The national audience will likely see a raucous environment as more than 71,000 are expected in Camp Randall Stadium as the Badgers (5-1, 2-0) become the latest team to try and stop a winning streak for Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) that has reached 19 consecutive games.
"You like to have the 12th man," said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, in his 14th season as the Badgers coach. "You like to have the home field advantage and hopefully we will have that Saturday night. It should be a special environment."
Home has not exactly been the place to be for Wisconsin, which claimed Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl wins under Alvarez in 1993, 1998 and 1999. But since that last Big Ten championship in 1999, UW has gone 13-11 in Camp Randall Stadium. That mark includes a 2-1 showing this year, with a lackluster 23-5 loss to UNLV on Sept. 13 factored in.
"Our home record has not been as good as we would like it to be," Alvarez said. "Playing at home, you want your players to be comfortable. They stay where they normally stay and eat what they normally eat. You want your opponent to have to manage the crowd and manage the noise. Players normally feed off the excitement and the noise from the crowd."
A year ago, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes sidestepped disaster at Wisconsin with a 19-14 win. A Big Ten scheduling quirk sends OSU back to Madison for the second year in a row. The Buckeyes will be the highest ranked team to play at Camp Randall since top-ranked Michigan prevailed 26-16 in November 1997.
"They have had two weeks to prepare," Alvarez said of the Buckeyes, who were idle over the weekend of Oct. 4. "I'm sure we will see some things we haven't seen before. Our guys have to be sound enough and understand we may have to make some adjustments from what we've seen on film."
The Badgers, with impressive Big Ten wins on the road at Illinois (38-20) and Penn State (30-23), may make a push back to the top of the Big Ten standings this season. Since winning that last Big Ten title in 1999, UW was a combined 22-17 over the last three seasons. In fact, UW needed a win over Minnesota in last year's regular season finale to get to 7-6 and qualify for a bowl game. The Badgers won that game 49-31, then rallied to defeat Colorado 31-28 in overtime in the Alamo Bowl.
Other than the abysmal loss to UNLV -- which was marked by the injury of starting tailback Anthony Davis -- the Badgers have carried over the momentum from last year. Alvarez has liked the way his team his finished games this year.
"I think our guys have played well in the fourth quarter," Alvarez said. "They have made plays in all phases of the game in the fourth quarter. We tried to use the bowl game as a springboard in that regard. In that game, our defense stepped up, our kicking game stepped up and our offense drove the length of the field to get the game into overtime.
"I thought we did that in the West Virginia game. Then, at Penn State, they had possession and all the momentum. We have a call that pins us deep in our territory. They had the ball twice and the defense stepped up. Then, the offense runs the time out."
Ground Alvarez Chews Up Yards
This game is stacking up as a match-up between Wisconsin's stellar running game (ranked ninth nationally at 225.0 yards per game) and OSU's stifling rushing defense (ranked No. 1 nationally at 43.4 yards per game). But UW has several people to throw at the problem as it will likely rotate three running backs -- junior Anthony Davis (5-8, 191), sophomore Dwayne Smith (5-11, 225) and redshirt freshman Booker Stanley (5-10, 207).
Davis was the nation's leading rusher with 3,021 yards over the last two years.
"Anthony Davis has had two 1,500-yard seasons and he has come back much stronger," Alvarez said.
Davis did miss two games with the ankle injury suffered against UNLV. But that opened the door for Smith and then Stanley to show what they could do. Stanley was pressed into action against North Carolina, going for 119 yards. He duplicated that effort with 119 yards and a touchdown against Penn State. Smith, who had 552 yards last year as a true freshman, came up big with 193 yards against Illinois.
For the year, Smith leads UW with 467 yards, followed by Davis with 460 and Stanley with 329. They each have four touchdowns.
"I like the fact that we have three backs that have proven they are game-worthy and effective in a game situation," Alvarez said.
Those three backs take a great deal of pressure off senior quarterback Jim Sorgi, who is in his first full year as a starter after sitting behind Brooks Bollinger the last three seasons. Sorgi has the respect of his team as a captain this year. He has completed 73 of 142 passes for 1,182 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
"Sorgi has played a lot of football for us," Alvarez said. "He started a few games when (Bollinger) was injured. His strength is throwing. He has a nice touch on the ball down the field."
Sorgi has the luxury of throwing to one of the college game's top receivers in senior Lee Evans (5-11, 202). Evans, a native of Bedford, Ohio, has come back from missing all of last season due to a knee injury. He was a first-team All-American in 2001, when he set a Big Ten record for receiving yardage (1,545 yards). He is UW's career leader in receiving yardage (2,772) and receptions (141). This year, Evans has 30 catches for 517 yards and five touchdowns.
Evans' running mate is sophomore Brandon Williams (5-11, 170), who has 21 catches for 373 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Jonathan Orr (6-3, 190), who had 47 catches a year ago, looms as the third receiver.
"We have the big play maker in Lee and then we have some younger guys like Brandon and Jonathan who have really improved," Alvarez said.
