Ohio State Football: Keys for Surprising Buckeyes to Stay Undefeated
The trio of teams atop the BCS standings may be the teams getting all the attention for their undefeated campaign, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are still lingering as an undefeated team possibly ready to crash the party.
They obviously cannot play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. However, with Notre Dame, Kansas State and Oregon all having difficult games remaining, there is a possibility that the Buckeyes could thumb their nose at the system as the FBS' only undefeated team come January.
Like the other squads, it won't be an easy task. The Buckeyes finish up their schedule against the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines, two teams that could see each other in the Big Ten championship game.
That means it goes without saying that Urban Meyer's squad will have a difficult time keeping their record unblemished. With that in mind, here is a look at what the Buckeyes must do to defeat Wisconsin and Michigan.
Pocket-Passing Improvement From Braxton Miller
Though he hasn't been dreadful by any stretch, the cracks in Braxton Miller's armor have begun to show lately. The scintillating sophomore has turned in below-average performances in two of the last three weeks and has especially struggled in the passing game.
In wins against Penn State and Purdue, Miller went a combined 16-of-39 (41 percent) passing for just 256 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions. And those struggles aren't exactly new, either.
Dating back to the Nebraska game on Oct. 6, Miller has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in four of the past five games. Coming into the final two weeks of the season, Miller's inaccuracy could come back to haunt the Buckeyes, especially against Wisconsin.
The Badgers have the best run defense in the Big Ten, meaning Miller won't be able to use his feet to make up for his throwing deficiencies. We saw the Buckeyes quarterback excel through the air earlier this season, so he'll need to revert to that form for Ohio State to keep its undefeated dream alive.
Carlos Hyde's Continued Ascent
Where the passing game will be vital to beating Wisconsin, running back Carlos Hyde will have to soar against rival Michigan.
The Wolverines come into Week 12 as easily the best pass defense in the Big Ten. Giving up a meager 149.2 yards per game thus far and allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 56 percent of their passes, the secondary has been a stalwart unit that has kept Michigan's season afloat.
On the other hand, the team is far more vulnerable against the run. Though continually improving throughout the season, the Wolverines front seven still has problems that leave Michigan as a middle-of-the-pack run defense.
That should lead to some open running lanes for Hyde, who has been phenomenal after struggling early in the season. Over Ohio State's past five contests, the junior back has rushed for 628 yards and 11 touchdowns, which has helped keep the offense churning despite Miller's lack of passing prowess.
Stop the Run
While Wisconsin and Michigan may have differing strengths on defense, both rely heavily on the run offensively. Both teams are mired in frustrating quarterback fiascoes, with injuries to starters thrusting Curtis Phillips (Badgers) and Devin Gardner (Wolverines) into the starting lineup.
Though both signal-callers have done well in limited work, neither Gardner nor Phillips are the type of quarterbacks who can take advantage of the Buckeyes' limitations in pass defense. Instead, both teams will try to pound the rock, albeit in different ways.
Wisconsin will employ a power ground game Montee Ball and James White. The former is one of the best running backs in the nation, while the latter can take off for a massive gain at any minute.
Meanwhile, Michigan will rely on Gardner (or Denard Robinson if he returns in time) to use his feet to set up both the run and pass.
If Ohio State is unable to halt either one of those attacks, Gardner and Phillips may be able to find even larger holes in the Buckeyes' secondary. On the other hand, a run-stuffing emphasis may wind up being the ultimate catalyst to finishing off the team's shocking undefeated run.
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