The Wisconsin Badgers drew the short straw last week in the Big Ten--in all of college football, really--to say the least.
After suffering a loss on a "Hail Mary" against Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State Spartans, the Badgers will travel to Columbus to take on a young, hungry, and possibly slightly distracted Ohio State Buckeyes team.
The Buckeyes are not having a season to remember, but a lot of the offseason distractions and on-field mishaps can be forgotten if Luke Fickell's squad is able to pull of a huge upset against Bret Bielema's crew.
The Ohio State defense was absolutely dominant in a victory against previously unbeaten Illinois, and now they look to utilize that re-charged defense and a rowdy home crowd to pull off the upset against Wisconsin.
When you scout Wisconsin, the one thing you notice is that their team has balance across the board, and not only that, they are absolutely dominant offensively at times and could potentially be the best team in the country. Turnovers really plagued their loss to Michigan State last week, but despite it all, they were literally one defensive stop--one play, even--away from beating Michigan State on their home field.
The lowest amount of points the Badgers have scored this season is 31, and that was last week. The Buckeyes are really going to need to catch this team sleeping if they are going to win this game, even though it's on their home field. The matchup that Ohio State really has to look to exploit is limiting the Wisconsin passing game.
There is no doubt the Badgers are going to be able to run the ball, but you have to be able to take away the deep pass and the big play in order to beat this team. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has done a fantastic job this season of avoiding pressure and making plays with his legs, but this is an extremely athletic and hungry Ohio State defense that is slowly getting comfortable in its own skin.
One player the Buckeyes really have to watch out for is Heisman sleeper Montee Ball, the Wisconsin tailback. Ball has scored 17 touchdowns on the ground this year, is in the best shape of his career, and is running like he wants to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft.
Ball also has a passing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns, and he's really growing into his role as a complete, every-down running back. He is hard to handle for any team, and Ohio State will be no different. You likely are not going to be able to shut down Ball, but you have to try and limit him.
Offensively, Braxton Miller really needs to step up and exploit a defense that has not faced many legitimate tests so far this season. He has been slow to grow into his role as the starting quarterback, but there is no doubt he has playmaker capabilities.
The dual-threat quarterback doesn't have a rushing touchdown yet this season, but I expect that to change on Saturday. Miller has to become the focal point of this offense, and he needs to continue to build chemistry with his receivers.
Jake Stoneburner and Devin Smith are both huge targets in the passing game, and while they have only combined for 21 receptions this season, nine have gone for touchdowns--six to Stoneburner. The tight end is a young quarterback's best friend, and I don't think the Badgers have anyone who can play one-on-one with Stoneburner working the seam and getting open on broken plays. He is a big, rangy receiving tight end who is a huge threat in the red zone.
Still, I think the writing is on the wall that if the Buckeyes are going to win this game, they are going to do it with the running game. Carlos Hyde has had a very solid season for Ohio State, but the true featured back is going to be Dan Herron, who showed what kind of prospect he is coming back from his suspension with 23 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The senior tailback is extremely talented and should have a big impact on the game for Ohio State. If you are looking for a great matchup of running backs, look no further than this game with Ball, Herron, Carlos Hyde, and Wisconsin's James White, not to mention both Miller and Wilson at the quarterback positions.
I think ultimately, Wisconsin will pull away with this game in the end because of their superior depth and overall veteran talent, but I don't doubt that Ohio State will make plays and make it a tough road test for the Badgers.
Wisconsin 31, Ohio State 24