The Buckeyes and Badgers have had their fare share of exciting matchups in the past 15 years, and Saturday is shaping up to be what could be another classic. The last time these two teams met however, Ohio State throttled Wisconsin 59-0 on its way to a Big Ten, and ultimately, a national championship. With the gametime inching closer, we take a closer look at the Badgers on both sides of the football.
Believe it or not, Joel Stave is no longer the quarterback of the Badgers. Last year however, Stave led Wisconsin to a solid 10-3 season, ending in a 23-21 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl. Much like a season ago, Wisconsin is uncharacteristically struggling to run the ball. The Badgers are currently ranked 78th in the country in rushing yards per game (161.60), which is an improvement to where they were last season, when they finished the 2015 season ranked 95th.
The passing game hasn't been much better for the Badgers, which have already made a quarterback change. After starting Bart Houston for the first three games of the season, Head Coach Paul Chryst turned to freshman Alex Hornibrook, who led the Badgers to a 30-6 win over Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. Hornibrook struggled mightily however against Michigan in the week following the win over the Spartans, completing just nine of 25 passes for 88 yards and three interceptions to just one touchdown.
In the past, the Badgers have boasted some of the best running backs in the conference when playing the Buckeyes. The likes of Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, John Clay and P.J. Hill have all graced the Wisconsin backfield against Ohio State, and the next one to do so will be Corey Clement. The dynamic senior missed the majority of the 2015 season due to injury, but has come back in 2016 to earn the starting job back. Unfortunately for him, Wisconsin has struggled at times to move the ball on the ground, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. Clement himself is averaging just 3.89 yards per carry through five games.
Defensively, the Badgers have been rock solid. The most points given up in a game this season by Wisconsin was a mere 17 in a 23-17 win over Georgia State on Sept. 17. In their most recent game, Wisconsin held a Michigan offense that would late explode for 78 points on Rutgers, to just 14 in a 14-7 loss Oct. 1. Wisconsin currently ranks fourth in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 12.2 yards per game. OSU ranks second on that list, holding opponents to just 10.8 points per game.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
Even with J.T. Barrett at the helm, the Ohio State offense is and has been a run first team. The last time the Buckeyes took on the Badgers in the Big Ten title game, OSU ran all over the Badgers, rushing 38 times for 301 yards, including 220 yards from Ezekiel Elliott. Since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus, the Buckeyes zone blocking scheme has tormented defenses and that was no different in that game two years ago against the Badgers.
In particular, the zone kick play, with the tight end blocking the opposite end worked well for OSU as you will see below in a clip from the 2014 matchup.
Normally, pulling up plays that worked against a different coach would seem pointless, but after I watched the Michigan vs. Wisconsin film from Oct. 1, it seems the Badgers are still struggling to block zone run schemes, in particularly, the zone kick.
You will notice small things here and there that are different about each play. For example, Michigan ran this play as an RPO (run pass option) in which the quarterback also has the option of throwing a smoke screen to the wide receiver to the top of your screen. In Ohio State's case, both receivers are running downfield to get a block. In a situation where Ohio State needs to jump start its passing game, running the zone kick as an RPO could be a good place to start.
In the passing game, Wisconsin returns Sojourn Shelton, a four year starter at corner. On the other side however, is junior Derrick Tindal who leads the team in interceptions on the season with three. The Badgers tend to play a lot of zone coverage, but can be vulnerable on crossing patters when pass protection holds up.
The Wolverines hit Wisconsin with plenty of underneath crossing patterns, something that could help Barrett get into a rhythm. When the Badgers do play man coverage though, they have been vulnerable. Michigan's second touchdown against Wisconsin came on a simple fly route in which the Wolverine wide receiver beat Tindal off the ball and scored. If the Badgers line up in man coverage, look for the Buckeyes to take a few shots, much like they did against Indiana.
When Wisconsin Has The Ball
The Badgers have struggled mightily to get much going in the passing game this season and will face a tall task against a stellar Ohio State secondary on Saturday. Hornibrook has has plenty of freshman moments, throwing just two touchdowns to four interceptions since being named the starter. That said, he has shown flashes of brilliance that the Buckeyes will have to be prepared for.
One play that we have seen Wisconsin run to perfection is the wheel route out of the backfield. The Badgers lone score against Michigan came on a wheel route from the running back out of the shotgun.
That play should look similar to Buckeye fans. The Badgers ran a similar concept against Ohio State in 2012, and it nearly worked. Had it not been for a big hit from Bradley Roby, Wisconsin would have hit on a big play in the red zone with the wheel route out of the backfield. This one, however, was run to the fullback off of play action.
The wheel route could be a play the Badgers go to if they need a big play in the red zone, and I am sure this is something that has been stressed in the film room this week in Columbus.
As far as Ohio State goes, their man coverage scheme has worked well all season and after watching the Badgers on film, I don't see how it won't work well again. Wisconsin is big up front and have good running backs, but they lack a deep threat down the field. If the Buckeyes can get a decent pass rush, they should not have a problem shutting down Wisconsin in Madison.