Ohio State and Wisconsin will battle in Madison, and the running game will be the focal point no matter which team holds the football. The Buckeyes rank eighth nationally with 256.10 yards per game on the ground, while Wisconsin is 17th with 218.8. Both teams are also adept at stopping the rush. OSU allows 107.9 yards per contest – 16th best in the country – and Wisconsin boasts the 13th-ranked run defense, allowing 103.4 yards.
"We definitely have to stop the run," Ohio State junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "There's no beating around the bush: They're definitely going to try to run the ball on you and establish that. They've got some good receivers and they're known for having some great tight ends, but I feel like it's going to come down to our front seven against their front seven. That's going to determine who's going to win the game."
Gone from Wisconsin is 2011 quarterback Russell Wilson. The current Seattle Seahawks starting QB helped to make the Badgers a well-balanced team last season. UW rushed for 235.6 yards and passed for 234.3 en route to a Big Ten title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin is not as balanced offensively this fall. The Badgers, led by former Heisman Trophy finalist Monteé Ball, averages 218.8 yards per game but only throws for 166.8. That passing total is 11th best in the Big Ten, better than only Northwestern (164.9).
This season, when Wisconsin's opponents have halted the UW rushing attack, it usually emerges with a victory. The Badgers enter Saturday afternoon's game against the Buckeyes with a 7-3 record, and in each of the losses Wisconsin was held under 100 net yards of rushing. The Badgers had 35 yards Sept. 8 in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State, 56 yards Sept. 29 in a 30-27 loss at Nebraska and 19 yards Oct. 27 in a 16-13 overtime loss at home to Michigan State.
Wisconsin's average rushing total in its seven victories? 296.9 yards. Admittedly, that total is a little skewed because of UW's school record 564 yards on the ground last weekend in a 62-14 win at Indiana. Take that game out of the equation, however, and the Badgers still have an impressive average of 252.3 yards per win.
No matter the figures, Wisconsin's rushing attack has the respect of the Buckeyes.
"They're a great offense. They've always been a good offense," senior fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said. "That's what they're known for. They're known for running the ball. They're known for just going and going and finally breaking one or breaking a couple. They have the offensive line to do it. They've got the running backs to do it.
"We have to play a perfect game on Saturday, and we're going to try and do that."
The engine of Wisconsin's rushing attack remains Ball. The senior tailback had his best game of the season – as did most of the Badgers – against the Hoosiers. He carried the ball 27 times for 208 yards and scored three touchdowns. Ball is not matching his 2011 pace, but he has rushed for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns. That latter figure gives him 77 for his career, one shy of tying the NCAA record set by Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice from 2000-03.
"He makes people miss like crazy and breaks long runs," Hankins said. "He's hard to tackle. He never goes down and just makes plays."
Not to be over looked is No. 2 tailback James White. The junior has 647 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Buckeyes aren't a slouch carrying the football, either. Ohio State ranks second to Nebraska (269.3) in rushing offense in the Big Ten and boasts two of the top 10 rushers in the conference in sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and junior tailback Carlos Hyde. Miller is fifth with 116.6 yards per game, while Hyde is seventh with 92.1 per contest.
Ohio State does have a new offense this season, utilizing a spread attack under Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Even so, expect another hard-hitting affair when the Buckeyes battle the Badgers this weekend.
"It's going to physical," senior defensive lineman John Simon said. "They're going to do whatever it takes to move the ball down the field, and we're going to do whatever it takes to stop them.
"At the end of the day, both sides are going to be beat up a little bit."