A New Era Begins

Today the Buckeyes started their new era — an era without Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor — and beat Akron, 42-0.  The win was, if anything, even more convincing than the one-sided score.

Defensively, the Buckeyes were dominant.  They held the Zips to 90 yards, forced a turnover, and didn’t let Akron get within spitting distance of the end zone.  Everybody contributed to a team effort that featured solid play by the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs.

Offensively, the game was a coming-out party for Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller.  Bauserman has been a cipher during the past few years; he didn’t see the field much and didn’t make much of an impression when he did.  Today he played well, made some good decisions, and threw some fine passes.  Miller, after an initial hiccup, displayed the run-pass abilities that will likely make him a dangerous offensive weapon.  The offensive line got a good push, and the Buckeyes showed depth at running back and wide receiver.   We also saw that fullback Zach Boren is a fierce lead blocker and tight end Jake Stoneburner poses huge match-up problems for defenses.  (Let’s hope the 2011 Buckeyes continue to go to their tight end, unlike prior teams.)

Congratulations to new head coach Luke Fickell on the win.  Now let’s all take a deep breath, remember that Akron is probably one of the worst teams in college football, and focus on the Toledo Rockets who will visit the Horseshoe next Saturday and provide a much stiffer challenge for the Buckeyes.

On Pins And Needles In Columbus

Tonight there is a profound sense of unease in Columbus.  Republican and Democrat, old and young, Deadhead or Justin Bieber fan — it makes no difference.  We all fret about what will happen tomorrow when the Ohio State University goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to address the issues with the football program.

The feeling of grim foreboding hangs over the city like a rancid fart in an elevator.  The brooding paranoia has been stoked by our friends at ESPN — boy, they love the Buckeyes, don’t they? — who have issued a weird report about a second letter from the NCAA concerning potential additional areas to investigate.  And so, people are wondering:  what else could have happened?  Were some of the Buckeye football players actually mutant genetic products created by crazed researchers in the Ohio State School of Biology?  Did Terrelle Pryor secretly maintain a fleet of untaxed corporate jets in a locked hangar at Don Scott Field?  Was Jim Tressel’s sweater vest actually made in Taiwan?

Sometime tomorrow people will appear before microphones at NCAA offices in headquarters and say that the hearing is over, and then we will wait.  We will wait to see whether the NCAA accepts the retirement of our outstanding coach and OSU’s self-imposed punishments as sufficient penalties for the Buckeyes’ transgressions.  Or, whether the NCAA cuts out our hearts, stomps on them, and then stuffs them down our throats by cutting scholarships, banning the Buckeyes from post-season play, or imposing other, even more draconian sanctions.  Now we know how Anne Boleyn must have felt as she waited in the Tower of London for the capricious decision of her King.

We care because this is Columbus, and this is who we are and what we do.

Banned From Buckeye Land

The Terrelle Pryor saga continues to grind along, and it isn’t pretty.

Pryor, who will not be using his last year of eligibility at Ohio State — he was suspended for the first five games, anyway — wants to enter the NFL supplemental draft.  In order to establish his eligibility for that draft, he has to show that he cannot return to OSU.  As a result, his attorney asked for a letter confirming that Pryor could not return to the Buckeyes.  Athletic Director Gene Smith obliged by writing that Pryor was ineligible because he had failed to cooperate with NCAA and OSU investigators, and also by announcing that Pryor is banned from any contact with the Ohio State athletic program for five years.  Of course, Pryor can still attend classes and get his degree from Ohio State.  Anyone want to wager on that happening?

So now, the guy who was the most heralded recruit Ohio State had landed in ages, and who was often touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate, has left the program in disgrace and, now, has been excommunicated.  What’s next — declaring that no Ohio State player will ever again wear the forever tainted no. 2 jersey?  How much has changed since Pryor led the Buckeyes to another victory over Michigan only 8 months ago!

