The Buckeyes will head to Wisconsin having shown improvement since their 35-3 defeat at the hands of USC on Sept. 13. But whether or not that is enough improvement to get the job done this time out remains to be seen against a Badgers team that blew a 19-point lead to Michigan the last time on the field, according to head coach Jim Tressel.
"We had a few more guys grade winning performances (against Minnesota)," Tressel said at his weekly press luncheon. "It was a little bit higher than in the Troy game, so I think we're progressing from a consistency standpoint a little bit there."
Tressel said that "eight or nine" players graded out with winning performances against the Golden Gophers, but added that several more could reach that mark with a little more attention to detail.
The Buckeyes did not practice on Monday as they switch over to a new schedule for the remainder of the season. Tuesday's practice will be the heaviest of the week, and it will give the coaches more of a chance to see who will be available for the weekend and who will play where.
The OSU offensive line is the position facing the most uncertainty. With senior left guard Steve Rehring having missed the last two games, freshman Michael Brewster has moved into the starting center spot and former center Jim Cordle has shifted over to Rehring's vacated spot.
Rehring is expected to be back and available for this weekend's game, but the coaches are not yet sold on who will play where. For now, though, Tressel agreed on one thing: Brewster is the starter as of Tuesday.
"What I envision is getting a little help from Steve," Tressel said. "Exactly where and what, I think, is going to be determined by how he looks."
The coaches will be cautious about overusing Rehring during practice this week, Tressel said, adding that he can play both guard and tackle.
Having Brewster at center would mean the Buckeyes would have two true freshmen starting in key positions on the offense. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is set to make his third consecutive start for OSU, and it will come in the hostile environment that is Camp Randall Stadium.
Both will be aided by the presence of junior tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells, who returned to action against Minnesota for the first time since the season-opening game against Youngstown State and rushed for more than 100 yards.
Following his first game back in action, Tressel said Wells came out of the experience sore – but not any more sore than his teammates.
"I think he came out of it pretty good," Tressel said. "I think that was a hurdle that we needed to get through, that he needed to get in there and feel good about getting banged around."
Behind Wells on the depth chart, redshirt freshman tailback Dan "Boom" Herron has earned the rights to be Wells' primary backup. His progress has meant sophomore Brandon Saine has seen fewer practice reps.
The Buckeye backfield will see the return of senior Maurice Wells this week as well, helping to bolster the team's depth.
The senior tailback is not the only player to show improvement from an injury standpoint. Sophomore Tyler Moeller will see action for the second consecutive week after missing two weeks with a leg injury. Against the Gophers, Tressel termed him as being 80 percent healthy.
Senior tight end Rory Nicol and junior linebacker Austin Spitler are both out for the game, while junior cornerback Andre Amos is lost for the season after undergoing an undisclosed surgery. Senior safety Jamario O'Neal continues to battle an illness but should return, while junior defensive lineman Todd Denlinger is continuing to recover from a high ankle sprain.
"I hope we're past that plateau – you have those high ankle injuries and you get a little better but then you just stay the same a little bit before you break through," Tressel said. "I hope this is Todd's breakthrough week."
Tressel also listed freshman defensive end Nathan Williams as unlikely to have a major impact on the game this weekend as he battles an injured shoulder. He also confirmed that defensive end Mark Johnson has left the team and is still deciding where he will transfer.