The Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers both have formidable rushing attacks that are sure to produce a highly entertaining Big Ten showdown on Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium. But the significant advantage OSU has at QB, with dark-horse Heisman candidate Braxton Miller under center, gives the Badgers no hope at pulling off the upset at home.
After stellar freshman Joel Stave went down with a season-ending collarbone injury two weeks ago for Wisconsin (h/t USA TODAY), fifth-year senior Curt Phillips has been plugged into the lineup.
The Badgers did win last week, but their opponent played right into their strengths. QB Chase Coffman of the Indiana Hoosiers is a solid player, but he hadn't faced a pass defense as good as Wisconsin's all season. That resulted in Coffman being unable to bail his team out.
Since a string of 100-plus yard games in the middle of the year, the Badgers' No. 1 receiver, Jared Abbrederis, hasn't managed another such game in the past month.
As devastating as he could be to the Buckeyes' 97th-ranked pass defense (h/t NCAA), Phillips hasn't proven that he has the ability to take advantage of Abbrederis' explosiveness. The junior averages over 18 yards per catch and leads the team with five touchdown grabs.
The mobility that Phillips displayed against the Hoosiers is encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether his surgically repaired right knee will hold up (h/t Madison.com).
A 52-yard chunk on one third-quarter scamper inflated his nine carries for 68 yards.
Ohio State's stout run defense will make life much more difficult for Phillips, but it will certainly have to put a premium on stopping All-American running back Montee Ball first and foremost. Ball is one of the best running backs in the country—it almost goes without saying.
But he's yet to face the Bucks, who won on a stunning game-winning TD pass from Miller to Devin Smith in the last minute of last year's game at the Shoe.
Miller may be facing his most difficult defense since Michigan State, but this evenly matched game will eventually depend on the arm of both QBs. In that regard, Miller has the huge advantage over Phillips, especially with the memories of his winning effort as a freshman.
With an undefeated record on the line and a potential Heisman for Miller at stake, OSU is playing for plenty on the road. Wisconsin has already locked up a spot in the Big Ten title game thanks to the postseason ineligibility of the Buckeyes and Penn State.
The revenge factor is plenty for the Badgers to get up for this game, but it won't be enough.
In such a big-time game—facing the No. 6 team in the nation according to the most recent AP poll—Phillips doesn't have the experience to outplay his sensational counterpart. That ultimately undoes any chance the Badgers have at emerging victorious.