OVERVIEW: Can Urban Meyer keep his Ohio State team's undefeated streak on the road going this Saturday at Wisconsin? Is it possible to go five years without losing a true road game? Meyer has done some amazing things at Ohio State, but this is his finest accomplishment in my book. Wisconsin is probably the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, and their fans will be jacked up at 8:00 Saturday evening. With both teams in the Top-10, this is one of the top games in the country.
WHAT IS THE KEY FOR BOTH TEAMS? Wisconsin has positively FEASTED on opponent's turnovers, and that is the main reason they are ranked so high. Their two biggest wins are over LSU and Michigan State, and they forced LSU into three turnovers while the Spartans handed it over five times. If they do not turn Ohio State over multiple times, they are going to have to come close to throwing a shutout to win. For Ohio State, the defense has been great against some pretty good offenses, like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Indiana. Those teams could run it and throw it, while the Badgers are a one-dimensional, run heavy team. If the Buckeyes can stop the run, Wisconsin is in deep trouble, regardless of what Ohio State does offensively.
WHAT WILL OHIO STATE DO DEFENSIVELY? This game actually sets up better for Ohio State's defense than the three good offensive teams they faced earlier. Against those three, Ohio State had to respect the pass and could not commit an extra defender to the box. They have a G-R-E-A-T secondary in terms of coverage, so nobody needs doubled and there's no way they fear this quarterback at all. They can drop a safety to the line of scrimmage if they need to, assuming Wisconsin can run it against the Buckeye base defense. The corners should be able to blanket the wideouts, and Malik Hooker is lurking in the back. The linebackers can crowd the line if need be as well. The kicker is that Wisconsin hasn't really run it that well all year. They rushed for 134 yards against LSU, 122 yards against Michigan State and a whopping 71 yards against Michigan, so this is not the usual Badger tractor pull in the run game. I don't think they will gash Ohio State with the run at all, and if Alex Hornibrook can beat them throwing the football you shake his hand and shake your head at the same time in wonderment. In short, Wisconsin is not a good offensive team at all.
WHAT WILL OHIO STATE DO OFFENSIVELY? Wisconsin is very good at stopping the run, and this is their only positive going against the Buckeye offense. But it's a good place to start. A point to consider is that LSU, Michigan State and Michigan are all Power-I teams and play a similar style. And it's the same exact style Wisconsin plays themselves. So preparing for LSU helps you against Michigan State, and playing Michigan State and LSU helps you against Michigan. But that does nothing to help you play the Ohio State offense. And they cannot simulate it in practice. They might be able to take away Mike Weber, and that is going to put a lot of pressure on Barrett to make plays with his feet and with his arm. Look, J.T. Barrett was not all that good last week, but I do not see him playing two bad games in a row. Even if they stop Weber inside, Barrett can hurt them on the edge running the football. There is also a guy named Samuel that's good at football. You know, the guy that was ignored last week? Maybe he touches it more than nine times? And then there's the passing game. Barrett is not Tom Brady throwing the football, but the Wisconsin secondary is not quick enough to cover Samuel, Brown, Campbell, McLaurin and Clark. They are going to be open, because Wisconsin will sell out to stop the run. They will make Barrett throw it to beat them, and my guess is that he steps up to the challenge this week. You might even say I'm betting on that happening.
THE "X" FACTOR: To me, Wisconsin is the most overrated team in the country and I don't think they're a Top-10 team. They aren't Top-20 to me. Against the three real football teams they've played this year they have scored a total of five touchdowns. FIVE. And only two of the five were drives over 50 yards. The other three touchdowns? Drives of 31 yards, 28 yards and 5 yards. They are going to struggle to score unless Barrett gives them the football. They are good defensively, but not lights out at all. The three real teams all had well over 300 yards of offense apiece, but LSU and Michigan State killed themselves with turnovers. And J.T. Barrett is going to play well. REALLY WELL. Bank That. AND ANOTHER THING: The coaching matchup here is Paul Chryst against Urban Freaking Meyer, thank you very much.
THE VEGAS LINE: So Ohio State has to give Indiana 29 points, which was inflated but they still almost covered it with Barrett throwing the ball poorly. But now the line is only 10 points going against a team that I think is about the same as Indiana? All because they jump around after a few hours of play? Home field is big, but it's not THIS big. The total of 44 is probably low, but it might stay under if Wisconsin scores ten or less. If Wisconsin gets down early and has to throw a lot it's Katie-bar-the-door-time. If they start fast they could hang in there for a half, but at some point the Ohio State offense will explode. And the Buckeye defense is a threat to flip field position causing turnovers of their own. To me, this is a line that can and should be attacked. Wisconsin scored 16 against LSU and 7 against Michigan. Split the difference and they get 10 against Ohio State. How will they hold Ohio State under 20? How do they keep Ohio State under 30 or even 40? The answer? They won't. I've been wrong before, and I might be again, but I have this one playing out to blowout level in favor of Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes looked past Indiana last week to this game, and Saturday night we are going to see Urban F. lay the pimp hand down.
THE PICK: OHIO STATE 38 Wisconsin 10.