The Buckeyes had one of the best offenses in school history a year ago but it didn't help much against the Badgers. OSU finished with a season-low 236 total yards, going three-and-out four of the nine times it had the ball after establishing a 14-0 lead and posting a long drive of 25 yards in that span – the game-winning TD jaunt in overtime of a 21-14 victory.
The Buckeyes had trouble on the ground – racking up just 139 yards on 41 carries – and through the air, as Braxton Miller went 10 for 18 for 97 yards.
So what happened? It appears Wisconsin knew exactly what Urban Meyer knew at the time – that the offense was based on the power running of Carlos Hyde and the athleticism of Braxton Miller. So the Badgers came up with an attacking scheme that took away the edges, keeping Miller under wraps and short-circuiting the attack.
The good news, then, is that might not happen again. Not only have the Badgers switched coaching staffs and schemes, going to a 3-4 defense, the Buckeyes have diversified the offensive attack so far this year.
Not only is Ohio State averaging 52.5 points per game, the Buckeyes have scored 14 touchdowns on the ground and 15 through the air.
"I think that's probably the biggest development in the past 12 months has been our development of the skill position, being able to throw the ball more efficiently," receivers coach Zach Smith said. "Some of the things last year that we weren't comfortable with, we're more comfortable now. Obviously that's been evident through the first four games, and that's something we have to be able to do.
"We should have been able to do it last year and we were deficient at times, and this year, that's something that we are going to rely on. If teams want to do things like Wisconsin did last year against us, we are going to take advantage of what their weakness is, and we feel more competent at doing that now."
Among the weapons added since last year – Jordan Hall has rushed for 422 yards in four games while adding eight touchdowns, most in the Big Ten, while freshmen Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson each average over 9 yards per carry. Wilson has also been a threat in the passing game, while wideout Devin Smith has shown more consistency.
Those players should help the Buckeyes attack Wisconsin, which enters among the best in the nation in passing efficiency thus far.
"Every defense has a weakness somewhere, and last year we didn't feel great about the weakness that they had attacking it," Smith said. "So this year we feel much better about it for sure."
Both Ohio State and Wisconsin wear red shirts at home, but this week, the talk around Ohio State was about the other kind of redshirt in college football.
Such names as Mike Mitchell, Brionte Dunn, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Michael Thomas did not play vs. Florida A&M on Saturday, a game in which Ohio State pretty much emptied its bench on the way to a 76-0 triumph.
With that in mind, it appears those players are headed for redshirts and likely will not play this season unless called upon because of injury or need.
"They're on call," Meyer said after the win. "They're ready to go but they won't be used in mop up time. We lose a couple of players like we did on the defensive line, like Michael Hill, you're ready to go. We don't really redshirt, but there are some guys that could be fine players down the road that I just didn't want to burn a year to get them five or 10 plays, so that's the decision we made."
For players like Dunn, Smith and Thomas – upperclassmen all, with Smith in his first year out of junior college and Dunn and Thomas sophomores who saw time last year – the redshirt can come as a bit of a jolt, but Smith said they are handling the situation well.
"I don't think it's tough on them because they see it as a positive for their future," the wideouts coach said. "We would hate to just put them in in mop-up duty on a game that we wanted to get the starters out and then they waste a whole year kind of not being a contributing factor to the offense.
"So I think that they are excited about that, but at the same time, they want to get on the field. The good thing is, we are not saying, ‘Hey, you're going to redshirt, go over here, we'll get to you in the offseason.' They are preparing like they are going to play because at any moment, they could be the guy that has to go in and play.
"Sometimes those young guys, their opportunities are going to arise at certain times," defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "And then just like last week, you have a situation, do you want to really put a guy in in that situation, or do you try to hold him and not know, you know, what the future holds, as a redshirt or something like that.
"There's a few guys, we have about six of those guys that we had highlighted that we were going to hold and if we have to, we'll go ahead and put them in. But for right now, the situation has not arisen or really come up that we have to have him."
Joining Mitchell among the true freshmen yet to play are quarterback J.T. Barrett, wideout Marshall, tight end Marcus Baugh, offensive linemen Billy Price and Evan Lisle, defensive linemen Donovan Munger, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, and defensive backs Chris Worley, Jayme Thompson and Eli Apple.