 

Terrelle Farewell?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that Terrelle Pryor — who was already suspended from the first five games due to an NCAA violation — has decided to forego his senior season at Ohio State.

The story is based on an interview with Pryor’s attorney, who read a statement from the Ohio State quarterback.  The attorney quoted the statement as saying:  “In the best interest of my teammates, I have decided to forego my senior year of football at the Ohio State University.”  It is not clear at this point whether the University has confirmed Pryor’s decision.

If Pryor does in fact leave the Ohio State program, it will simply be the latest domino to topple in the memorabilia sales/tattoo scandal that has brought down Coach Jim Tressel and given the University a tremendous black eye.  Pryor would leave with a checkered career that began with his status as a much-heralded recruit, saw him lead Ohio State to victory over Michigan and to some other big wins, but also saw him unable to deliver the National Championship that some Ohio State fans thought might be won with Pryor under center.  His on-field successes, of course, will be forever tarred by his role in the ongoing scandal.

How the wheel of fate has turned since Ohio State fans celebrated Pryor’s decision to commit to Ohio State!

 

It was Inevitable

What happened earlier today with the Tressel resignation is really no surprise to me, except that it took as long as it did for him to resign. As I mentioned in a previous post back in March, Coach lost my support when he signed the NCAA document on December 8th saying that he knew nothing about the tattoo parlor incident when he in fact had received details the prior April.

I can understand that initially Coach Tressel’s thoughts were that he wanted to protect the players and that there might have been an issue with confidentiality, but when you forward the e-mail about the incident to Pryor’s confidante in Pennsylvania and not to the athletic director of Ohio State, that’s a HUGE mistake in my humble opinion. Tressel should have come clean during the March press conference and he didn’t.

I am also bothered about the way athletic director Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee handled the situation once they knew about it. When Ohio State held the press conference Gene Smith should have said that the university was going to conduct a more broad and comprehensive investigation to determine if there were more rules infractions that took place. Maybe then the details of car deals and living arrangement benefits might have been uncovered.

For Gee to say to the media, I have no intention of firing Coach Tressel, I only hope he doesn’t fire me has to be one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard ! Has college athletics gotten so big that the president of a major university is afraid to reprimand his own coach ? I think that Gee was treating Tressel as if he was above the NCAA rules that every other school has to follow and I think this is inexcusable.

I hope I am wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the NCAA decides to open up a second investigation into the new allegations that have recently come out. I wonder how Buckeye fans are going to react when we are slapped with NCAA sanctions of one, two or three years of probation not to mention the loss of numerous scholarships. I am as big a Buckeye fan as the next person, but the next few years are going to be very tough for Buckeye Nation.

Questions In Columbus

Last night the NCAA denied the appeals of the five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and accepting discounts on tattoos.  Those players — Mike Adams, Daniel (Boom) Herron, DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor, and Solomon Thomas — therefore will serve their full five-game suspension at the start of the 2011 season.  Shortly after the NCAA announcement, Ohio State’s head football coach Jim Tressel declared that he had decided to voluntarily increase his suspension to five games as well.  The University has accepted his request and is notifying the NCAA; no doubt it will be a while before the NCAA announces whether it is satisfied with Coach Tressel’s enhanced punishment.

The Columbus Dispatch story linked above quotes Coach Tressel as saying in a statement:  “Throughout this entire situation my players and I have committed ourselves to facing our mistakes and growing from them; we can only successfully do that together.  Like my players, I am very sorry for the mistakes I made. I request of the university that my sanctions now include five games so that the players and I can handle this adversity together.”

