In honor of the Big Ten Championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers, I thought it would be appropriate to bring out an old standby in OTE land - the Potluck. I asked the writing team five questions about Saturdays matchup and they answered my questions. It's a pretty straight forward thing, and not wholly unlike those wonderful church potluck of your youth, we got a bunch of different answers - some in the form of Jello salads - and figured out that a) Melvin Gordon is very good, b) we predicted this game before the season started in spite of ourselves, and c) did I mention that Melvin Gordon is very good?
We have a mixed bag of Wisconsin and Ohio State goodness in here, so grab a plate, get prepared to eat some casseroles, and join in on the fun!
At the beginning of the season, our illustrious writing team threw imaginary darts at an imaginary dartboard and decided that Ohio State would finish 11-1 and Wisconsin would finish 10-2. Roughly four months later, we find ourselves staring down a Buckeye-Badger conference championship game, with both teams sporting those records, but it feels like this was less than predestined for much of the season. Ohio State has overcome one QB injury and will have to endure a second, and Wisconsin has a Melvin Gordon - which is a pretty nice thing to have. All that in mind, give everyone an idea of how surprise/not-surprised you are by the matchup. Was this the game always going to happen? Are we actually good at prognostication?
Andrew K: It wasn't ALWAYS going to happen. Before we realized exactly how good Gordon is, it was far from clear that Wisconsin would win the West. Nebraska, Minnesota, even Iowa (hahaha who could have picked them.../cough) looked at least as likely to win it. And let's remember, Minnesota had a 14-point lead over Wisconsin in the Axe game, and Iowa only lost to them by 2, so it's not like the Badgers ran train on everyone in front of them even with Gordon's season for the ages. Meanwhile, everyone and their brother jumped on the Spartan bandwagon after Braxton Miller went down, because there's no way some unknown redshirt freshman could take the conference and country by storm and-
I'm being told the previous two Heisman winners did just that so maybe Barrett shouldn't have surprised us so much because young players are increasingly better prepared for the college game than they've ever been before. His emergence coupled with MSU's defense not being quite what it has been the last few seasons gave the Buckeyes enough of an opening in what turned out to be the East title game when the two teams played (that, most of us did correctly foresee). So to answer the question, no, this matchup wasn't inevitable, not at all. But it was, at least, probable, especially once Joel Stave got his groove back, because this conference has three very good teams, a couple decent but flawed ones after that, and then a whole lot of garbage, unfortunately.
Hilary: Even though I'm a Badgers fan, I admit to being pleasantly surprised that this matchup actually ended up happening. On the West side, I always thought that Wisconsin had a good chance of coming out on top. At the beginning of the season, I found myself most intimidated by Nebraska, then Iowa, then finally Minnesota (though actually not really on the last one because hahahah).
If anything, I'm more surprised that OSU actually managed to get by MSU to win the east. I thought that it would come down to those two teams, but after watching OSU against VT I really thought MSU was going to take it from them. After the OSU-MSU game, however, it was pretty obvious that the Buckeyes were going to end up in the championship game.
C4B: I'm not entirely surprised this matchup is happening. Wisconsin was pretty much the team to beat out West from the beginning of the year, and they stumbled the least out of the Quadrangle, so them making it to Indy isn't too surprising. Ohio State making the trip is a little surprising based on the beginning of the year, but it was probably always going to be them or Michigan State, and the Buckeyes won the head to head matchup, so they get to go.
And no, we are not good at prognostication, because we don't watch games. Duh.
Graham: We're actually decent (this year). We, speaking generally, believed that OSU and Wisconsin were the best teams in their divisions, and that MSU/Nebraska had a few too many unanswered questions to boost them into the CGG. We were right.
But the way we got here, I'm not sure anyone knew MSU would have the top offense in MSU history and it would be the defense that fell apart in that matchup under the lights in EL.
And I'm not sure anyone knew Minnesota's push would be so intense, toppling Nebraska and almost knocking off Wisconsin.
