Saturday, Oct. 29
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
Rankings: 12th AP, 11th coaches, 12th Harris, 15th BCS
Head coach: Bret Bielema, 55-17, sixth year
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten, tied for first place)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 53-18-5
School location: Madison, Wis.
Colors: Cardinal and White
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium
Fight song: "On Wisconsin"
Bret Bielema has been there, done that, when it comes to knowing how to steer a ship away from a storm.
In fact, his second Wisconsin team in 2008 was pegged to make noise in the Big Ten race before stunningly starting the league slate with four straight losses. The Badgers then rebounded to win four of their last five regular-season games on the way to a bowl appearance.
But when it comes to how to get a team back on course, Bielema looks back to a time when he was an assistant coach.
While coaching under Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2003, Bielema watched as the Wildcats had a shocking three-game losing streak including two straight losses to start Big 12 play. From there, many expected the Wildcats' BCS chances to be over, but Kansas State won six straight games to capture the Big 12 North before downing top-ranked Oklahoma by a 35-7 final in the league championship game.
From there, the Wildcats lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the turnaround was complete.
"We lost two or three games early on that no one really had predicted," Bielema said. "But Bill Snyder came in and he said, ‘If we take care of our business, we can get in the conference championship game and get to a BCS game.' And everybody's kind of looking at him like he had three heads, you know. And, lo and behold, we started playing pretty well and came down to the end.
"And then we beat the No. 1 team in the country in Oklahoma, who was, at that time, regarded to be the best in the country and put ourselves in a BCS game. So, yeah, we explain to them that this week is a divisional game. Four of our next five are. The only one that's not is Minnesota, which I don't think we'll have any issues getting motivated for that game. So with Purdue, with Penn State and Ohio State coming, those are big ones."
The Badgers are now in a similar spot. After starting 6-0 and moving up to No. 4 in the nation, the Badgers were beating teams by an average of more than 40 points per game. However, it all came crashing down last Saturday with a 37-31 loss at Michigan State when the Spartans scored on a Hail Mary on the last play of the game.
Still, Bielema expects his veteran team – which has 13 seniors listed as starters – to come back and give the Buckeyes all they can handle.
"Expect this group to bounce back, as they did late in the fourth quarter, and put everything in as preparation," Bielema said. "A great opportunity this week to go on the road, a night game, national stage against a traditional opponent that we all look forward to at Ohio State."
The Badgers and Stanford are the only teams in the nation to rank among the top 10 in both scoring offense and defense.
Offense In A Nutshell
The Badgers were leading the nation in scoring until last week but fell to fifth after "only" 31 points against the Spartans, but that doesn't mean the attack is short-circuited at all. Wisconsin has topped the 30-point mark in 14 straight regular-season games, averages 47.4 points per game and averages 7.7 yards per play, good for second in the country.
Wisconsin is also among the top 10 in the nation in fewest fumbles lost, third-down conversions, passing efficiency, fewest turnovers lost, fewest tackles for loss award, red zone offense and rushing offense. The Badgers and Nevada are the only schools to top 240.0 yards per game in both rushing (252.1) and passing (259.6).
Senior quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, pulls the strings in the offense. A dual-threat QB who can both run and pass, Wilson has completed 73.2 percent of its passes (109 of 149) for 1,780 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions – two vs. Michigan State – while rushing for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think it's just his presence, the way he commands the huddle," OSU cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said about what stands out about Wilson. "You see the respect that he's earned with the offense, with the team. He's a competitor. He does a really nice job. He really understands the offense, which is very, very impressive with a young guy that's been there a short amount of time. And he's got confidence. All those attributes as a quarterback are vital."
Of course, Wisconsin always boasts a strong rushing attack, and this year is no different. This year, junior Montee Ball carries most of the load – 125 attempts, 768 yards and 19 total touchdowns to lead the nation – while sophomore James White has 80 carries for 458 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Bradie Ewing is a solid blocking fullback who has eight catches.
Out wide, senior Nick Toon has come into his own, grabbing 27 catches for 505 yards and six touchdowns despite being sidelined at times with a foot injury. Sophomore Jared Abbrederis leads the squad with 30 catches for 482 yards and two TDs, while tight end Jacob Pedersen has added six touchdowns among 19 catches. Brian Wozniak, Jake Byrne and Sam Arneson add blocking depth at TE>
Up front, Wisconsin has an experienced line despite losing several veterans from a year ago. The right side is strong in senior right guard Kevin Zeitler (29 career starts) and senior right tackle Josh Oglesby, a one-time five-star recruit. Junior center Peter Konz has 27 career starts, while junior Ricky Wagner is a first-year starter at left tackle and sophomore Travis Frederick has moved from center to left guard.
