The Buckeyes travel to Wisconsin on Saturday for the biggest challenge of the season to date.
While a night game (7 PM kickoff) at Camp Randall Stadium is no laughing matter, if the Buckeyes can take any of the offensive prowess they displayed against Indiana on the road, it will be a good weekend for Buckeyes fans across the nation.
The defense has shown that they can shut down a strong run game (Illinois) as well as a high powered passing attack (Indiana), and there is no reason to think they won’t be up to the challenge of slowing down Wisconsin’s offense as well.
If Pryor and the Buckeyes can just put some points on the board, or at the very least avoid putting the defense in bad positions throughout the game, Ohio State will be well on their way to another win.
Join me after the jump for a preview of this highly anticipated game.
Ohio State’s offense vs. Wisconsin’s defense
On the road against Illinois, Ohio State went three and out on the first drive of the game. Those first three plays set the tone for at least the rest of the first half (if not the game). After starting out slow, Pryor and the offense struggled to regain momentum and field position from a fired up Illinois squad.
If Ohio State wants to avoid another Illinois style slug fest (I know I do), establishing some early momentum on offense with at least a few first downs will be important to set the tone for the rest of the game.
If for nothing else, a few first downs will help to establish field position and put the defense in a better spot to shut down Wisconsin’s offense early.
The best case scenario would obviously be to put some points on the board and get an early lead. The Wisconsin faithful will be rocking by the 7 PM kickoff after a day full of… festivities. Some early scoring drives will not only take them out of the game, but it will also build confidence for Pryor and the offense.
The tough part about starting off fast on offense is you never really know what the defense is going to be throwing at you. It takes a while to figure it out and get rolling. Luckily, every defense for the last year and a half has been trying to do the same thing against Ohio State, so it is a safe bet that the passing game will be open early.
Some quick passes on the edge would be a nice way to get a few early completions for Pryor and some early yards for the offense. Stoneburner’s return will also help to open up some quick passes across the middle, and Brandon Saine out of the backfield adds another dangerous option for the Buckeyes to utilize to open up the passing game early.
Throwing in a nice mix of runs to keep Wisconsin off balance will be important as well. But like I said, since Wisconsin is almost sure to be playing the run early, it might take some passing plays to open up the run game. I know this is probably asking too much, but when we do see the run, it would be nice to see some runs that attack the edge of the defense or some misdirection plays to really keep Wisconsin on their heals.
Regardless of how they do it, gaining some offensive momentum, preferably as early as possible, will be a key to victory this week.
Ohio State’s defense vs. Wisconsin’s offense
Similarly to the offense, momentum will be a key factor for the defense as well.
When Wisconsin gets the ball, shutting them down right away will help take the crowd out of the game. Rattling Tolzien with some early pressure would be even better. Last year Tolzien had 250 yards passing against the Bucks, but he was sacked six times and threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.
As Wisconsin fans like to point out, they dominated the time of possession and total yardage in last year’s contest, but they still only managed to score 13 points and didn’t have a running back sniff 100 yards (John Clay, 20 carries, 59 yards), even with the success they had passing the ball.
Last year’s contest will have little impact on this year’s, but the point is, even when Wisconsin has the ball for over two thirds of the game and is moving the ball down the field through the air, Ohio State can still prevent them from putting points on the board. The key last year was shutting down the run game, the bread and butter of Wisconsin’s offense. This year will be no different.
With the Wisconsin offense, you know exactly what they will bring at you. A solid power run game with some play action passing over top of the linebackers after they have committed to stopping the run. It is a lineman and linebackers dream game, and everyone in the front seven should have plenty of tackles when the dust settles.
Cam Heyward, John Simon, Dexter Larimore, Nathan Williams, and the rest of the players in the defensive line rotation (especially Big Hank, he was born to play in this type of game), will need to be on the top of their game to slow down Wisconsin’s running attack. It will be a challenge due to the quality of Wisconsin’s offensive line, but Ohio State’s defensive line (not to mention the linebackers) are some of the best in the country in their own right.
It will be a battle in the trenches, but I have no doubts about who will come out victorious.
Somewhat ironically, I think Ohio State will do to Wisconsin exactly what teams do to us. Focus on stopping the run (we won’t leave ourselves quite as vulnerable to the pass in the process since our front seven is so talented) and if they get some yards passing, so be it. The nice thing is that since the Wisconsin passing game is largely based on play action, bringing pressure against the run can result in plenty of sacks (like last year), and at the very least plenty of pressure on the quarterback, which can result in mistakes (like last year).
Basically, I envision this game playing similarly to last year’s contest, with the pick sixes and return TD replaced by offensive production and points from Pryor and the offense instead.
Stopping opposing offenses has not been a problem for the Buckeyes this year. If the offense can get the ball rolling and avoid costly turnovers, chalk another W up for the good guys.