I’m not sure what to make of this latest development.  Many in Buckeye Nation will see this as a noble gesture by Coach Tressel, who is standing in solidarity with his players and sharing in their punishment.  In my view, however, this latest decision is strange on several levels.  Why announce a two-game suspension of Coach Tressel only 10 days ago, endure a hailstorm of criticism from the national media, and then voluntarily increase the suspension to five games after the hubbub had died down?  It makes it look like Ohio State’s earlier announcement was simply testing the waters.  Are the players’ sins of commission and Coach Tressel’s apparent sin of omission really equivalent?  And what about the players who didn’t violate the rules?  Why should they be voluntarily deprived of their head coach for three games?  Ironically, one of the reasons Ohio State cited in allowing the five suspended players to compete in the Sugar Bowl was that it would be unfair to punish the graduating seniors by depriving them of the chance to play in the bowl game as a complete team.

I remain convinced that we have not heard everything there is to hear about this story.  Lingering questions remain to be answered.

Can Buckeye Nation Forgive? (Cont.)

I’ve posted before on the five Ohio State football players who violated NCAA rules by selling things they had received from the University and getting discounts on tattoos.  Before the Sugar Bowl Coach Tressel told the media that the five players were allowed to make the trip for the bowl game only because they had promised that they would return to Ohio State next year and accept their punishment, rather than avoiding any penalties by leaving early for the pros.

At the time, some skeptics laughed at the quaint notion that the players had “given their word.”  They said the pledges that Coach Tressel mentioned were just a fig leaf that would allow the players to participate in the bowl games but wouldn’t mean anything when the players had the opportunity to leave for the NFL draft.  I’m happy to say that the skeptics were wrong.  Each of the five players has kept his word; they all declined to declare for the NFL draft and will return to the Buckeyes next year.  In fact, for the first time in years Ohio State did not have any juniors declare for the draft.

The five players — Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Solomon Thomas — kept their part of the bargain, and now it is time for Buckeye Nation to hold up its end.  It is time for us all to forgive these young men for their mistakes, applaud their mature adherence to their pledges, and give them our full support when they return after their suspensions next year.

O-Fer No Longer, And Buckeye Nation Rejoices

Finally!  Finally! Finally! Ohio State has beaten an SEC team in a bowl game.  The Buckeyes held on to beat Arkansas, 31-26, in a wild game at the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

At times it seemed like this game would not end and the fates had decreed that Ohio State was destined to lose.  There was a weird safety call.  Lots of injuries to key players, including Chimdi Chekwa, Cam Heyward, and Terrelle Pryor.  A fumble by Boom Herron on a crucial fourth-down conversion.  And ultimately a blocked punt that gave Arkansas the ball in great field position.  But somehow Ohio State’s defense refused to crumble.  Solomon Thomas intercepted Ryan Mallett as Arkansas was on Ohio State’s doorstep, and that sealed the win.

Say what you will about Terrelle Pryor, but he played a great game — and he is the only Ohio State quarterback to beat the SEC in a bowl game.  Pryor ran, passed, and made a slew of big plays to convert third downs and move the chains.  And Ohio State’s defense played a “bend, but don’t break” approach to perfection.  Arkansas moved the ball, but the D would make a big play and force a punt or a field goal attempt by a team that is used to scoring touchdowns.  Cam Heyward was a force on the defensive line all night long.  He has been a great Buckeye — one who returned for his senior year, when he could have gone pro — and he was rewarded with a game that Buckeye Nation will remember forever.  He will be missed.  And the rest of the defense also did a great job in holding Arkansas at bay and then, finally, forcing the turnover that ended the game.

Ohio State can’t brag about their record against the SEC.  They sprinted to a lead in this game, and then held on for dear life.  But it feels very sweet indeed that the Buckeyes have finally thrown the SEC bowl game monkey off their backs, and in the process salvaged a bit of pride for the Big Ten conference.  Congratulations to the entire team and Coach Tressel and his staff on a 12-1 season that showed, again, that Ohio State has fielded one of the best teams in the country.

Hoping To Feast On The Hogs

Tomorrow night the Buckeyes play the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl.  The media has paid a lot of attention to the story of the five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules and will be suspended for a number of games next season.  The only positive about that unfortunate story is that it distracts the media from talking, incessantly, about how the Buckeyes have never beaten an SEC team in a bowl game.  Ohio State has a huge monkey on its back as a result of its bowl futility against the SEC, and they are desperate to shake it off.

