Saturday, Nov. 17
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (ESPN2 outer markets)
Camp Randall Stadium; Madison, Wis.
Head coach: Bret Bielema, 67-22, seventh year
2011 record: 11-3 (6-2 Big Ten Leaders Division, first place; won Big Ten Championship Game)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 54-18-5
School location: Madison, Wis.
Colors: Cardinal and White
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium
Fight song: "On Wisconsin"
Game Notes, including depth chart on page 15
Wisconsin has clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game following a 62-14 win last week at Indiana, but the Badgers still have a lot to play for.
First of all, there's the rivalry between the Buckeyes and Badgers, which has become one to watch over the past 30 years. In addition, the Badgers would like to beat OSU and try to claim first place in the Leaders Division, as a Buckeye win would allow the Columbus natives to win that title outright.
"We're in a race that we're trying to win the Leaders Division crown," Bielema said. "Ohio State is at the top of the list. We're in a race to finish at the top of our division, and this opportunity this week is a chance to play the team that's at that No. 1 spot."
Bielema is also excited to see the game come down to a matchup between the Buckeyes and Badgers, who saw a 21-game home winning streak end last time they played in Camp Randall.
"When the divisions came out and Ohio State was in our division, I thought that was a great thing for us just because we knew we were going to get to play them every year," he said. "We traditionally did a lot of recruiting in Ohio and a little bit more East than we did West, and that's a real critical part of where we're at.
"Football each year is a different year, and this year they've obviously done a very, very nice job to get to where they are today, and you would expect more of the same."
The Badgers seem to have the ship mostly righted after a tumultuous season. Wisconsin was picked by some as a darkhorse candidate for a national championship after making the Rose Bowl the past two seasons, but the team got off to a tough start, especially offensively.
Wisconsin has lost games to Oregon State, Nebraska and Michigan State – all teams to be in the top 25 at times this year – but has been able to get back on its feet and make the title game for the second year in a row.
"As a head coach, in a sick way, I've kind of actually enjoyed some of the challenges that have come my way," Bielema said. "I really enjoy being in difficult situations. It kind of gets your juices going a little bit and being able to see success and be able to adapt to failure. We're all growing. We're moving forward.
Bielema said he won't try to change the game in any way to get Ball the record at home, and the back said he knows what is on tap.
"I'm very aware of it," he said. "But mainly what I'm focusing on is and I talk to coach (Thomas) Hammock about it every day, and he makes sure to tell me that try not to think about it, keep doing what you're doing and it will unfold. It will happen is basically what he tells me. It's really easy to not think about it a lot because I still have to go out there and perform with my teammates. I'm a really humble player, so I try not to talk about it much."
In A Nutshell
Wisconsin's offense is still predicated on running the ball, and the team's 564-yard performance last week vs. Indiana moved the Badgers from 45th in the nation to 17th. It was a school record and the most yards rushed for in a Division I FBS game this year. However, Wisconsin has been held below 60 net rushing yards in each of its three losses this year.
The rushing attack is led by Ball, a national player of the year candidate who already holds the Big Ten career touchdown lead after tying the national single-season record last year with 39. A back with good burst and physicality, Ball has 245 rushes for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding nine catches. Backup James White is Wisconsin's career yards per carry leader and has 89 rushes for 647 yards and eight touchdowns, while Melvin Gordon has added 346 yards.
The team's quarterback is also mobile in senior Curt Phillips. He had barely played before last week thanks to a trio of ACL tears in his career, and Phillips was just 4 for 7 with a TD last week. He still has good wheels, though, and is a team favorite. The backup is Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien, who has three touchdown passes and was largely ineffective leading the offense after beginning the year as a starter. Joel Stave was the Big Ten leader in passing efficiency in his starts before injuring his collarbone vs. MSU.
Out wide, by far the top target is Jared Abbrederis, a former walk-on who has good wheels and a knack for making plays. The junior has 38 catches for 689 yards and five touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards in three games, and his average of 76.6 yards per game is second in the league. The rest of the receivers have struggled; Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe each have 12 catches and no touchdowns.