GF3: I'll be honest and say that I'm quite surprised at the matchup from the OSU side. After the loss of Braxton and the turrible, turrible, turrible performance against VT, I figured the Buckeyes would get rolled by Sparty and possibly even another team. I expected to see Wisconsin in the championship, based on their known strengths and the generally low level of competition they'd face in the West, which generally panned out with the exception that Minnesota and Nebraska swapped roles. So call it a half-surprise. As for are we good at prognostication...I think calling OSU a one-loss team in the B1G East and Wisconsin a 2-loss team with an SEC team on the non-con slate doesn't exactly make us the Great Kreskin, especially when most thought Ohio State's loss would be to MSU.
There is a strong argument to be had that the two best players in the Big Ten will be on the field in this scenario with Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon both sitting there being awesome this season. While Ohio State has gotten better defensively overall, there still seem to be some breakdowns. Specifically, I would be a little nervous if I was a Buckeye that Gordon just trounces right through this rush d that gives up over 4 yards per carry. Oh, and don't look now, but Wisconsin has looked better passing the ball as of late, so there's that. Knowing this, how does Ohio State stop Wisconsin, and how does Wisconsin keep pressure on the OSU defense?
Andrew: Tough call on how to stop Wisconsin. Even teams that have "contained" Gordon still yield like 150-200 yards to him, but if he goes off for more than that, obviously you aren't going to have a good time, so yes, the #1 thing is still to make Gordon earn it. He's going to get yards, probably a lot of them, but you can't let him rip off multiple 50+ yarders, or you get your spirit broken- just ask a freshly-unemployed Husker coach how that whole deal goes for you. The second thing you have to do is cover Alex Erickson. He's the only semi-reliable receiving weapon Wisconsin has and he's the only guy who's taken advantage of the defender magnet Gordon has become by getting open enough that Stave can't miss him. Surely, one of the 8 or 9 former 4- and 5-star recruits in the Buckeye secondary is up to the task of staying within 10 yards of this pale facsimile of Jared Abbrederis, right?
Wisconsin's conventional offense already includes enough wrinkles that I'm not sure much more is needed to give the Buckeyes enough to think about. Gordon and Clement behind that OL are already 11 dudes' worth of work before you add in the play action to Erickson and the changeup that McEvoy's running represents off the bench (just don't let him throw. No, really, don't).
Hilary: Stack the box and hope that Stave is having an inaccurate day? I went to the game in Madison this past weekend and while it's true that the Badgers have been throwing the ball better of late, you wouldn't have known it watching that game. The thing is, Melvin Gordon is more than capable of shaking tackles even when a team sells out against the run, but it's a lot harder for him to break out those 15+ yard carries. OSU's only hope for keeping pressure on the Badgers is to try to force Stave to make throws. The receiving corps isn't exactly the best, and if OSU pressures Stave and keeps Gordon from getting huge runs, they have a chance to shut down the Wisconsin offense completely.
C4B: Ohio State stops Wisconsin by slowing down Melvin Gordon and forcing Tannel McStavavoy to make all the big plays. Though Wisconsin QBs have shown some signs of being actually good as the season rolled on, they are still the weakest link in the Badger offense. Keep Melvin Gordon under 150 yards, and the Buckeyes defense has done their job.
Graham: I always think about Wisconsin's ability to "lean" on opponents. Yeah, you stopped us for 80 yards rushing in the first half and 7 points, but we're going to keep coming, we're going to wear you down and lean on your DT's and eventually, our superstar back is going to break you down in the second level.
So what's that next logical step? OSU has to score early and often, praying for a 10-14 point lead that forces Wisconsin out of its comfort zone. And that's always easier said than done.
Jesse: I'm more or less with Graham. For Ohio State, it will almost be imperative that they score quickly and try and get Wisconsin away from a slow and painful death via running game situation. Melvin Gordon is absolutely too good of a back to expect that Ohio State's average rush defense stops him, but they will need to step it up and force Wisconsin to beat them through the air and if that means literally not covering receivers to try and stop Gordon, I'd argue it's a risk worth taking.
