Game Seven: Wisconsin Badgers
Location: Camp Randall Stadium (Madison, Wisconsin) 7pm EST, ESPN
Head Coach: Bret Bielema
Wisconsin Players Who Were Recruited By Ohio State: RB John Clay, OL Josh Oglesby, DE Pat Muldoon. Lesser Extent - OL Bill Nagy, WR Kyle Jefferson.
Wisconsin's Offense vs Ohio State's defense: Wisconsin is going to pound the ball with big RB John Clay and speedy RB James White, behind a traditionally massive offensive line. Both Clay and White are averaging better than six yards a carry.
For those old-school football fans who yearn to see Woody Hayes' traditional "three yards and a cloud of dust", here you go. Wisconsin averages about 241 yards per game on the ground, while Ohio State's defense allows around 79 yards per game. Something has to give here.
QB Scott Tolzien had two interceptions returned for touchdowns last year, but has nearly a 70% completion percentage this year and is a very effective passer. TE Lance Kendricks creates a match-up problem for Ohio State, and will be a popular target for Tolzien on play-action passes.
Ohio State will play a traditional 4-3 set, with LB Andrew Sweat playing in place of Star Christian Bryant (the Star position is usually in for nickel packages, or against spread option or predominantly passing offenses). I will be curious to see how Ohio State tries to take Kendricks out of the game - will it be with LB Ross Homan, or will they try to cover him with S Jermale Hines?
Edge: I am going to lean towards Wisconsin here. Ohio State's defense is stout, but they have not played a team as physically imposing as Wisconsin in their previous contests. Ohio State's defensive line, led by Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams, needs to control the line of scrimmage, or this could be a long night for Ohio State.
Ohio State's offense vs Wisconsin's defense: For better or for worse, this is the Terrelle Pryor show. Ohio State has become completely dependent on Pryor not only for its passing attack, but Pryor is arguably also Ohio State's lead rusher. When Pryor went down for a period against Illinois, the entire team's morale visibly suffered until Pryor returned.
For Ohio State to win, Pryor will need to run when the opportunity presents itself, as Ohio State's rushing attack has not materialized so far this season.
RB "Boom" Herron has emerged as the leading tailback, but fans are anxious to see RBs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry get an opportunity to see what they can do. In a game of this magnitude, I wonder if Coach Jim Tressel will allow his young ball carriers to carry the ball in crucial situations.
WR Dane Sanzenbacher is a clutch performer who will go over the middle and make tough catches in traffic. WR DeVier Posey may be Pryor's favorite target, but Sanzenbacher bears watching in this contest.
Also, TE Jake Stoneburner is expected to return, and like his counterpart Lance Kendricks, can create match-up problems for the Wisconsin defense.
Wisconsin's defense ranks 4th currently in the Big Ten, and is solid at defending the run and the pass. I am guessing Ohio State will try to spread Wisconsin out with mulitple wide receivers, or send RB Brandon Saine in motion as a receiver out of the backfield, allowing Pryor to find open receivers or take off for positive rushing yardage. It should be an interesting chess match.
Edge: Ohio State. Even with Pryor's injury, Pryor has matured in his passing skills and should be able to find the open receiver if given enough time. Keep in mind - Wisconsin is leading the conference in sacks.
If Wisconsin drops too many people back into coverage, this will allow Pryor to break into the open field.
Special Teams: Ohio State's special teams have been improving since the opening game debacles, but Wisconsin is usually very good in this area. Returners Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall have come close to breaking one for a touchdown; could this be the game for a kickoff return for a touchdown?
Intangibles: Bret Bielema has not beaten Ohio State in three previous attempts, and is clearly aching for the chance to do so. The Wisconsin fans will have all day to turn Camp Randall into their favorite House Of Pain, complete with "Jump Around" blaring at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Wisconsin has won 13 of its last 14 at home.
In contrast, Coach Jim Tressel had his seniors read Lone Survivor, a book about Navy SEALs and a 2005 mission in Afghanistan, to give them an idea on how to prepare and survive in hostile enemy territory. In his career at Ohio State, Tressel is 4-3 against Wisconsin, having won the last three contests.
Edge: Wisconsin. Ohio State will want to go up quickly and big on Wisconsin, to take the crowd out of it. Traditionally, this game is usually hard-fought until the end.
Prediction: Wisconsin looks primed for the upset with this one. Chris Spielman, who in my opinion is vastly underrated as a college football analyst, has been saying all week that this is going to be a dogfight on his weekly radio show, and I believe him.
Before the season began, I ranked this as Ohio State's toughest game. Nothing has changed in the six games so far this season to make me back off my earlier prediction.
There are a lot of Ohio State fans who are concerned about Ohio State and its current BCS standings. Here is the simple truth - Ohio State cannot control the BCS standings. What Ohio State can control is its own destiny, and that is winning all of its games.
With Michigan State not on the schedule, having already played and defeated Wisconsin, and also undefeated, Ohio State needs to win out in order to clinch a Rose Bowl berth, plain and simple. If Ohio State qualifies for the BCS Championship Game, that is entirely another matter that will not be settled this week.
My head is telling me to pick the Badgers, but I am going to go with Ohio State pulling out a squeaker, similar to what the EA Sports simulation of the game says, but a little closer. I am going to say Ohio State 24, Wisconsin 21.