We're starting a new feature this year at OTE, the OTE B1G game of the week. Each week, we'll pick out the biggest conference game on the schedule, and the writer's for each team will do a little preview and prediction. This week, Hilary and I discuss the Wisconsin-Ohio State game.
Ted: The thing that worries me about Wisconsin is twofold, and one of them is as old as Wisconsin football itself.
They run the ball very, very well. And they have since I was a kid, it seems like. This year is no different, as Wisconsin boasts a trio of backs that are capable of breaking one for 70 yards and a touchdown on any play. Melvin Gordon, James White, and Cory Clement have rushed for almost 1,400 yards so far, and they are averaging, collectively, 8 yards per carry.
That means that Ohio State will probably be in a base 4-3 more than they have in any other game, and Wisconsin might have an advantage here. The Buckeyes have had some tackling issues, and six of the front seven are new this year. They're immensely talented, but there's been some breakdown in fundamentals early on this season. It's not anything that has cost the Buckeyes a game, but then again, they haven't played a team as good as Wisconsin, either.
The second one is that Wisconsin now has a coach that won't do something to Bielema himself out of the game. Look, I know Bret Bielema had success in the Big Ten, but he struggled mightily against OSU. You could usually count on him to make some boneheaded coaching decision that would help change momentum and cause The Badgers to snatch defeat from the jaws of an OSU victory. Gary Andersen seem like one of the smarter coaches roaming the sidelines in the B1G, and he's coached on staff with Meyer before, so he might have some insight into tendencies and what OSU might do in certain situations.
However, I like OSU's offensive playmakers in this, and if the Buckeye defense struggles I look for the Buckeyes to turn this into a shoot out. Braxton Miller returns, and Ohio State has a group of running backs every bit as good as Wisconsin's. They also have some greatly improved wide receiver play, and freshman speed demon Dontre Wilson. I think OSU has too many weapons for Wisconsin to account for on every play, and as good as Wisconsin's running game is, they can't match OSU score for score.
In the end, I think the Buckeyes offense is too much for Wisconsin to handle, and they win 38-24.
Hilary: Ted says that one of the main things that worries him about this game is the very identity of Wisconsin football.
I could say the same thing about Ohio State. Look, there's no getting past it, Ohio State is a fantastic football program. And the 2013 season is no different. There's a reason that OSU hasn't faltered from the top spot in our power poll yet this season. Well, maybe it's because they really haven't played anyone of substance, but mostly it's because they've looked completely dominant.
The fact is, they find ways to win. No matter who is coaching them, they pull games out. The 'Shoe, like Camp Randall, is an immensely difficult place to play. And under the lights? On national television? Yeah.
The Badgers have a good run game. Melvin Gordon is nuts. He's one of the best players in the conference. I don't know if even OSU can stop him. But.... I'm still not super confident. CAN Wisconsin win this game? Absolutely. They've beaten OSU with less talented teams. Will they? I don't know. I don't know if I can trust Stave, or any of the other QB options, to turn in a mistake free game. I don't know if I can trust the OC to stop giving me Rose Bowl 2-pt conversion flashbacks and stick with the run game (MOAR JET SWEEPS) if it's working. I don't know if I trust the green secondary to not get totally beat by talented receivers.
I want to believe this can be done. I don't know if I do.
Ted: And Joel Stave's the key figure in this game, isn't he?
I think we both agree that OSU won't completely shut down Wisconsin's running game. But that said, for Wisconsin to come in and control the game, they're going to have to really control the clock and roll up over 250 yards rushing. As good as their running game is, I don't see that happening, which means Joel Stave is goingto be forced to make some plays.
Can he do it? Well, let's just say that if Ohio State can neutralize or greatly diminish the Badgers running attack, I like OSU's secondary against Stave and the Badgers receivers. Outside of Jared Abbrederis, there's not a guy that would keep me up at night, and you can put Bradley Roby on Abbrederis and hopefully neutralize him.
I really like all the other matchups in the secondary, and if it comes down to Wisconsin's passing game having to win the game, I don't see them being able to do it.
Hilary: Well, don't sleep on the running backs.
All three of them have been known to catch passes, and are particularly good on screen plays and the like. Wisconsin also has some pretty awesome TEs to go along with Abby, led by Jacob Pedersen. It's true, Abby is the main target, and if you neutralize him you make the passing game a lot more difficult.
So, yeah, Stave (or whoever replaces him if he has a terrible start) is going to be a big figure in this game. He doesn't need to be awesome -- he just needs to complete enough passes to keep OSU from totally stacking the box on every play. While I haven't necessarily seen that awesome of a performance out of him this year, I have seen it last year, so I certainly think it's doable...
Ted: Okay Hilary, prediction time.
I went 38-24 Buckeyes earlier, and as persuasive as your arguments have been, I'm sticking with that. I think OSU is going to be jacked up for this night game at the Horseshoe, and although Wisconsin will have some success running the ball, it won't be enough, as OSU has too many guys on offense that the Badgers need to account for.
Are the Badgers going to pull the upset and let the nation drink the bitter tears of Buckeye fans worldwide?
Hilary: I like the way the Wisconsin defense has been performing, so I think 38 points is a bit high.
Still, my questions about the secondary and about Stave make me think that Wisconsin drops a heartbreaker, 21-17.
So, that's how we see the game. Good luck to Wisconsin and Ohio State, and here's to an injury free game Saturday night.