Unfortunately, they have to try to get off the schneid against a very good team.  Arkansas finished the season 10-2, losing only to Alabama and Auburn.  The Razorbacks’ strength is a high-flying, pass-oriented offense that has put up a lot of points.  Quarterback Ryan Mallett — familiar to Buckeyes fans from his days at Michigan — has had a fine year, throwing for more than 3500 yards and 30 touchdowns.  Although the Razorbacks focus on the aerial attack, they also average more than 150 yards a game on the ground behind sophomore running back Knile Davis.  Davis has breakaway ability and really came on at the end of the season.  The Razorbacks defense is less touted, but played pretty well except for their track meet with Auburn, where Arkansas was torched for 65 points.  The defense recovered from that embarrassment to play considerably better down the stretch, as Arkansas reeled off six straight wins.

Arkansas will be a tough match-up for the Buckeyes because the Razorbacks’ offensive strength plays into Ohio State’s defensive weakness.  Mallett is a drop-back pocket passer who can be harassed into bad throws, but the Buckeyes have struggled all season to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  Ohio State’s secondary has been banged up and has not faced a passing game even close to what Arkansas offers.  The nightmare scenario for the Buckeyes is a game in which the line fails to get pressure, the blitz packages don’t work, and the defense gets picked apart by the Arkansas passing attack.  Offensively, the Buckeyes will try to perform like Auburn did in their game against the Razorbacks.  The Tigers gashed Arkansas on the ground, with Cam Newton rushing for nearly 190 yards and three touchdowns.  Terrelle Pryor is a big, rangy runner like Newton — although he does not run with the same pop Newton brings to the table — and it would not surprise me to see the Buckeyes feature some designed quarterback runs to test the Arkansas defense.

Last year’s Rose Bowl saw Ohio State play against type, and I would not be surprised if Jim Tressel and his coaches have a similarly inventive game plan for the Sugar Bowl.  Regardless of the game plan, however, the key will be whether the Buckeyes’ offensive and defensive lines can hold their own.  Defensively, the Buckeyes have to get pressure on Mallett without rolling the dice on repeated blitzes and exposing their defensive backs to one-on-one cover scenarios.  Offensively, the line needs to create holes for Pryor, Boom Herron, and the Buckeye ground game and give Pryor enough time to throw.  To win this game, Ohio State will need to force turnovers and capitalize on their opportunities in the red zone; field goals aren’t likely to mean much in the face of the Arkansas scoring machine.  And, oh yes — it would be nice for the Buckeye special teams to avoid the kinds of breakdowns that put them in holes against Miami and Wisconsin.

The Big Ten’s sorry performance in the New Year’s Day bowls and the flame-out of Miami makes it reasonable to question what Ohio State’s 11-1 record really means and how good this Ohio State team really is.  We’ll find out tomorrow night.

Can Buckeye Nation Forgive?

The five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules — DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Boom Herron, Terrelle Pryor, and Solomon Thomas — made statements to the media today.  The players apologized and expressed hope that they will be forgiven by their teammates, former players, the Ohio State University, and Buckeye Nation.  A video of their statements is available from the Ozone website.

Sports fans tend to be unforgiving types, but I hope that Ohio State fans can find it in themselves to forgive the young men.  They broke the rules, they were caught, and they will be punished.  Through the statements today, they accepted responsibility for their actions.  Their public statements of apology seemed heartfelt to me.

For all of their athletic prowess, these are youngsters who are going through an age that is characterized by lapses in judgment and questionable decision-making.  How many people can say, truthfully, that they never engaged in underaged drinking, that they never cut classes, or that they never undertook some other illicit or ill-advised activity when they were college students?  How many parents would be willing to write off one of their children as a bad apple because of one transgression of this kind?  For that matter, how many adults can say that they have never gotten behind the wheel of a car when they had too much to drink?