Sophomore Matt Bernstein -- all 6-2, 273 pounds of him -- is the lead blocker at fullback. Junior Tony Paciotti (6-4, 263) and sophomore Jason Pociask (6-3, 250) split time at tight end.
Wisconsin welcomed back two starters on the offensive line in junior left guard Dan Buenning (6-4, 298) and junior right guard Jonathan Clink scale (6-3, 308). The new starters this year include junior right tackle Mike Lorenz (6-5, 313), sophomore center Donovan Raiola (6-3, 290) and junior left tackle Morgan Davis (6-5, 326).
Defense Coming Together
Wisconsin welcomed back eight starters on defense. The unit is starting to come into its own, ranking 46th nationally in total defense (337.5 yards per game). UW ranks 28th against the run (106.2) and a distant 75th (231.3) against the pass. Ohio State can take solace in the fact that five of UW's opponents have scored 20 or more points on the Badgers this season.
Two starters return up front in junior defensive tackles Anttaj Hawthorne (6-3, 300) and Jason Jefferson (6-3, 307). Juniors Darius Jones (6-3, 268) and Jonathan Welsh (6-4, 228) are the new starters at end. Welsh leads UW with four quarterback sacks. Hawthorne leads the team with 9-½ tackles for loss.
All three starting linebackers return. Junior Kareem Timbers (6-3, 209) starts outside, while seniors Jeff Mack (6-0, 244) and Alex Lewis (6-1, 237) start at the other two spots. Mack, a team captain, leads UW with 50 tackles. Lewis has added 41 tackles and two blocked punts this year.
Three starters return in the secondary. They are junior cornerback Scott Starks (5-10, 168), junior free safety Jim Leonhard (5-8, 183) and senior strong safety Ryan Aiello (6-1, 196). Starks is in his third year as a starter. Aiello, with 38 tackles this year, is coming off a 10-tackle effort at Penn State.
Leonhard is a former walk-on who led the nation in interceptions last year with a Big Ten record-tying 11. He has notched three more picks -- to go with 41 tackles -- this season.
"He is one of the great stories in college football," Alvarez said of Leonhard. "He broke the school record in interceptions last year and is just a play maker. Here is a walk-on who was voted as the team MVP as a sophomore defensive back."
Sophomore Levonne Rowan (6-1, 178) fills the other cornerback spot.
The Badgers are strong in the return game with Williams handling kick returns and Leonhard typically back on punts. Williams ripped off a 55-yard kick return at PSU, giving him a 22.7 average this year. Leonhard had a 65-yard punt return against PSU. That helped him raise his average to 14.6 yards per return this year.
Junior Mike Allen is back as the kicker after missing the first three games this year due to injury. He was 12 of 19 on field goals last year and is 2 of 2 this year. In his absence, senior Scott Campbell was 4 of 7 on field goals.
Junior R.J. Morse has averaged 41.5 yards per punt this year.
* This will be Ohio State's first road game of the year. The Buckeyes have won seven straight road games, dating to a Oct. 27, 2001, loss at Penn State.
* Ohio State is 3-0-1 in its last four trips to Madison. That string includes a 14-14 tie in 1993, which paved the way for the two schools to tie for the Big Ten title that season. Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George led OSU to a 27-16 win in 1995 in Madison. The Buckeyes rolled to a 23-7 win there in 2000.
Last year, quarterback Craig Krenzel completed 12 of 19 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns in OSU's win over the Badgers. Krenzel found Michael Jenkins for a 47-yard TD just 1:30 into the game. Then, with OSU trailing 14-13, he hit tight end Ben Hartsock for the 3-yard game-winning score with 9:59 left. Tailback Maurice Clarett piled up 133 yards on 30 carries for OSU, while Davis had 144 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts. Sorgi relieved an injured Bollinger and was 7 of 15 passing for 137 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"We had a problem early in the game with communication," Alvarez said. "We didn't communicate and they took advantage of it. That happened on the first play they scored on and they play they scored on later in the game. We have to make sure we communicate and get lined up properly."
* Alvarez shared more thoughts on the Buckeyes.
Regarding the OSU defense: "You don't go sideways on them without somebody dragging them down. With their combination of size, speed and athleticism, they have quite a group of defensive linemen."
And, the OSU offense: "I think they create problems with a lot of different formations. They try and scheme you with a lot of two- and three-tight end sets. I‘m sure with two weeks of preparation we will see some things we haven‘t seen from them before."
* Camp Randall Stadium is in the midst of an $83.7 million renovation project. It includes installation of FieldTurf, an increased seating capacity to 79,500, the addition of private suites and club seats and other amenities.
* Alvarez has 97 wins at Wisconsin. He is one of just 12 coaches with 90 wins at one Big Ten school. Only nine coaches in Big Ten history have won 100 games at one conference school.
* Alvarez is in the process of assuming added duties as UW's athletic director. Longtime AD Pat Richter announced in February his plans to retire in April 2004. At that time, Alvarez will become UW's AD.
* Madison was named as Sports Illustrated's No. 1 college town in a recent survey.
* Click below for a link with game data, depth charts, a game breakdown and one man's opinion on the outcome.