A look at Wisconsin

The Buckeyes are entering the heart of the Big Ten schedule, and it starts this Saturday at Wisconsin. Today, we take a look at the Badgers with BadgerNation.com's Ronny Whitworth.

Game 8: Ohio State (7-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (5-2, 0-2 Big Ten)

3:30 EST  ABC (Play-by-play: Brent Musburger... Commentary: Gary Danielson... Sideline: Jack Arute)

Wisconsin Roster  |  Wisconsin Statistics

Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty.  The Buckeyes are now entering into the thick of the Big Ten schedule and the portion of the schedule that will ultimately determine the level of success OSU has this season.  It starts this weekend with one of their toughest road games of the year as they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers.

These two teams have not been the friendliest of rivals over the past few years.  They have exchanged wins at the opposing team's home field, and they have also exchanged hoedowns on the opposing team's logo in the middle of their home field during those wins.  Then, over the summertime, comes this:

Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger may not have intended for this photo to find its way back to the WHAC, but it has.  Bollinger has been a winner in the Horseshoe, but best believe the Buckeyes are itching to return the favor again in Camp Randall Stadium. 

In addition to signed photos and do-si-do's, this game has more storylines.  On the Ohio State side, the Buckeyes have started the season 7-0 and have dreams of going unbeaten.  They are ranked #4 in the country and come into Wisconsin as the highest-rated team in the Big Ten.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, is trying to rebound after a shocking loss at Indiana, during which the lowly Hoosiers came from 19 points down to stun the Badgers for the second straight year.  The situation is eerily similar to 2001 actually; the Buckeyes had just moved to 3-1 after a blowout win over a ranked (at the time) Northwestern team, and things were looking good; while the Badgers were victims of a stunning blowout loss at home against Indiana, and things were looking bad.  This year, the Badgers are once again trying to rebound from a loss to Indiana to try and beat an Ohio State team that seems to have momentum. 

To hear BadgerNation.com editor Ronny Whitworth tell it though, this Wisconsin team is on the ropes right now.

"The loss at Indiana was a devastating one," he said. "After starting the season 5-0, there was a genuine belief around Madison that the Badgers were Big Ten contenders. Even after losing to Penn State, there was hope that a big win on the road at Indiana would get UW back on track. But standing at 0-2, and Ohio State coming to town, the confidence level has been severely damaged. This game against OSU was supposed to be a showdown between two title contenders, and ESPN Gameday was considering coming to town. Now Wisconsin is holding on for dear life. The mindset of the Badgers has taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the last two weeks."

Meanwhile, Ohio State is coming off a pretty solid win with their 50-7 pounding of San Jose State. Will the difference in mindset make a difference in this game?  That is yet to be seen, but this is still a Wisconsin team to be reckoned with. 

Ronny Whitworth talked about the strengths and weaknesses of this team.

"Wisconsin's strengths include senior quarterback (Brooks Bollinger) who makes good decisions and led a team to a Rose Bowl as a freshman, a solid offensive line and two very good running backs in sophomore Anthony Davis and Dwayne Smith," he said. "The Badger defensive line has also made a lot of strides and performed extremely well in the loss at Indiana. It's weaknesses include an injury-depleted receiving corps that has depended on freshmen, the linebacking corps and secondary. Teams that are effective throwing the ball to multiple weapons can put up big numbers against Wisconsin. "

Breaking down the offense even further, we see that Wisconsin brings back some familiar faces from last year, starting with the senior quarterback Bollinger (6-2, 204), who so far this year has 1,199 yards passing on 91-159 with 8 TDs and 3 INTs along with 179 yards and 4 TDs on the ground.  Joining him in the backfield is the undersized but tough tailback Davis (So., 5-8, 195), who has rushed for 653 yards on 134 carries and 5 TDs so far this year, and the before-mentioned Dwayne Smith, who has rushed for 239 yards this season.  Also, as Ronny mentioned, the offensive line is another strong point, most notably the Johnsons - center Al (Sr, 6-4, 300) and big left tackle Ben (Sr, 6-7, 331).  Joining them are left guard Dan Buenning (So, 6-4, 300), right guard Jonathan Clinkscale (So, 6-3, 304), and right tackle Jason Jowers (Sr, 6-6, 308). 