Keeping It Tight
Thanks to three touchdowns – at least – in the first quarter in each of the first four games, Ohio State is yet to trail this season.
In fact, the Buckeyes have been tied for just 11:27 of 240 minutes game time over four games. OSU scored a touchdown 4:20 into the first game vs. Buffalo, 3:11 into the San Diego State game, 1:53 into the contest vs. Cal and after just 2:03 of game play vs. Florida A&M.
In other words, it would be hard to call the Buckeyes battle tested at the moment – at least on the field of play. But the coaching staff feels that the competitive atmosphere fostered throughout the program every day of the year is the kind of thing that can help if the matchup with the No. 23 Badgers stays close for a while.
"That's kind of what our program is built around," Smith said. "Our program is not built to, you know, perform when you're up by 20. Our whole program is built around, ‘All right, it's that competitive moment where you've got to either win the game or you lose the game,' and that's what we've worked on for 12 months, is who is going to perform when the pressure is on.
"Obviously we haven't seen it yet this year, but that's all we do is prepare our guys to respond to adversity, prepare our guys in a tight situation, pressure on, they have to make the play, they have to. We feel confident about it because that's what we've done for 12 months is prepare them for that."
Facts And Figures
Ohio State enters the game with the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games. It is the 15th winning streak in school history of 10 or more games. The streak is fifth longest in school history with 22 consecutive wins from 1967-69 the longest. Meyer's longest streak is also a 22-gamer in 2008 and '09 at Florida.
Junior Braxton Miller (2,063) needs 18 yards rushing to pass Cornelius Greene (2,080, 1972-75) and become Ohio State's recognized all-time leading rusher among QBs. Terrelle Pryor ran for 2,164 yards from 2008-10, but his 2010 stats are not recognized by the university.
Ohio State is 21 for 22 in the red zone this season with 20 TDs and one field goal. The touchdown percentage of 90.9 is second in the country behind Oklahoma State (15 for 15).
The 12 touchdown passes OSU quarterback Kenny Guiton has thrown for in the past three games is a school record for such a span.
Ohio State has scored a touchdown on 30 of 51 drives this season, a touchdown percentage of 58.8 that sits fifth in the nation heading into the weekend. Navy led the nation with 12 TDs in 18 tries (.667).
OSU has opened the season with four straight games of 40 points or more for the first time since 1917. It is the Buckeyes' first stretch of four consecutive games with at least 30 points since 2005.
According to cfbstats.com, Ohio State leads the nation with 40 rushes of 10 or more yards from scrimmage. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has the most runs of 20 or more yards (17), 30 or more yards (11), 40 or more yards (seven), 50 or more yards (six), 60 or more yards (five), 70 or more yards (four) and is just one of four teams with a rush of 80 or more yards, joining Arizona, Arkansas State and South Florida. Melvin Gordon has three of the 60-plus rushes.
As a team, the Badgers rank No. 3 nationally in rushing at 349.8 yards per game. Among teams that have played four games this season, Wisconsin (349.8) and Ohio State (311.0) rank 1-2 nationally in rushing offense. Wisconsin's 1,399 rushing yards are the most by a Big Ten team through the first four games of a season since at least 2000.
Gordon's average of 156.0 yards per game is better than 59 FBS teams, including 13 BCS "AQ" conference schools and Notre Dame.
A former walk-on quarterback, Wisconsin senior WR Jared Abbrederis leads active FBS players (minimum 120 receptions) with an average of 16.5 yards per catch for his career. He has six catches of at least 50 yards over the past two seasons.
The Badgers haven't lost a game by more than 10 points since Ohio State beat them, 31-13, on Oct. 10, 2009, a span of 52 games. The Buckeyes have one double-digit loss – 24-6 at Miami (Fla.) in 2011 – in that period while everyone else in the Big Ten has at least four. Additionally, while Wisconsin has lost the fewest games by 14 or more points over the past four seasons (zero), the Badgers also boast the most wins of 14 points or more by a Big Ten team in that span with 24.