Wisconsin does have a good pass-catching tight end in Jacob Pedersen, an All-Big Ten candidate. Pederson has snagged 18 balls for 264 yards and three scores. Brian Wozniak has added nine catches and is a good blocker.
Up front, Wisconsin has battled injuries but found the lineup it likes after the graduation of multiple All-Big Ten choices last season. One does return in Travis Frederick, and he's moved to center. Left tackle Rick Wagner was a preseason All-America choice, while left guard Ryan Groy is versatile. Right tackle Rob Havenstein checks in at 6-8, 342, while the right guard is sophomore Kyle Costigan.
Oddly enough, the defense was thought to be the weak link on the Wisconsin team coming into the season, but the Badgers are in the top 20 in the nation in rushing defense (13th; 103.4 yards per game), total defense (15th, 309.6 yards) and scoring defense (12th; 17.2 points). Wisconsin has held five straight foes below 17 points.
The Badgers have allowed only five rushing touchdowns. Up front, what has been a young unit in years past has matured, as all four listed starters are juniors who have plenty of experience. The most productive of that group is end David Gilbert, who has made 31 tackles and has seven tackles for loss, four sacks, four more quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. On the other end, Pat Muldoon of Cincinnati St. Xavier has ascended to a starting role and has 12 tackles, 4½ TFL and 2½ sacks. Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel add depth.
In the middle, Wisconsin has size as starters Beau Allen and Ethen Hemer each tip the scales north of 315. Allen can get to the QB as he has 23 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks, while Hemer has 19 stops. Sophomore Warren Herring has moved up the depth chart and has 10 tackles.
The team's linebackers are the strength of the team, led by junior Kettering (Ohio) Alter product Chris Borland. He suffered a hamstring injury vs. Indiana and might not be able to go, but Borland is a productive player if healthy. The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year has a school-record 12 forced fumbles in his career, and this year Borland has 82 tackles, nine TFL, 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Senior Mike Taylor is also a key, as he leads the team with 95 tackles including 12 TFL and a sack. He was Wisconsin's co-MVP last year and had 150 stops to place third in the nation. Ethan Armstrong has also performed well at Sam linebacker, piling up 61 tackles and an interception. The next man up behind Borland is Marcus Trotter, a sophomore with three tackles.
Wisconsin's passing defense has appeared to improve during the season, but it is still sixth in the league in passing efficiency D after losing two All-Big Ten corners in the offseason. Senior Devin Smith has stepped up while coming back from a season-ending injury last year, making a team-high three interceptions along with 48 tackles. On the other side, Marcus Cromartie has 47 stops and a forced fumble. Redshirt freshman Darius Hillary of Cincinnati Sycamore has added 21 stops.
Kicker Kyle French is 10 for 13 with a long of 46 yards, while punter Drew Meyer averages 41.4 yards per kick for a net punting unit that is second in the league. Doe has a punt return TD and is splitting time with Abbrederis, while Gordon and White have been OK at kick returns.
Possible Ohio State edges: The Buckeyes have one of the best rushing defenses in the league, while Wisconsin has struggled against the best defenses it has faced. Mobile quarterbacks have also given Wisconsin trouble.
Possible Wisconsin edges: That running game is hard to stop, and adding Phillips as a mobile QB adds a threat. The Buckeyes' offense struggled firing early at Michigan State and Penn State, something Wisconsin might take advantage of.
Sept. 1: vs. Northern Iowa, W 26-21. Danny O'Brien threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jared Abbrederis while the defense helped snuff a late UNI comeback.
Sept. 8: at Oregon State, L 10-7. The Badgers offense couldn't get in gear as the only score came on a pass from O'Brien to Pedersen with 1:31 left.
Sept. 15: vs. Utah State, W 16-14. Wisconsin came back from a 14-3 halftime deficit thanks to a punt return TD by Doe and a Ball TD run. Utah State missed a 37-yard field goal at the end as well.
Sept. 22: vs. UTEP, W 37-26. Stave made his first start and got the offense clicking. White ran for two touchdowns, the team had four rushing scores as a whole, and Abbrederis had a 6-147-1 line.
