I'm sorry for the late nature of this preview. I'm in Downtown, Chicago, preparing to make the trip to Madison for tomorrow's Big Ten game of the week: No. 1 Ohio State versus No. 16 Wisconsin. Those of you who are regular readers know that I have a love/hate relationship with Camp Randall Stadium.
The architectural buff in me loves that it's the oldest stadium in the conference, and the way the south stands abut the Wisconsin Field House. The history buff in me loves that the stadium is built on the site of a Union Civil War training camp. The Midwesterner in me loves the stadium's proximity to Lake Mendota, and its dangerously unpredictable weather patterns. I've called it a "foul weather fortress," and "The House of Rain that loves House of Pain."
Don't forget to enter your picks here for Week 7 of the Obligatory Predictions Competition.
Don't get me wrong: this is a pass-first offense, and Terrelle Pryor looks oddly comfortable standing pat in the pocket checking off reads and flinging the ball to a number of incipient targets. Earlier this season he completed a school record 16 passes in a row. Last week at Indiana he threw for a career high 334 yards, in a gameplan that never asked him to use his legs. And for good reason: Pryor was nursing a quad strain that limited his mobility -- as well as the coaches' risk tolerance -- and was up against a weak defensive front.
In 2003, I watched No. 3 Ohio State drown in Madison on the hands of a 79 yard Lee Evan's touchdown. In 2008, I watched them survive. And although it was a youthful Terrelle Pryor -- making his third career start as a freshman -- that is remembered for finding the endzone with his feet to secure the 20-17 victory under the lights -- it was Beanie Wells that saved the day for the Buckeyes, racking up 168 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
It is a lesson that the Buckeyes must not forget heading into Madison for just the second time in seven years: to beat the Badgers, they must run.
But make no mistake: against premiere competition the Buckeyes have never won when they can't run. Sure, it was Pryor's 266 passing yards that earned him MVP honors in last season's Rose Bowl win over Oregon, but it was Ohio State's 153 yards rushing (72 of which were from Pryor) that kept the Buckeyes in the game, and allowed them to close out the clock.
Think about it. How do the Buckeyes get from 3rd and 4 to 1st and 10? On the ground.
That's not great news in Columbus, where Daniel Herron and Brandon Saine have struggled to give the scarlet a reliable rushing presence, and Tressel's promise that Pryor's legs are 100 percent should be taken with a grain of salt.
If Pryor is teathered to the pocket, and Boom and Zoom continue to play with kid gloves, Ohio State will routinely stall against a fast and physical Badger front.
So watch third down conversions closely Columbus. If the Buckeyes are relying on the run to move the chains, you've got to feel good about their chances. If they're forcing the ball into tight coverage, we're a new kind of one-dimensional.