Wisconsin brings a traditional smash-mouth offense to Columbus Saturday and Ohio State's defense seems anxious for the challenge.
"They're physical and they don't try and hide what they do," OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "They come right at you and it will be good to get out there and play some real Big Ten football."
As usual, the Badgers rely on a strong running game, but have trouble throwing the ball. They are ranked No. 95 in the country in total offense (315 yards per game), No. 36 rushing (181.8), No.113 passing (133.2) and No. 91 in scoring (20.2 points per game).
Ohio State counters with the No. 31-ranked total defense in the land (307 yards per game). The Buckeyes are ranked No. 57 in rushing defense (137.3), No. 26 passing (169.7) and No. 37 in scoring (18.5 points allowed per game).
WISCONSIN OFFENSIVE LINE vs. OHIO STATE DEFENSIVE LINE
This sounds like a broken record: Wisconsin has a big, physical and veteran offensive line. The Badgers have established themselves as an offensive line factory over the last decade.
All but Thomas are returning starters and Buenning and Raiola earned All-Big Ten honors last season.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is obviously impressed with Wisconsin's O-line.
"I think the key to their running success - it's a given they've had great backs - but that offensive front, year in and year out, they know what they're doing, they're veterans and it starts there," Tressel said.
* Ohio State's defensive line has been struggling this year. There was some talk coming into this season that the Buckeyes would be able to reload on the defensive front. But when a unit loses three first-day NFL draft picks like Tim Anderson, Darrion Scott and Will Smith, it is not going to be as good as the previous season. Not even close.
The Buckeyes' defensive line hasn't played terribly this year. It is just not playing consistently and has had trouble controlling the line of scrimmage.
Green has been nursing an ankle sprain and Joel Penton and David Patterson have each played a lot off the bench at tackle. Richardson is coming off a lackluster performance at Northwestern and we should see a lot of Mike Kudla at end.
ADVANTAGE: WISCONSIN. Far too much size, strength and experience up front for the Badgers. It could be a long day for the Buckeyes up front.
WISCONSIN BACKS/TIGHT ENDS vs. OSU LINEBACKERS
Wisconsin tailback Anthony Davis (5-8, 192, Sr.) returned from an eye injury last week and tore through Illinois' defense for 213 yards and three touchdowns. He has been one of the best backs in the Big Ten throughout his career and needs just six rushing yards for 4,000 in his career.
"He's one of those players where you might get a couple stops, but I don't think it lets his confidence down," Pitcock said. "He'll go make a great play. He's got great change of speed and he's got a great line in front of him to block for him. So, I think the combination of all of that makes him a great back."
The Badgers also have an excellent backup in Booker Stanley (5-10, 211, So.) who rushed for 125 yards last year against OSU. But the Buckeyes are expecting a steady dose of Davis this Saturday.
"Anthony Davis is a great player," Tressel said. "He's a difference maker. Not to minimize what those other guys did. They did fine. He's a four-year starter and he's one of the best they've had. He has great patience and he just waits for it to happen and then he's got a great burst."
The Badgers also have an outstanding fullback in Matt Bernstein (6-2, 270, Jr.). He actually filled in at tailback this year against Penn State and rushed 27 times for 123 yards - despite fasting for a day in recognition of Yom Kippur.
"He has a lot to do with their success because he's so physical," Tressel said. "He does a great job getting on linebackers."
The starting tight end for the Badgers is Tony Paciotti (6-4, 263, Sr.). He
has just two career receptions and none this season.
The one possible weakness on Wisconsin's offense is the fact that it has a first-year starting quarterback - John Stocco (6-2, 200, So.). He has only completed 47.8 percent of his passes this year (55 of 115) for 660 yards. Unlike OSU first-year starter Justin Zwick, the Badgers have not asked their young quarterback to do much so far this year. Basically his job has been to hand off the football and not lose the game.
"They've been real smart with what they've done with him," Tressel said. "I haven't seen them ask him to run the option like they've traditionally asked their quarterback to do. So, who knows, that could be laying in the wings for us. They've asked him to do a job getting them into the right play. He's doing a good job of not turning it over and making the possession down throw that's available. They do a nice job with misdirection throws. But they have not overburdened him. I think they've brought him along at an excellent pace. They're running game and their defense and their special teams have given them that opportunity to groom him and I think he's done well."
* Ohio State counters with arguably the best group of linebackers in the
conference - and possibly the country.
The starters remain SLB Bobby Carpenter, MLB Mike D'Andrea and WLB A.J. Hawk. Hawk leads the team with 44 tackles and Carpenter is next with 35.
"Those two guys are great players," Pitcock said. "They know the defense well; play with great effort. They run to the ball all the time. I can see a lot of their plays are just pure effort. That's the biggest thing with them. They play the whole game like special teams do. They're running around on the field with their heads cut off, you know, making plays. They play with great effort and a lot of heart and I think that's what makes them great players."
Look for a lot of Anthony Schlegel this week for the Bucks - either when they go to a 3-4, or in place of D'Andrea who struggled last week.
ADVANTAGE: OHIO STATE. A very slim advantage, simply because of Stocco's inexperience. This might be the best group of running backs in the Big Ten going up against the best linebackers.
WISCONSIN RECEIVERS vs. OSU DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Badgers have two decent receivers in Jonathan Orr (6-3, 195, Jr.) and Brandon Williams (5-11, 175, Jr.). Both are over 1,000 career receiving yards. Williams leads the team this season with 10 receptions for 132 yards. Orr has caught eight balls for 92 yards and one score.
The Buckeyes secondary had played well - up until last week's disaster at Northwestern. But was that the players' fault, or was it just a terrible game plan from first-year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder? Most likely the latter as OSU stayed in a soft zone for the entire game, even on third-and-long situations. This gave Northwestern's receivers too much of a cushion and really made it easy for the Wildcats to move the ball.
The other starting corner remains E.J. Underwood, who has also played well.
The pleasant surprise of the secondary has been the play of strong safety Donte Whitner. He lost his starting job in preseason camp to Tyler Everett, but all that did was fire him up. Whitner is a hard-hitter who also plays the ball well.
Free safety Nate Salley needs to get in gear. He has all the talent, but has not played well so far this season. He's missing too many tackles by going for the knockout hit. Look for him to turn that around sooner than later.
ADVANTAGE: OHIO STATE. Again, a very slim advantage. Even without Fox, the Buckeyes have more talent in the secondary than Wisconsin does at wideout.
Everyone knows what to expect from this matchup. Wisconsin is going to line up and run the ball until someone stops it. That does play into Ohio State's defensive philosophy, but can the Buckeyes slow down the running game despite their inexperience up front?
"As an offense, they are going to try and run straight down your throat and that's the biggest thing with our defense," Pitcock said. "Always our first goal is to stop the run with any team. Even with a passing team, stop the run. Our main goals this week is to work hard and stop the run and worry about the pass later."
The biggest advantage here is Wisconsin's offensive line over Ohio State's defensive line. If OSU can make that battle a stalemate, there are going to be a lot of happy people in the Horseshoe Saturday. But if Wisconsin controls the line of scrimmage, look out.