Sept. 29: at Nebraska, L 30-27. The Badgers blew a 17-point second half lead to the Cornhuskers, who outrushed the visitors 259-56. Abbrederis caught seven passes for 142 yards and a TD.
Oct. 6: Illinois, W 31-14. The Badgers pulled away in the fourth quarter behind two Montee Ball touchdown runs.
Oct. 13: at Purdue, W 38-14: Ball ran 29 times for 247 yards and three touchdowns while the Badgers shut down the Boilers' offense after an early TD drive.
Oct. 20: vs. Minnesota, W 38-13: The Badgers kept Paul Bunyan's Axe with their ninth straight win in the series. White ran for two touchdowns and Ball had three.
Oct. 27: vs. Michigan State, L 16-13 (OT): Stave was injured and Wisconsin blew a late lead, allowing Andrew Maxwell to hit a touchdown pass to tie the score than another in overtime as the Spartans pulled out the defensive battle.
Nov. 10: at Indiana, W 62-14: The Badgers didn't have much trouble running away from the Hoosiers, as Ball ran for 198 yards and three scores and White had 161 yards and two TDs.
Five Fast Facts
1. Wisconsin committed the fewest turnovers in the nation each of the past two season, losing only nine in 2010 and 10 a season ago. This year, the Badgers have lost nine in 10 games, sixth in the country.
2. Bielema is 67-22 at Wisconsin and recent passed College Football Hall of Famer Phil King (1896-1902, 1905) for the second most wins in school history. Barry Alvarez leads the way with 118.
3. Ball said before the season he wanted to go by Monteé, the name on his birth certificate. Along with it, Ball wanted the pronunciation to be the given "Mon-TAY" rather than "MON-tee." However, midway through the season he changed his mind, saying he preferred to go back to the latter pronunciation.
4. Ball is one of the team's six captains along with offensive lineman Wagner and Frederick, linebackers Taylor and Borland and safety Johnson.
5. Wisconsin will be celebrating Senior Day against the Buckeyes. Bielema's teams are 6-0 on Senior Day.
Last Time Out
Left for dead just three weeks ago following an epic collapse at Nebraska, Ohio State resurrected its season Oct. 29 with a 33-29 pulse-pounding victory over No. 15 Wisconsin, treating a primetime homecoming crowd of 105,511 in Ohio Stadium to one of the most fantastic finishes in Horseshoe history.
After the Badgers had erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of quick-strike touchdown drives to take a 29-26 lead with 1:10 remaining, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller moved his team 52 yards in only four plays, hitting fellow freshman Devin Smith with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds showing on the game clock.
Wisconsin still had a last-gasp chance, thanks mostly to the Buckeyes. Sophomore kicker Drew Basil's squib kickoff went out of bounds to give the Badgers the ball at their own 40, and then OSU safety Christian Bryant was called for a facemask penalty on what should have been the final play of the game.
That gave UW an untimed down at the Ohio State 45 with 0:00 showing, but Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat got to Wisconsin senior quarterback Russell Wilson and hooked the QB's arm just enough that the final pass fell harmlessly incomplete.
That triggered a wild celebration with fans rushing the field in celebration, armed with the fact the Buckeyes were back in the chase for a seventh consecutive Big Ten championship.
Miller came of age with a performance that included 7 completions on 12 pass attempts for 89 yards and the touchdown. The 40-yard score was the longest TD pass of the freshman's young career.
He added a career-best 99 yards and a pair of touchdown runs on the ground, pretty good numbers except rushing honors belonged to senior tailback Boom Herron, who gouged the Badgers for 160 yards on a career-high 33 carries.
Meanwhile, the final score might not indicate it, but the Ohio State defense was also one of the stars of the game. The Buckeyes stoned the vaunted Wisconsin running game, holding the Badgers to only 89 yards on the ground. UW entered the contest as the No. 2 rushing team in the Big Ten, averaging 252.1 yards per game.