Wide receiver is certainly an area of interest.  The current starters are freshman Jonathan Orr (6-3, 182) and tall sophomore Darrin Charles (6-6, 208).  Orr is the current leading receiver, but the man who everyone is talking about is the one who hasn't played yet this year -- Lee Evans.  Evans had a whopping 1,545 yards and 9 TDs in 2001, but he has not played yet due to injury.  However, will the game against the Buckeyes be his first game?

"This could be the week that Lee Evans returns," Ronny Whitworth said. "But Coach Barry Alvarez and his staff have kept their lips sealed on Evans' status all year. He was very close to coming back two weeks ago against Penn State, but his knee still swells up when he practices on consecutive days, and he is not 100 percent healthy yet. The decision is up to Evans, but this is a week many people have pegged as the perfect week for him to return, and with two more weeks of rest (his target return date was Oct. 5 vs. Penn State) we might see Evans return versus the Buckeyes."

It looks like we might not know for sure until game time.  His addition would be a welcome one though since it could give a struggling Badger defense a boost.

"The Badger secondary and linebackers have to be the main concern after the Indiana game," Whitworth said. "The last two quarterbacks Wisconsin has faced, Penn State's Zach Mills and Indiana's Gibran Hamdan, have decimated those two units in the passing game. A number of injuries, including one to starting middle linebacker Jeff Mack, have hurt the Badgers even more. Teams have hurt Wisconsin by throwing to their backs and tight ends, trying to isolate the Badger linebackers, one of their primary weaknesses. Ohio State has the offensive weapons to put up a lot of points against Wisconsin if the Badgers don't make vast improvement."

What about OSU running Maurice Clarett at the Badger D?

" I would say the one advantage they have is many of UW's defensive players have seen backs with similar skills to Maurice Clarett, and they will have a better idea on how to slow him down than other opponents might have," Whitworth said.

Let's take a look at those players who are in charge of slowing Clarett and the rest of the Buckeyes down.  The starting defensive line consists of defensive ends Erasmus James (Jr, 6-4, 264), who (aside from having a cool name) has 2 sacks and 4 TFL so far this year; and senior Jake Sprague (6-4, 273).  On the inside, you'll find a pair of sophomores in Anttaj Hawthorne (6-3, 300) and Jason Jefferson (6-3, 305), and sophomore Darius Jones (6-3, 278) will also get involved at both DE and DT.  The line played well against Indiana as they tallied four sacks.

At linebacker, junior walk-on Kyle McCorison (6-0, 245) and freshman Elliot Goode (6-2, 224) will be called upon to step up at MLB for Mack if he can't go, and junior Alex Lewis (6-1, 238) and sophomore Kareem Timbers (6-3, 211) are at the other spots.  At defensive back, Wisconsin is looking for improvement against the pass.  The starting cornerbacks are sophomore Scott Starks (5-10, 165) and senior B.J. Tucker (5-11, 180), although they could have more problems since Starks reportedly had his arm in a sling after the Indiana game.  At strong safety, sophomore Jim Leonhard (5-8, 178) is listed as the starter, while sophomore Brett Bell (6-0, 194) and junior Ryan Aiello (6-1, 199) have rotated at free safety. 

On special teams, sophomore Mike Allen (6-2, 185) is the placekicker, and he is 8-12 on field goals so far and 7-7 on PATs.  Sophomore R.J. Morse (6-1, 256) is the punter, and he has averaged 38.3 yards on 41 punts.

What do the Badgers have to do to beat Ohio State?

"Create turnovers," Ronny Whitworth said. "Without Wisconsin's remarkable turnover differential in the non-conference season, they likely would have dropped two or three more games. The Badgers have recorded 19 turnovers in the first seven games of the season, which ranks first in the Big Ten and third nationally. Their record is 31-2 in the last 33 games they won the turnover battle. But one of those losses was last week against Indiana."

As you can see, the Badgers have some issues coming into this game, and it sounds like the deck is stacked in the Buckeyes' favor.  But let's not rest too easy just yet; we all know what happened last year, and we all know that winning on the road in the Big Ten is easier said than done, especially at Wisconsin. Some people out there are still wondering what kind of team OSU is, and this Saturday, they'll begin to answer that.  The guess here is that the Buckeyes will come away with a win, but the Badgers might not go down without a fight.

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