GF3: To say Wisconsin has looked "better" passing the ball is a nicer way of saying "Hey look, Wisconsin learned how to complete a pass." That's a bit of hyperbole, but not too much. WIsco fans will say "why pass when you have a Melvin Gordon?" Western Illinois will say "We're why." To wit, the Badgers' best passing B1G performance this year was 219 yards against Purdue. Gary Andersen has certainly found a way to make the QB-by-committee work for Wisconsin's needs, but Stave has yet to throw really well against a good pass defense. Similarly, Ohio State does a great job of letting pretty much everyone experiment with the joys of running. Inside, outside, take your pick. To my mind, that's a function of poor linebacker play. Nobody is consistently beating the OSU defensive line in the trenches. But with linebackers who refuse to stuff the hole and a blitz-happy DC, they don't have to. OSU's best bet is to stack the box and make Stave beat them throwing. Melvin Gordon is not unstoppable, and the OSU defense is the best passing defense Stave will have faced in the B1G (by both S&P+ and scoring). OSU's best bet is to make Wisconsin's receivers outplay the DBs in man and stack the box. I am not hopeful.
On the other side of the ball, we pretty much have a wildcard. We all thought Ohio State was in trouble when Braxton Miller went down and JT Barrett proved that system and recruiting matters. Now it's up to Cardale Jones to step up to the plate. Luckily, it's not like there aren't just a wealth of riches for the Ohio State offensive juggernaut with Ezekiel Elliott showing the ability to break long runs and a host of RBs and WRs to stress a defense out. Of course, there on the other side stands a formidable Wisconsin defense that will not allow a lot of easy plays or yards. Do you think that Ohio State can score enough points to win? Will the added pressure of breaking in another QB to replace a Heisman candidate be too much? Moreover, can Wisconsin's defense win this game for them?
Andrew: If the Barrett Experience taught us anything, it should be that Urbz's offense is at its best when the QB doesn't try to do too much. Barrett isn't the same physical talent Miller is, yet the offense works better with Barrett because he's a much better decision-maker and ensures the ball gets to the right guy pretty much every play. My point is, if Jones has been playing school on the sidelines at all, he knows that, too. Assuming even semi-competent play from Jones, this will still be the best offense Wisconsin has played this season by a wide margin. Of course...this is still Jones' first real game, and even Barrett struggled against the first strong defense he saw. I guess I'll admit I have no idea what to expect when OSU has the ball; I'd expect simple, quick throws and a heavy dose of running, but that's exactly what they always try to do, so maybe it won't even look any different.
Hilary: While it's never good to see a player suffer injury, and I really hope that Barrett recovers from his ankle break, I do admit to feeling more confident about this game with him out than with him in. He was really showing chops as a great QB. I don't know much about Jones, so I can't say whether he can do what Barrett was doing.
Wisconsin's biggest hurdle will be not making mistakes to spot OSU points. Minnesota's first two TDs came as direct results from a Badgers turnover and a costly penalty. The Badgers defense is good enough to stop OSU if they don't screw up and if special teams doesn't shit the bed. But I don't know that they will be able to recover like they did against Minnesota if those things start going wrong.
C4B: Cardale Jones didn't come here to play school, and now we're going to see if he can play Big Ten quarterback on a pretty big stage right away. This will be the side of the ball that decides the winner of this game. If Cardale is simply the next stage of Braxton and JT, OSU will put up lots of points and probably win if the defense does their job. If Cardale trends more towards the Zander Diamont track of young QBs, the Buckeyes will be in serious trouble.
Graham: Wisconsin has, on paper, an exceptional defense. But they have played relatively uninteresting offenses with relatively uninteresting QB's. Remember that OSU skipped Connor Cook and JT Barrett this year. If there was ever an offense where a newbie quarterback can come in and succeed, it's this Buckeye spread.
Jesse: I want to say that there is just no way that Ohio State can continue to play plug-and-play with their offense, but I wouldn't put much by Urban at this point. Cardale Jones reportedly has a great arm and has spent a lot of time learning under two great mentors. I think the key to making this entire operation work on Saturday will be whether or not Ohio State can get some leverage on the ground. Since Virginia Tech, Ohio State has steadily improved its play across the board and if Jones can manage to stay out of mistakes, I think they could pressure Wisconsin.
