A Bruising Win, And Now On To Michigan Week

Whew!  Ohio State escaped from Camp Randall Stadium with a 21-14 overtime win in one of the toughest, hardest-fought games you’re likely to see this year.

It wasn’t a pretty game offensively.  The Buckeye offense was pitiful during the second half, when it had multiple chances to put the game away.  The low point came when, with time running out in the fourth quarter, the offense could have salted the game away with one first down — but was unable to pick it up.  Wisconsin’s defense was terrific, and never let Braxton Miller shake loose.  The Badgers covered the Ohio State receivers like a wet blanket, and Miller often seemed baffled about what to do.  Ohio State’s coaching staff had better figure that out, because Michigan will be studying how Wisconsin defended the Buckeyes and will try to follow that approach next week.

The Ohio State defense, though, was stellar.  The Silver Bullets gave up yardage to Montee Ball — who doesn’t? — but penned him in and produced countless big plays.  The biggest was the lick Ryan Shazier laid on Ball to force a fumble on a fourth and goal with time ticking down in the fourth quarter, followed by a stout stand that gave the Buckeyes the win in overtime.  Defensive lineman John Simon was all over the field, playing his heart out.  He graduates this year, but his studly, never-say-quit play has earned him a place in the pantheon of Buckeye gridiron greats.

This was the kind of rugged defensive battle that epitomizes Big Ten football.  The Buckeyes prevailed, won the Big Ten Leaders division (who cares?), and moved to 11-0.  Now it’s on to Michigan Week, when the Wolverines come to the Horseshoe.  In football’s greatest rivalry game, Michigan will have the chance to ruin Ohio State’s perfect record, and Ohio State will have the opportunity to keep Michigan out of the Big Ten championship game.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

The Buckeyes And The Badgers

At 3:30 this afternoon, the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes play the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.  The venue will be rocking, as it always seems to be when Ohio State plays Wisconsin.

These teams have a very good rivalry going, in both football and basketball.  In football, the teams have taken turns knocking each other off in recent years, often in dramatic fashion.  Last year, Ohio State’s nail-biting win over the highly ranked Badgers was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season, and the year before Wisconsin handed Ohio State its only loss.  In basketball, Bo Ryan and Thad Matta have established a tremendous rivalry; each program has had excellent teams in recent years and the season series has been split in each of the last three seasons.  Next to traditional rival Michigan, Wisconsin is Ohio State’s top adversary in the Big Ten and, I think, the team Buckeye Nation most wants to beat in the big-money sports.

Today’s game should be a classic.  Wisconsin is a tough team that has lost three close games.  It features the perennial punishing ground game that you expect from a Wisconsin football team; top running back Montee Ball has already rushed for more than 1200 yards and is mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.  The Badgers strap it up and run right at you, which means the Ohio State defensive line will need to come to play.  The Wisconsin defense, on the other hand, has been terrific in keeping opponents off the scoreboard and is one of the best defenses in the country in that category.  Add in the din that always is found in Camp Randall Stadium, and you have all the makings of a barnburner.

To win this game, the Buckeyes need to get off to a good start — something they haven’t been able to do in many games this year.  On offense, the Buckeyes will need to mix it up and Braxton Miller will need to be as accurate with his arm as he has been elusive with his feet.  The Ohio State defense must stop Ball and the Badgers’ ground game.  It would be nice for Ohio State to get a big lead and force Wisconsin to throw, but that’s probably wishful thinking.  This will probably be one of those back-and-forth, hard-hitting games where turnovers tell the tale — and one that will add to the luster of this fine Big Ten rivalry.