QB 16 Russell Wilson (5-11, 210)
RB 28 Montee Ball (5-11, 210)/20 James White (5-10, 195)
FB 34 Bradie Ewing (6-0, 245)
WR 1 Nick Toon (6-3, 220)
WR 4 Jared Abbrederis (6-2, 180)
TE 48 Jacob Pedersen (6-4, 240)/82 Jake Byrne (6-4, 260)
LT 58 Ricky Wagner (6-6, 320)
LG 72 Travis Frederick (6-4, 330)
C 66 Peter Konz (6-5, 315)
RG 70 Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315)
RT 67 Josh Oglesby (6-7, 330)
PK 18 Philip Welch (6-3, 205)
KR 20 James White (5-10, 195)/4 Jared Abbrederis (5-11, 210)
Defense In A Nutshell
The Wisconsin defense is second in the league in scoring D (13.6 points) and third in yardage (286.7) but don't have sterling numbers against the run, as the Badgers are fifth in the league at 121.1 yards per game.
Up front, the Badgers are without last year's stud, first-round draft pick J.J. Watt, but the team is still fourth in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss. Senior Louis Nzegwu has stepped up as the top pass rusher, making five sacks among his 21 tackles, while junior end Brendan Kelly on the other side leads the line with 22 stops and two forced fumbles. In the middle, senior Patrick Butrym has fought off injury and has 13 tackles, while sophomore Ethan Hemer also has 13 stops and sophomore Beau Allen has three sacks.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker as junior weakside man Mike Taylor and sophomore middle man Chris Borland are the top tacklers on the team by far. Borland leads the way with 71 stops, including 10 TFL, two sacks, and an interception, while Taylor has 64 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. The third starter is senior Kevin Claxton, but he's chipped in only 22 tackles.
The secondary is fourth in the league in passing efficiency defense and is led by senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus, a first-team All-Big Ten choice and three-year starter who has 26 tackles and two picks. Junior Marcus Cromartie has stepped in at the other side because of injury and has 26 stops as well.
At safety, senior Aaron Henry earned All-Big Ten honors last year and has 30 stops and two picks this time around, while junior Shelton Johnson has 20 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Sophomore Dezmen Southward has 22 tackles and two forced fumbles but is battling injury.
DE 93 Louis Nzegwu (6-4, 255)
DT 95 Patrick Butrym (6-4, 285)
DT 87 Ethan Hemer (6-6, 300)
DE 97 Brendan Kelly (6-6, 255)
SLB 9 Kevin Claxton (6-1, 240)
MLB 44 Chris Borland (5-11, 245)
WLB 53 Mike Taylor (6-2, 230)
CB 14 Marcus Cromartie (6-1, 180)
SS 24 Shelton Johnson (6-0, 190)
FS 7 Aaron Henry (6-0, 210)
CB 26 Antonio Fenelus (5-9, 190)
P 98 Brad Nortman (6-3, 210)
PR 4 Jared Abbrederis (5-11, 210)
Five Fast Facts
1. Badgers special teams are up and down. The team is second in the nation in punt returns thanks to Abbrederis, while punter Brad Nortman and kicker Philip Welch are both dependable seniors. But Nortman had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown vs. MSU and the kickoff return unit struggles.
2. A Wisconsin running back hasn't fumbled – at all – since the San Jose State game last year. That was Bucky's second game of the 2010 season.
3. Defensive tackle Butrym, fullback Ewing, safety Henry and quarterback Wilson are all full-time team captains.
4. Toon can pass his father, Al, for fourth in Wisconsin's all-time receiving yards chart with 77 receiving yards vs. OSU. Toon has 134 career catches, good for fourth on the all-time list and three more than his father, who went on to a successful NFL career with the New York Jets.
5. Wilson has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 straight games, the longest such streak in the country. On third down this year, he has 33 for 42 for 390 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception, and when he has thrown on third-and-long (more than 5 yards) this year, Wisconsin has converted 16 of 27 tries.
Last Time Out
Wisconsin kickoff return man David Gilreath landed a 97-yard haymaker to the chin of top-ranked Ohio State and the reeling Buckeyes never fully recovered, dropping a 31-18 decision to the upstart Badgers last Oct. 16 in front of 81,194 frenzied fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Gilreath took the game's opening kickoff for six and Wisconsin tallied a pair of rushing touchdowns from junior tailback John Clay to take a 21-0 lead at the 13:15 mark of the second quarter.
Clay's second touchdown capped a 19-play, 89-yard drive against an Ohio State defense that was battered and bullied by the Badgers' offensive line. The Buckeyes entered the game allowing an average of only 78.7 yards over their first six games. Wisconsin eclipsed that total by the 3:15 mark of the first quarter and finished with 184 yards on the ground.
Ohio State managed to make a game of it in the second half, roaring back to pull with three points thanks to a pair of touchdown runs from junior tailback Dan Herron. But after the Buckeyes closed to within 21-18 with 11:38 remaining in the game, the Wisconsin offense shifted gears and closed things out with a couple of ball-control possessions that left OSU with no time left for a comeback.