That in mind, I believe in Wisconsin's defense as a whole. Minus the times its put in really bad situations, they've looked pretty good. Ohio State is a different caliber of team, but I don't think the Badgers will stand down from this fight.
GF3: I'm sure Cardale is a good athlete and all, but one week is not enough time to prepare for this game. It's shame for the B1G, since the B1G's best team and only real playoff hope suddenly had their offense neutered for a second time this year
We got almost a full year out of SadPizza.GIF, but Urban Meyer has proven once again he doesn't exactly suck at this whole coaching thing. The Virginia Tech game notwithstanding, Ohio State has done what was asked of it, all while replacing a pretty dynamic QB. On the other side of the ball you have Gary Andersen, who by all accounts has also been a damn good football coach who understands what Wisconsin football is all about - minus that QB thing for a while. If the game is won by the little things, which coach would you want on your side? Do you think that GA can outcoach Urban?
Andrew: Urbz, and it's not close. The way Wisconsin has come on while riding Melvin Gordon's broad shoulders has largely overshadowed the coaching malpractice Andersen committed by basically benching Gordon in the LSU game, but if Wisconsin wins, that is the single biggest reason they won't be going to the playoff. That, and permitting his OC to call pass plays for McEvoy against Northwestern when it's clear he ain't really much of a passer cost Wisconsin two games they probably should have won. Urbz doesn't make many calls that lose games. The only one that comes to mind is running Miller instead of Hyde on 4th and 2 last year, but even that is pretty defensible. Give me the guy with two rings over the guy who benched Gordon.
Hilary:Uggggh. If I'm only considering pure coaching ability then I have to say Meyer. But I'm not going to do that. Because, frankly, I've experienced what it's like to have your head coach be kind of a douche, and I wouldn't want to go through that again. Not to say Meyer is quite as bad as Bielema, but he's certainly worse than Andersen.
All that being said, one of the good things about GA is he doesn't really make the little mistakes with time outs and such that Bielema was notorious for. So, can he outcoach Meyer? Sure. But most of it will depend on how the play on the field goes.
C4B: If this game comes down to correct coaching decisions, I want Urban 10 times out of 10. Wisconsin fans know I'm right, because they remember the second half of the LSU game.
GF3: I don't think Gary has to outcoach Urban, because he's playing with the full complement of key talent. OSU's two best offensive players (Miller and Barrett) will be watching from the bench, along with Dontre Wilson. When your opponent isn't healthy, you don't necessarily have to outcoach them. You just have to stick to your core competencies and not do anything too dumb (like, say, forgetting you have Melvin Gordon for an entire half...not that that would ever happen).
Finally, let's just get down to the bottom line. Ohio State was the huge favorite and then JT Barrett broke his ankle. Wisconsin looked unbeatable at times and also lost to Northwestern. Which team hoists that silly Big Ten championship trophy? What's the score? Who wins POTG?
Andrew: If Jones is able to step in and lead his team to victory over an opponent as good as Wisconsin, with a possible playoff bid to follow, he goes down in Buckeye lore. Maybe he can do that. But there's absolutely no evidence to convince me that's going to happen right now. Gordon was the best player on the field when Barrett was healthy, and now it's not close. If Jeremy Langford and David Cobb had success running on this Buckeye front, pencil Gordon in for around 200 and the CCG MVP award in a win; let's call it 28-24 Wisconsin.
Hilary: I'm going to put on my homer hat and say the Badgers, with Gordon winning POTG. If Barrett hadn't broken his ankle, this answer would be different.
C4B: Final score: Wisconsin 35, Ohio State 31. Player of the Game: Melvin Gordon, after a 2 touchdown, 250 yard rushing performance.
Graham: Wisconsin wins, 31-28
Jesse: I'm going Ohio State, actually. 27-24 with Joey Bosa winning POTG for ruining what will be a great game by Melvin Gordon.
GF3: I don't really want to think about it. I don't see Wisconsin breaking 40, but I've already established none of us is Kreskin. Badgers, 35-17. No playoff for the B1G, and Wisco fans spend the next year being MSU fans and claiming Urbz can't coach.