Ohio State Football: Can the Buckeyes Stop Wisconsin's Rushing Attack?
Stop the run.
It’s a pretty simple formula, but that’s pretty much all it takes to beat the Wisconsin Badgers.
Of course, the components that go into making that formula work are much more complicated. When the Badgers are operating to the best of their ability, they’ll run right through anything thrown at them.
Wisconsin currently has the No. 17 rushing attack in the country, averaging 218 yards on the ground through 10 games. Against three of its last four opponents (Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana), Wisconsin has averaged an unbelievable 456 rushing yards per game, highlighted by a 564-yard outing against the Hoosiers last Saturday.
But when an opposing defense has been up to the task, Wisconsin’s rushing numbers have faltered dramatically.
The Badgers rushed for just 110 yards combined in their three losses to Oregon State, Nebraska and Michigan State this year, averaging a hair under 37 yards per loss. It wasn’t for a lack of effort either. Wisconsin ran the ball 92 times in those games, averaging just 1.2 yards per carry.
So which side will Ohio State fall on? Will the Buckeyes buckle under the weight of Wisconsin’s will, or can they flex their muscle and shut the Badgers down?
If these two teams had met earlier this year, Wisconsin likely would have held an edge.
Ohio State's defense underperformed in a big way to start the season. While most of their struggles came against teams who attacked their perimeter, the Buckeyes had trouble stopping even the most pedestrian offense's it faced.
Ohio State surrendered an average of 400 yards to its opponents through seven games this year. The low points came against California, who piled up 512 yards of total offense against the Buckeyes, and Indiana, who torched the Buckeyes for 481 yards on its way to 49 points in Week 7.
But since that Week 7 matchup with Indiana, Ohio State's defense has improved drastically. Against Purdue, Penn State and Indiana, the Buckeyes have given up an average of just 292 yards per game.
The run defense has improved dramatically as well. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 122 yards on the ground through seven games, but against their last three opponents, they have surrendered just 74 yards per game.
The improvement has come after Ohio State bucked its poor tackling issue. The Buckeyes struggled with getting ball carriers on the ground in the first half of the season, which you can witness firsthand here, but the tackling has been much better in the last five games.
Zach Boren, the starting fullback coming into the year, made the switch to defense and stabilized an underperforming linebacker core. The move was patchwork on the fly by the coaching staff, but Boren has been a pleasant surprise on defense, and one of the biggest reasons for its improvement since Week 7.
Coming off a late-season bye week, the Buckeyes will look to continue its resurgence on defense against the Badgers.
Wisconsin's offensive style certainly plays into Ohio State's strength as a defense. The Badgers want to line up and run the ball right at a defense, much like Michigan State.
When Ohio State played the Spartans earlier this year, they held Le'Veon Bell and the Michigan State rushing attack to just 34 yards on 22 carries.
Will the Buckeyes have similar success against the Badgers? Can Ohio State limit Montee Ball and Wisconsin's surging rushing attack this Saturday?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @davidreg412.
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