With the point spread opening at 7, the Buckeyes will once again take the field as underdogs when they face the Wisconsin Badgers this coming Saturday. No question, the last second loss to Michigan State has had an impact and to be honest, I thought the Badgers would be favored by a bit more. The good news is that the Buckeyes will bring many of the same weapons that the Spartans used to beat the Badgers.
It starts with defense
Michigan State did a great job of shutting down the Wisconsin deep passing game holding the Badgers to only 3 of 7 and two interceptions on pass attempts of more than 15 yards. Going into the game, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson had not thrown any interceptions at that distance and was 24 of 39 on the deep pass. Shutting down the Wisconsin long ball will be key to keeping the score in check.
Michigan State also managed three sacks on Wilson demonstrating that it is possible to get through the Wisconsin offensive line. Considering Wilson had only been sacked five times all season, hitting him early on the first possession won’t do anything for his confidence. The Buckeyes have proven they can shake things up on Defense. A top performance will be crucial to winning this game.
Then we turn to special teams
Michigan State put their first points on the board by pinning the Badgers back to the five on a long punt and forcing a safety. Leave it to Dantonio to bring back memories of the Buckeye 2002 season. The Buckeye defense is ranked 15th in the nation in average yards per punt return and 6th in the country on kickoff return. With questions remaining on offense, field position will be crucial.
And then there’s the passing game
ESPN points out one of the most interesting stats of the MSU/Wisconsin game noting that Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw 9-9 when the Badgers brought three or less on the pass rush. While it would be great to see only 2-3 pass rushers coming at Braxton Miller, it’s highly doubtful. So far this season, the key to beating the Ohio State offense has been to load the box and bring the pressure. Against Illinois, the response was to just physically bowl them over and pound the ball right down their throat. Although the Buckeyes have got great depth in the running game, good luck doing that against the milk fed boys of Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes are going to have to establish a passing game early in order to back the Badgers off the line. Miller demonstrated that he can perform against Nebraska and he’s had a week off to rest and heal. Let’s hope he has put the time to good use and that we see him mixing it up again. Let’s also hope that the coaching staff isn’t afraid to use him to his fullest. Let’s also hope they can keep the defense rested enough to make it through all four quarters.
Finally, the home crowd
The atmosphere at the Shoe will need to be rocking. The university has called for a “Scarlet Out” and if the fans can get behind them even if they do get off to a slow start, it will do nothing but help.
This is going to be a huge game for both the Buckeyes and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes get past the Badgers and they are back in the Big Ten title hunt. Lose and well, there’s still Michigan.