Junior tailback Montee Ball, the Big Ten's leading rusher at 109.7 yards per game, was limited to 85 yards on 17 carries for the Badgers. Meanwhile, Wilson completed 20 of 32 passes for 253 yards and three TDs. He was also sacked three times and committed a crucial intentional grounding penalty that helped to set up an Ohio State field goal early in the fourth quarter.
"I'm so happy for these guys," OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. "The way they've fought and believed in each other with all the ups and downs we've had. I think we learned a lot from Nebraska a couple of weeks ago. If you continue to fight and not lose your focus, good things will eventually happen."
As far as Miller's performance was concerned, Fickell said his freshman QB had a brief message for him before taking the field for the game-winning drive.
"He looked at me and winked and said, ‘We're all right,'" Fickell said with a smile. "We knew all year that Braxton can throw the ball. He can do things by keeping plays alive."
Wisconsin scored first, capping an eight-play, 69-yard drive in The Opening quarter with a 22-yard pass from Wilson to Ball. After senior kicker Philip Welch added the extra point, the Badgers held a 7-0 lead at the 6:58 mark of the first period.
It stayed that way until Basil knocked home a 39-yard field goal with 2:55 left in the second quarter, cutting the Buckeyes' halftime deficit to 7-3.
OSU took its first lead of the game early in the third quarter, marching 75 yards in seven plays from Miller snuck over from the 1. Basil's PAT put the Buckeyes into the lead at 10-7 at the 12:00 mark of the third period.
It didn't take long for Ohio State to pad that lead. After the defense forced a three-and-out series, freshman Ryan Shazier blocked a Wisconsin punt that fellow freshman Curtis Grant recovered at the UW 1-yard line. The Buckeyes lost a yard on first down and were stopped for no gain on second, but junior tailback Jordan Hall followed junior fullback Zach Boren's block on third down and slithered his way into the end zone from 2 yards out.
Basil added the extra point and the Buckeyes had a seemingly comfortable 17-7 lead with 9:26 remaining in the third quarter.
There was nothing comfortable about the rest of the game, however. The OSU defense quickly forced another punt, but Hall mishandled the ball and Wisconsin sophomores Jon Budmayr recovered at the OSU 27. Six plays later, Ball blew through a huge hole in the middle of the line for a 1-yard touchdown run. Welch's PAT made it 17-14 Buckeyes at the 4:23 mark of the third quarter.
That set the stage for a frenetic fourth quarter. Basil hit a 22-yard field goal with 10:39 remaining and then Miller scrambled for a 44-yard TD on a third-and-2 play to give the Buckeyes a seemingly insurmountable 26-14 lead at the 4:39 mark. OSU went for a two-point conversion following Miller's score, a failed try that didn't seem critical at the time.
But Wilson rallied his team, throwing touchdown strikes of 17 and 49 yards to sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis, the second at the 1:18 mark. Abbrederis led all receivers in the game with six catches for 113 yards and the two scores.
Ball took a shovel pass on the two-point attempt after Abbrederis' second score, giving the Badgers what looked like a safe 29-26 advantage with only 78 seconds left in the game.
That's when Hall made up for his punt return gaffe, returning the ensuing kickoff 42 yards to the Ohio State 48 and setting up the winning drive. Herron converted a critical third-and-1 with a 3-yard to set up a first down at the Wisconsin 40, and from there, Miller took the snap, scrambled away from two different defenders and heaved the ball on the run to Smith, who was wide open in the end zone for the game-winner.
Sweat led the Buckeyes defensively with eight tackles while sophomore safety C.J. Barnett and sophomore defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins had seven stops each. Barnett also had an important pass breakup in the final seconds, knocking away a pass intended for Wisconsin receiver Nick Toon at about the OSU 20-yard line.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon had three tackles, including two sacks, despite being double-teamed all night. Sophomore lineman Adam Bellamy also had a sack for Ohio State.
For the Badgers, junior linebacker Mike Taylor was credited with a career-high 22 tackles, including 2½ for loss. Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, a product of Kettering (Ohio) Alter, had 13 stops and senior linebacker Kevin Claxton added 10 tackles, also a career-best that included 2½ for loss and a sack.