College is all about learning, and some of the lessons are learned in the school of hard knocks.  The five players have now learned that bad decisions can have very bad consequences.  I’m confident that they will not forget that lesson.  We can all afford to show them some forgiveness.

The Sugar Bowl, Now Not So Sweet

The Ohio State University and the Buckeye Nation got a shock yesterday, as the NCAA announced that six players would be suspended for violations of NCAA rules.  The players include starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting tailback Dan “Boom” Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting lineman Mike Adams, and two reserves.

The players apparently accepted discounts on tattoos and sold items they had received from the University, including uniforms, Big Ten championships rings, and the tiny “gold pants” that Ohio State players receive when the teams beats Michigan.  The incidents occurred two years ago, when the players were freshmen.  Pryor, Herron, Posey, and Adams will be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, but will be permitted to play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl.  In the meantime, Ohio State is appealing the penalties as being overly harsh.

I feel sorry for the players — who evidently say, with conviction, that once they were given the items they thought they were free to do whatever they wanted with them, and who used the money they received to help their families — but I feel especially sorry for the University.  Ohio State views itself as more than a school with a good football team.  It believes itself to be, first and foremost, a world-class research institution and learning facility that just happens to have excellent sports programs.  When an incident like this occurs, it hurts that self-perception, and no doubt causes people elsewhere in the country to conclude that Ohio State is just another “football factory,” and nothing more.

It leaves a bitter taste on the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, at a time when the school and the team should be enjoying a successful season capped by another Big Ten championship and looking forward, with unimpaired focus, to a chance to shake off the “can’t beat the SEC” canard against a talented Arkansas Razorbacks team.

Seven In A Row, And Counting

Yesterday, on a cold and blustery day in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes pulverized the Michigan Wolverines, 37-7.  The win in The Game was the seventh in a row for Ohio State over its archrivals.

Buckeye bagpipers at French Field House

At Ohio Stadium it was a festive atmosphere from start to finish.  A troupe of bagpipers walked among the tailgaters at the French Field House lot playing Carmen Ohio.  Brutus rode by, hanging out of the window of a pickup truck and pumping up the raucous crowd.  Inside the Horseshoe the 105,000 fans also had their game faces on, heckling and booing the Michigan band, cheerleaders, fans, and anyone else who dared to wear maize and blue.

When the game finally began, Ohio State started slowly.  Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball.  Then the Ohio State defense forced a crucial turnover, Ohio State finally broke through to score 10 points, and when Michigan answered with its one touchdown Jordan Hall broke Michigan’s back with a return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.  After that it was no contest.  The Buckeyes methodically ground up the Wolverines, forcing two more turnovers and pounding Michigan on the ground.  The only thing that kept the game even remotely close was the absurd refereeing, which punished college kids for making the “O” sign and negated Boom Herron’s brilliant 99-yard touchdown run with the worst downfield holding call in college football history.

The team and band sing Carmen Ohio after the win

Although Michigan has struggled this year, this nevertheless was an impressive win for the Buckeyes.  The offense did not play its best game, yet still Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, and their teammates scored 30 offensive points — and could easily have scored more if Coach Tressel had not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.  The defense, on the other hand, played one of its best games.  It held the high-powered Michigan offense to its lowest point total of the season and pretty much shut down the Wolverines after they scored their lone touchdown.  The Buckeyes clearly wanted to contain Denard Robinson, and for the most part they succeeded.  When Robinson went out with an injury, every Buckeyes fan breathed a sigh of relief.  Although Tate Forcier is a decent quarterback, he is a much easier player to defend.

At the end, as we listened to the team sing Carmen Ohio and looked at the scoreboard memorializing a decisive victory over the Wolverines, it was a sweet moment.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

Passing A Character Test

Sometimes things just don’t go your way on the football field.  Your normally sure-handed receivers drop catchable balls that could break the game open.  You rack up penalties and the other team doesn’t.  An off-target pass gets batted into the air and intercepted rather than falling to the ground.  You’re playing in enemy territory, on the opponent’s Senior Night, before a bunch of screaming fans, against a determined opponent that is hoping to salvage a disappointing season with a win.