"Wisconsin did the things they needed to do to win the game," OSU head coach Jim Tressel told reporters after the game. "It started with special teams and they ran the ball well. I'm proud of our kids who fought hard and fought back when maybe a lesser bunch would have folded their tent. We got it back to 21-18, but to Wisconsin's credit they … came up with the win."
The Badgers hadn't had much success over the years against top-ranked teams, last beating one in the 1981 season opener when the Badgers handed Michigan a 21-14 upset loss in Madison.
For Ohio State, it was the first time its defense had allowed a Big Ten opponent to crack the 30-point mark since a 42-39 win over Michigan in the 2006 regular-season finale. Additionally, they allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time in 29 games when Clay finished with 104 yards on 21 carries.
The loss wasted excellent performances by Herron and senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. Herron rushed 19 times for 91 yards and the two scores while Sanzenbacher had six catches – many of them crucial, acrobatic grabs – for 94 yards.
OSU junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor had an excellent third quarter when he completed all seven of his pass attempts for 86 yards as the Buckeyes were in rally mode. But Pryor seemed out of sync most of the rest of the evening and finished 14 for 28 passing for 156 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He added 56 rushing yards on 16 carries.
His Wisconsin counterpart, Scott Tolzien, was an efficient 13 for 16 for 152 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
The Badgers wound up with 336 total yards while the Buckeyes had 311.
Gilreath electrified the home crowd on the game's opening kickoff, taking it at his own 3 and exploding up the middle. The 5-11, 169-pound senior made one defender miss and raced virtually untouched to the end zone. Wisconsin kicker Philip Welch came on to add the extra point and the Badgers were off and running with a 7-0 lead.
Ohio State started out well with its first possession when Pryor connected with junior wideout DeVier Posey on a 14-yard pass. But on the next play, Pryor pitched high and behind Herron on an option, and although OSU was able to corral the loose football the play went for a 12-yard loss.
That was indicative of the sputtering OSU offense in the early going as the Buckeyes accounted for only 35 yards in the opening period.
Meanwhile, the Badgers' running game was gashing the Ohio State defense. Clay capped a six-play, 58-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run on which he was barely touched, and Welch's PAT made it 14-0 at the 10:00 mark of the first quarter.
Then after Ohio State's next possession resulted in a punt, Wisconsin embarked on its 89-yard drive that ate up an amazing 10:04 off the clock. When Clay dove over from the 1-yard line and Welch kicked another extra point, the Badgers were sailing along with a 21-0 advantage.
The Buckeyes finally showed some life on offense, getting the ground game geared up after a 17-yard scramble from Pryor on a third-and-9. Herron broke off runs of 14 and 16 yards to give his team a first-and-goal at the Wisconsin 3.
But OSU was stopped on three successive running plays – two by Pryor and one by Herron out of the Wildcat formation – and the Buckeyes wound up settling for a 21-yard field goal from senior kicker Devin Barclay.
That made it 21-3 with 6:48 remaining in the half, and Ohio State got another scoring chance less than two minutes later when junior linebacker Andrew Sweat picked off a Tolzien pass and returned it 18 yards. A subsequent personal foul penalty against the Badgers gave OSU excellent field position at the Wisconsin 23 but the Buckeyes couldn't cash in.
On third-and-9, UW defensive end J.J. Watt blew past OSU right tackle J.B. Shugarts to sack Pryor for a 6-yard loss, and Barclay's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed just outside the left upright.
The third quarter featured a complete turnaround for the Buckeyes as they took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 77 yards in 10 plays to cut into Wisconsin's lead. Sanzenbacher made a leaping catch for a 24-yard gain during the drive, and Herron capped things by taking another direct snap and motoring 13 yards into the end zone.
When Barclay added the extra point, the Buckeyes had climbed within 11 points at 21-10 at the 10:08 mark of the third quarter.
They got even closer on their longest drive so far this season, a 19-play march that covered 94 yards and took 9:50 off the clock. Herron finished things off with a 1-yard TD run, and then Pryor executed a perfect fake before lofting a pass to sophomore tight end Reid Fragel for the two-point conversion.
That made it 21-18 with 11:38 remaining in the game and momentum clearly on Ohio State's side. But the Badgers seized it back with a 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that broke the back of the OSU defense. UW receiver Nick Toon beat Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa for a 20-yard gain on a crucial third-and-3 play early in the possession, and Wisconsin put it into overdrive after that.
Freshman tailback James White scored on a 12-yard run with 6:57 to go, and once Welch added the extra point, the Buckeyes were down by 10 again at 28-18.
Needing to come up with some late-game heroics, OSU came up empty. The Buckeyes' ensuing possession was a three-and-out, and Wisconsin added a 41-yard field goal from Welch at the 4:14 mark to make it 31-18.
Pryor tried gamely to get one last score, but his attempt to Sanzenbacher inside the 1:30 mark was underthrown and intercepted by Wisconsin linebacker Blake Sorenson.