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Buckeyes in for physical challenge

OSU defense has to slow Badgers' ground game

October 27, 2011
By ED PUSKAS - Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor ( , Tribune Chronicle |

Wisconsin is favored by a touchdown going into its Big Ten Conference showdown against Ohio State on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

At first glance, that spread doesn't seem large enough, given how bad the Buckeyes have looked at times this season and how productive the Badgers' offense has been. But it's probably a reflection of a few things:

1. Ohio State played well two weeks ago in a 17-7 victory on the road against then-unbeaten Illinois.

2. The Buckeyes have had two weeks to prepare for the Badgers.

3. Some observers aren't so firmly planted on the Wisconsin bandwagon after Michigan State's stunning 37-31 victory last week in East Lansing.

But it's been a long time since Ohio State was a touchdown underdog against anybody on the shores of the Olentangy River and since a victory by the Buckeyes inside the Horseshoe would be considered a significant upset.

It's not inconceivable that Ohio State could beat Wisconsin, but even when the Buckeyes are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 - last season, for example - the Badgers seem to have their number.

A year ago, Wisconsin handed Ohio State its only loss, 31-18, in Madison. The Buckeyes finished 12-1 after beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but vacated the season in the wake of a cash and tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal.

The NCAA violations and subsequent coverup ultimately cost Ohio State coach Jim Tressel his job, resulted in the suspensions of several key players and led the university to cut ties with quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who is now with the Oakland Raiders.

The Buckeyes (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) got tailback Dan "Boom" Herron back for the game at Illinois and the senior from Warren produced immediately, with 114 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State's victory. But the Buckeyes really simplified the offense and attempted just four passes. Ohio State isn't going to beat Wisconsin with such a one-dimensional offensive scheme.

And the Buckeyes aren't going to do so unless their linebackers play a much more physical brand of football than they've played all season, or in recent years against Wisconsin. The Badgers have had success against Ohio State because they've been able to match or surpass the Buckeyes' physical style. Wisconsin pushed Ohio State all over Camp Randall Stadium a year ago and the Buckeyes didn't start pushing back until it was too late.

If that happens again, it could be a long night for Ohio State. Michigan State spotted Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes last week, but the Spartans had enough big-play potential to survive that initial burst. The Buckeyes - even with Herron in the backfield - probably do not.

Ohio?State linebackers Andrew Sweat, Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein have to tackle well and come up with the sort of big defensive plays that have been missing this season.

If the Buckeyes' defense can't force Wisconsin into some third-and-long situations and get off the field with some regularity, the Badgers' ground game will put up huge numbers.

That, in turn, will create opportunities downfield for senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who is perhaps the most exciting new player in the Big Ten this season.

Wilson, a transfer from?North Carolina State, is completing 73 percent of his passes (109 of 149)?and has thrown for 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Wilson also has hurt opposing defenses with his legs, averaging 6.6 yards on 32 carries.

Slowing running backs Montee Ball and James White, however, is the most important factor. None of Wisconsin's first seven opponents have been able to stop the Badgers' running game. Even the Spartans allowed Wisconsin 220 rushing yards on 41 carries, an average of 5.4 yards.

Michigan State overcame that with big plays from quarterback?Kirk Cousins, who passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin's secondary.

Do you see Braxton?Miller doing that? Neither do I, so Ohio State fans should expect a steady diet of Herron and hope the Buckeyes' front seven comes to play Saturday night.



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