When you are faced with such adversity, a football game can become a test of character.  Many teams fold under the pressure and experience the bitterness of defeat.  Good teams find a way to dig deep, overcome such obstacles, and win.

So it was with Ohio State last night.  The Buckeyes entered the fourth quarter tied with Iowa after some tough, hard-nosed football and lots of missed opportunities.  After an errant Terrelle Pryor pass caromed into the hands of a Hawkeye defender, Iowa got a quick score to lead 17-10, with only 12:10 to go in the game.  The Hawkeyes and their home town fans were fired up, and the Buckeyes had their backs to the wall.

Yet Ohio State found a way to answer.  It took the ensuing kickoff, marched down the field, and Devin Barclay kicked a 48-yard field goal to pull the Buckeyes within four.  Then the defense came up big, forcing a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes.  Ohio State got the ball back on their own 24 and again moved the ball downfield with a mix of runs and passes.  On third-and-ten at the 50, Terrelle Pryor threw a perfect strike to a wide-open DeVier Posey in the end zone — and Posey inexplicably dropped it.  Many teams would have given up at that point, but not the Buckeyes.  Pryor made a great, game-saving run on fourth-and-ten, and Ohio State was back in business.  A short pass, a run for first down, and a great Dane Sanzenbacher catch later, the Buckeyes were two yards away from the promised land.  Two gritty runs by Boom Herron got the TD, the Buckeyes’ defense stuffed Iowa again, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock for a crucial road win.

Many Ohio State fans think the team should win every game by 30 points — but that’s just not the way big-time college football works.  Iowa clearly is one of the best teams in the conference, and when you play at Kinnick Stadium you can’t expect a blowout — you just play for a victory.  Ohio State got that victory, and the Buckeyes now stand at 10-1 overall and 6-1 and tied for the lead with Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten with one game to go.  That sounds pretty good to me.

Two Halves Make A Happy Whole

Yesterday, Ohio State had its biggest-ever comeback by a Jim Tressel-coached team.  The Buckeyes overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit to crush Penn State with 35 unanswered second-half points and win, 38-14.

The two halves of yesterday’s game could not have been more different.  Penn State dominated the first half.  The Nittany Lions’ defense came up with big stops against a very lackluster Ohio State offense, and Penn State’s walk-on quarterback, Matt McGloin, sliced up the Buckeyes with pinpoint throws and two touchdown tosses.  (He also enraged Buckeye fans like me with his cocky strutting.)  If not for a big fourth-down stop by Jermale Hines and the Ohio State defense, the Buckeyes could easily have gone into halftime down 21-3.

The Buckeyes came out with more fire in the second half, and it showed.  After stopping the Penn State offense on their first series, the Buckeyes marched 96 yards for a score to close the margin to 14-10.  Boom Herron, who totaled 190 yards on the ground for the game, set the tone for a great second half in which he, Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Saine, Zach Boren,and the Ohio State offensive gutted the Penn State defense on the ground.  Then, McGloin went from looking like an apparent Heisman candidate to looking like a walk-on.  He threw an interception that Devon Torrence returned for a touchdown — the first of two pick sixes for the defense in the second half — and the game was off to the races.  McGloin completed only two passes in the second half and ended the game on the bench.

I wrote yesterday about trying to figure out whether this Ohio State team could be great.  Yesterday’s game teaches us, at least, that the team has some character and determination, sufficient to overcome poor play and then blow out a determined opponent that is a traditional power.  The ground game exhibition the Buckeyes put on during the second half also bodes well for the two remaining games, which could easily be played in bad weather.  Let’s hope, however, that yesterday’s game is the last time Ohio State plays a bad half of football.  Against Iowa and Michigan, and in any bowl game, two solid halves of football will be needed.

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.