No. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at No. 8 WISCONSIN BADGERS (4-1, 1-1), 7 p.m., Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Running in place? Several factors have contributed to UW struggling to run the ball in Big Ten play. After managing a combined 193 yards on 69 attempts (2.8-yard average) against Michigan State and Michigan, UW is last in the Big Ten in rushing in league games at 96.5 yards per game. The No. 1 factor arguably has been instability on the offensive line, caused mostly by injuries. The UW staff looked at different combinations after the loss to Michigan but the No. 1 unit remained intact this week. But if the line struggles against Ohio State’s athletic front seven, don’t be surprised to see an in-game move or see the Badgers use a jumbo package with an extra lineman. The running game needs a spark.
2. Contain Barrett: Ohio State’s offense has play makers up and down the roster. That group includes tailback Mike Weber (113.2 rushing yards per game), H-backs Curtis Samuel (410 rushing yards, 345 receiving yards, six TDs) and Dontre Wilson (189 receiving yards, 74 rushing yards, five TDs) and wide receiver Noah Brown (five touchdown catches). But the catalyst is quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has completed 64.1% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions and is third on the team in rushing at 68.4 yards per game. UW must pressure Barrett when he tries to throw and punish him when he tries to run.
3. Force OSU into mistakes: UW’s defense forced turnovers to score one touchdown and set up another at Michigan State and set up the Badgers’ lone score at Michigan. The Badgers likely need a similar performance in order to upset the Buckeyes. One problem is that Ohio State rarely turns the ball over. Barrett has just three interceptions in 123 attempts, in large part because he generally is afforded excellent protection, and the Buckeyes have lost just two fumbles (out of seven). Ohio State leads the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-eight, with 13 takeaways. UW has to change those numbers.
4. Camp Randall Magic: David Gilreath’s 97-yard kickoff return to open the team’s 2010 meeting in Madison gave UW a lead it never lost en route to a 31-18 victory, and once that happened, the crowd became the ultimate 12th man. Camp Randall stadium can be a special place, especially in prime time. If Ohio State starts out fast and takes the crowd out of the game, it will be a long night for the Badgers. If Wisconsin can hang around and push the Buckeyes to the max, all I will say is this – the stadium will be rocking all night long.
5. History Lesson: Ohio State has won 57 of the 80 games against UW but none stands out more than the 2014 Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. Ohio State got 220 rushing yards and two scores from Ezekiel Elliott and 257 passing yards and three scores from Cardale Jones in the 59-0 victory. The Buckeyes had four scoring plays of 39 yards or longer, finished with 558 yards and held to UW to 258 total yards en route to securing a berth in the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin can ill afford to throw up that kind of performance again, and Ohio State will be looking to repeat that performance to show the committee it is ready to roll.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin’s defense will hold Ohio State to their lowest point output of the season, but with the inexperience of quarterback Alex Hornibrook, the Badgers just won’t be able to put enough points on the board to truly threaten the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s defense will likely bring a lot of pressure and try and force Hornibrook into interceptions like he threw against Michigan, and with how the Buckeyes are forcing turnovers so far this season, the interceptions might not stop at three.Turnovers and special teams will likely be the difference in this one, as it’s hard to imagine Ohio State going the length of the field very much on this stout Badger defense.
OHIO STATE 23, WISCONSIN 12