Wisconsin vs. Ohio State: Badgers Fate Rests in Hands of Secondary

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 23, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; Madison, WI, USA;  Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry (15) throws a pass as Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Tyler Dippel (51) defends during the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

No defense held Braxton Miller in check like the Wisconsin defense did last season and a lot of the credit went to a secondary full of veterans. 

Wisconsin held Miller to just 98 yards passing and 48 yards rushing with no touchdowns and three sacks against. 

No defense before or after has stopped Miller to that degree and yet, it still wasn't enough, as the Badgers lost on their home turf in overtime anyway. 

Last season it was an offense in flux, dealing with a whole new style of football thanks to a third starting quarterback going into the Ohio State game.

This season no such quarterback issue exists—instead, the Badgers come into this week's contest in Columbus with the one reason for success last year, the secondary, in flux. 

That's not to say this group hasn't seen success this season either, allowing just 10.1 points a game (first in the Big Ten), 167 yards a game passing (second in the Big Ten) and have yet to allow a touchdown passing through four games. 

However this group is still one that has three brand new starters in the secondary this season, and is facing a severe lack in depth heading into the Ohio State game this weekend. 

It also gave up 352 yards to the one good passing opponent they've faced all season—Arizona State. However, despite the yardage the Sun Devils never made it to the end zone through the air (silver lining, anyone).

Last week the secondary responded well in the face of criticism following the ASU performance—picking off Rob Henry and holding Purdue to just 135 yards on 18-of-36 passing in the win.

As for the injury issues, Wisconsin came into the season thin on the depth chart and they now have been hit by two major injuries to key contributors in the past three weeks alone.

T.J. Reynard, a corner that has seen time at the nickel spot, has been ruled out for the second straight game according to head coach Gary Andersen

"Yeah, T.J. doesn't look like he'll be ready to play," Andersen stated during his weekly Monday press conference. "We'll see." 

Then there is starting corner Peniel Jean, who went out with an injury last week in the win over Purdue. His status for this week is up in the air as well. 

If he can't go, the Badgers are looking at a lot of new combinations to get the right players in the right positions to try and bottle up an even more explosive offense than what they saw just last season. 

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Ryan Hewitt #85 of the Stanford Cardinal is tackled for no-gain as he is hit by Dezmen Southward #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 99th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio on January 1, 2013 at the
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

"We can do a lot of different things," said Andersen. "With the way Michael's moved himself forward at the safety position, it makes you start to look at the safety position and say, are you going to put him more down into the box and let him be an outside linebacker type of guy? He's been so productive."

"We'll always try to get the best 11 kids on that have played before. They've got to produce. When I say that, it may be Dez that could move down and become a nickel. Dez (Southward) would like that, but, again, that will depend on the transformation of the free safety at that point and who can get back there and play..." 

One player that could play a bigger role depending on results of practice this week is quarterback, turned safety, Tannery McEvoy. 

He received extensive playing time in the second half of the 41-10 win over Purdue last weekend and his athletic ability may be a difference maker in the defensive backfield according to head coach Gary Andersen.

The question for the Badgers and for McEvoy is jut how quickly he could take to a new role once again.  

"...Can Tanner get in a spot to be able to play free safety for us," Andersen stated. "You've got to have a kid back there that can run and cover the middle of the field and run a redirect and react."

"It's a good question and something we won't be able to answer probably until Wednesday."

Wednesday is when the Badgers will likely have the best answer as to who will and won't be able to go in the secondary.

 The one thing that won't change about Wisconsin's preparation for this game, regardless of who is on the field, is whom Ohio State will put behind center at quarterback. 

"I don't think it matters," said Andersen on Monday. "Whoever's in there. One guy might do that better than the other. Here comes this guy or that guy or let's expect this offense or that offense. It's still a tough offense regardless."

As Wisconsin prepares for an offense that the Badgers coaching staff see as vastly different than the one that came to Camp Randall last year, it may be the one area that has the biggest question marks coming into the matchup that plays the ultimate role in who wins and who loses. 

If the Badgers get healthy or find the right combination quickly in practice this week they could be in a position to help themselves win—especially with the way the front seven has played so far this season.

If they can't find the answers in practice, it could be a long night in Columbus for Wisconsin's secondary and for its chances of winning too. 

*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter for more coverage of all things Big Ten. 


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