is going to be won.

"If we do a great job up front, we'll be in good shape. If we don't do a great job up front, we'll have a tough time."

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