On (To) Wisconsin

This week the Buckeyes travel to Madison, Wisconsin and Camp Randall Stadium to take on the Badgers in the biggest game of the season to date.  Freshly dubbed the no. 1 team in the country, the Buckeyes must find a way to beat a tough, physical team in a night game in one of the most raucous venues in the land.  ESPN’s Game Day will be there, and lots of experts will be watching the game to see whether Ohio State really is deserving of its new ranking.

How can Ohio State win the game?  Well, they need to figure out how to stop Wisconsin’s running attack.  The Badgers’ ground game is spearheaded by junior John Clay, a big, punishing runner who can bust through the line of scrimmage and run people over.  Clay is one of the premier running backs in the nation.  He averages 6 yards a carry, has scored 9 touchdowns, and leads a rushing game that is the 11th best in the country.  Stopping the run has been a strength for Ohio State this year, but Clay, James White, and Montee Ball are in a different league than the other backs the Buckeyes have faced this year.

This will be a game where the offense has to help the defense.  Turnovers could be killers, not just because they keep Ohio State from scoring but also because they will further energize a loud crowd and allow Clay and colleagues to keep pounding away at the Buckeye defense.  The problems with the Ohio State special teams this year also mean that the less reliance on the punting unit, the better.  Ohio State’s offense has to protect the ball while also putting some points on the board and keeping the defense off the field.  Wisconsin has a fine quarterback in senior Scott Tolzien, but I’d rather face a Wisconsin that is throwing the ball to try to catch up than a Wisconsin that is running the ball down Ohio State’s throat.  A lot will depend on Terrelle Pryor, his scrambling, and his ability to hit Ohio State receivers — and if Ohio State were to get a solid effort from its running backs that would be useful, too.

The intangibles in this game all favor Wisconsin.  They are playing at home and are looking to turn around a season that ran off the rails a bit when the Badgers lost unexpectedly to Michigan State.  Ohio State, in contrast, will be carrying the burden of a no. 1 ranking for the first time in a long time.  Add to that the challenge of playing at night in a huge stadium that will be packed with screaming fans, and you end up with a very big challenge for the Buckeyes.