5 Questions: Ohio State at Wisconsin

When Ohio State and Wisconsin get together on the gridiron, there are always lots of issues to consider, but we have boiled those down to five key ones: Kickoff and punt returns, offensive line communication, Scott Tolzien, backups running backs and Andrew Sweat.

1. How will the return game factor into the outcome?

Early in the season, Ohio State had major problems covering kicks and punts, but the Buckeyes have improved in both areas recently.

Such is not the case for for Wisconsin, and Badgers head coach Bret Bielema is concerned.

"It's a big one for us, not only on kick return, but the punt return game as well, just to make sure that we got the principles in place," Bielema told reporters in Madison earlier this week. "We can't give away free yardage. The kicking game is all about hidden yardage, and where our drive starts."

On paper, the Buckeyes have a huge advantage in kickoff returns. They are 10th nationally and first in the Big Ten with an average of 26.8 yards per return, while the Badgers' average of 18.4 yards is 111th in the country and ninth in the conference.

2. Will the Ohio State offensive line have any communication problems?

While the raucous Camp Randall Stadium atmosphere won't help, this is really more about the Buckeyes themselves than potential distractions.

For the most part the veteran front line has been effective, but occasionally communication problems have led to free rushers in pass protection and resulted in unblocked defenders in the running game.

"Everybody has to be on the same page," Ohio State offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman said. "If one guy is in air, then all of a sudden if you count the tight end you could have five guys making good blocks and one guy is messing up."

He joked he wishes if every lineman had to make one mistake per in six plays they all could at least come on the same play. Otherwise, "You could take six plays and have everybody go five for six and only miss once but have six plays that are worthless."

3. Can Scott Tolzien redeem himself for 2009?

Wisconsin's senior quarterback led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last season, but that was no thanks to his performance against Ohio State.

Tolzien threw for 250 yards, but the only touchdown passes to come out of his hands went the wrong way as Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines both returned interceptions for scores.

Ball security has not been a problem so far this season as Tolzien has thrown only two interceptions, including none in the past four games.

"He does so much for that team and he gets it out to their playmakers, but I think he's grown just absorbing it more and just looks more calm," Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "Even last year I looked at it, we hit him a couple times, but he was still getting back up. It's going to be critical that we just get after him for 60 plus minutes."

He is one of six Big Ten quarterbacks - including Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor - in the top 16 in the country in passer efficiency rating this year.

4. Will a backup running back have an effect on the game?

Ohio State has seen bruising Wisconsin tailback John Clay twice before, and he will be a load to keep in check, but what about James White? The freshman from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas averages 80.8 yards per game and offers a change of pace that might be tough to deal with.

"Obviously John Clay is extraordinary, but you bring in that tempo change guy and all of a sudden, he hits you with a different type look," Tressel said.

Meanwhile, Daniel Herron figures to get the starting nod for Ohio State, but fans have been champing at the bit to see sophomore Jordan Hall.

A shifty, low-to-the-ground runner, Hall can be tough to get a clean shot on, and Bollman did not rule out a bigger role for him this week.

5. How will Andrew Sweat hold up?

Sweat, a junior from Washington (Pa.) Trinity, has not played a lot of snaps so far this season, but that figures to change this weekend.

Wisconsin's power running game and heavy offensive personnel groupings should signal a full night's work for Sweat, who as the team's Sam linebacker has the task of setting the edge when the ball is run his direction so his buddies can come and clean up.

He should become well acquainted with the Badger tight ends as well.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories