Game Eight: Wisconsin Badgers
Coach: Bret Bielema
Location: Ohio Stadium (Columbus, OH). 8pm EST, ESPN
Wisconsin Offense vs. Ohio State Defense: Wisconsin's offense leads The Big Ten, averaging 47 points a game. Ohio State's defense ranks fifth in the conference, allowing only 16 points a game. Something has to give, and Ohio State fans can only hope that it is not the Buckeye defense. If Ohio State cannot slow down Wisconsin's balanced attack, it could be a long evening in Columbus.
RB Montee Ball keys Wisconsin's historically strong rushing attack, while WRs Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis, and TE Jacob Pedersen lead Wisconsin's receiving corps. Toon had a big game last season against Ohio State - it could be CB Brad Roby's assignment to cover Toon in this contest.
QB Russell Wilson's dual threat capabilities will be the key to Ohio State's chances in this game. If Ohio State effectively forces Wilson into turnovers, or if Ohio State can neutralize Wilson's scrambling, Ohio State has a chance. I will be curious to see if Ohio State spies on Wilson with DB Tyler Moeller, or even freshman LB Ryan Shazier, in order to stop Wilson from running all over Ohio State during passing downs.
While I respect Ohio State's John Simon and Johnathan Hankins in the defensive interior, Ohio State's linebackers will need to step up in this game much better than they have all season so far. Wisconsin's offensive line, despite losing three starters to the NFL, is just as strong as ever.
Ohio State's Offense vs. Wisconsin's Defense: Ohio State's offensive performance two weeks ago may have made Coach Hayes smile somewhere, but made most Ohio State fans cringe with the overly-conservative attack. The 1 of 4 passing may have worked against Illinois, but Ohio State needs to open it up in order to stand a chance against Wisconsin in Ohio Stadium.
Wisconsin comes into this game ranked third in The Big Ten in total defense, while Ohio State ranks eleventh in total offense. QB Braxton Miller played well against Nebraska in a losing effort three weeks ago, but sustained a sprained ankle in the contest. Miller will need to scramble for positive yardage against the Badgers on Saturday night.
The return of RB Daniel "Boom" Herron was the boost Ohio State needed to escape with a victory over Illinois. Herron, if combined with RB Carlos Hyde, can help to control the clock against Wisconsin. It would not surprise me if Ohio State uses TEs Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel as safe outlet passes for Miller.
Edge: Wisconsin. Look for the Badgers to stack eight men in the box, daring Ohio State to throw on their strong secondary. If Ohio State does not come out and attack Wisconsin through the air, as Michigan State did in their miracle victory last weekend, Ohio State will be out of the game by halftime.
Intangibles: Finally, a possible area for Ohio State to have the edge. A night game in Ohio Stadium means the home crowd will be adequately hydrated for this contest. Ohio State fans will come out in full force for revenge against the only team that defeated the Buckeyes last season. Former Buckeye legend RB Eddie George will be honored at halftime; it's too bad George is out of eligibility. I will be at this contest with my brother-in-law Kevin and my cousin John - I have never been to an Ohio State game where the Buckeyes have lost. And do not forget about the atrocious, I mean, special Nike combat uniforms Ohio State will get to wear for this contest.
Edge: Ohio State.
Prediction: I truly want to pick Ohio State to pull off the upset in this one, but Wisconsin's balanced offense, and Ohio State's sputtering offense, make it impossible for me to do so. Months ago, I wrote this was going to be Ohio State's most difficult game, and nothing has made me change my mind about that prediction. As I wrote up above, I have never been to an Ohio State home game where the Buckeyes have lost, so it pains me to go against my winning streak in this prediction - we are talking games back to 1983. Still, as Elton John says, "It's seven o'clock and I wanna rock, wanna get a bellyful of beer..." - that, I will accomplish Saturday evening in Columbus with Kevin, John, and hopefully many other loyal Ohio State fans. My prediction ~ Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 14.