Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Ten Pressing Questions

Tonight's Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Wisconsin (9 p.m., ESPN) will go a long way toward deciding which direction OSU's 2003 season will go. Here are 10 pressing questions we will get answers to tonight.

The OSU marching band has one of its favorites "I Wanna Go Back To Ohio State." In that song, they have the famous line, "We'll win the game ... or know the reason why."

With that in mind, I have 10 pressing questions that we will get answers to this evening as the third-ranked Buckeyes take on 23rd-ranked Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN).

We will get the answers to these questions tonight and report back in our Sunday Morning Quarterback column tomorrow. Here goes:

1. Can Ohio State stop Wisconsin's running game? The Badgers are among the nation's best in running the ball (222.5 yards per game), while OSU is the best nationally in stopping it (43.4 yards per game). If you look up at halftime and UW only has, say, 75 yards, then you should feel good. But if they have 125 or more by the break, look out.

2. Can Ohio State establish the run? This may be the sole deciding factor in the game as OSU coach Jim Tressel predicates his entire approach to a football game on controlling possession and field position. But OSU is a distant ninth in the Big Ten in rushing (127.2 ypg) as little has worked for the running game this year. We will see tonight if the two-week break helped OSU find a running game.

3. How will Craig Krenzel play? Krenzel has not played competitively in 28 days. All reports are he is close to 100 percent after recovering from an elbow injury. He needs to be the Krenzel of old -- high percentage passing and as much as 40 or 50 yards rushing -- if Ohio State expects to win this game. UW is susceptible to the passing game -- first-time Penn State starter Michael Robinson torched UW for over 300 yards last week. Is it too much to expect him to be a game changer in his first week back?

4. Is Ohio State healthy? We bring up Krenzel's health and the assumption is he will be going the distance, although Scott McMullen is standing at the ready. The Buckeyes desperately need C-G Alex Stepanovich, TB Lydell Ross, FB Branden Joe and DT Darrion Scott at full throttle tonight.

5. Will Chris Gamble play on offense? With the offense suffering, the public clamor has been for Gamble to inject some life into the offense. But with UW standout Lee Evans on the other side, I imagine Gamble will expend most of his energy tonight on containing Evans. It would be nice for, say, five or 10 plays to get Gamble some action on offense, though.

6. Will B.J. Sander deliver? A year ago, Andy Groom had a huge day punting against UW. Can Sander help OSU control field position? He is a respectable third in the Big Ten right now (42.8 yards per punt).

7. Can the tight ends come up big? OSU is starting to discover and exploit the tight ends. Can they again get the ball to Ben Hartsock, Ryan Hamby and even Louis Irizarry if UW stacks up the run and contains the receivers?

8. Will the middle linebackers come to play? Fred Pagac Jr. and Mike D'Andrea have largely been observers over the first month as OSU has primarily played the nickel package. That changes tonight as UW will line up and try and run the ball. OSU will use the "extra" linebacker -- it is funny to say that when the MLB has only been around since the game began 125 years ago -- to help keep Anthony Davis and friends in check.

9. What impact will the crowd have? These people up here will have all day to get lubricated. Will things get ugly? We shall see.

10. Is Ohio State for real? This is the ultimate question we will answer, and it depends entirely on the final score. Regardless if OSU wins tonight 6-3, the Buckeyes will regain lost respect with a win. They will fall out of the nation's consciousness with a loss. It's sad that it works that way, but that's how it goes.

One Bonus Question: What impact will rain play in tonight's game? The Weather Channel shows a front coming from Minnesota that should be here by game time (I'm going to buy a poncho right now).

Part of me thinks this is a set-up like No. 1 Iowa found on a rainy day at the Horseshoe in 1985. But then I understand that UW QB Jim Sorgi has not been much of a mudder in his team's loss to UNLV and last week's 9-of-25 showing at PSU. Hmmm. Again, we shall see.

Enjoy the game!!


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