Badgers' Offense Now The Changeup

Ohio State showed against Minnesota that it has become adept at slowing down the spread offenses it has faced in four of five weeks of the 2008 season. Now the Buckeyes have to go in a different direction with the power rushing attack of Wisconsin on the docket. Ohio State's coaches and players discussed the challenge.

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema looked like the cat who got the canary while talking at the Big Ten media kickoff during late July.

Much of the talk at the event centered on the rise of the spread offense in the league, especially because the man generally credited with the arrival of the scheme, Purdue head coach Joe Tiller, was entering his final year as a conference head coach.

Then there was Bielema, whose Wisconsin team continues to be the personification of the traditional Big Ten ideal of power running so beloved by coaches like Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. Years ago, such an offense was the norm; now it's the exception, a fact that's fine with Bielema.

"For us now Wisconsin is unique," he said. "It's a different preparation. So I like that. I think now people have to go into a certain preparation mode against Wisconsin, which to me is an advantage."

A look at Ohio State's schedule probably would have given Bielema an even bigger smile. The Buckeyes prepared for Saturday's game with the Badgers by facing Minnesota and Troy – two wide-open, spread offenses – in back-to-back weeks. Next up on the Buckeye schedule is a game with Tiller's Purdue basketball-on-grass squad.

"You make the defense kind of shift their personnel," Ohio State cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said of the challenge presented by Wisconsin. "You make them shift their game plans a little bit. I think for sure they have an advantage."

In fact, the No. 14 Buckeyes haven't played anyone through the first five games that will provide an offense similar to the one that 18th-ranked Wisconsin will roll out. The Badgers come into the game 15th in the nation and third in the Big Ten in rushing with 218.5 yards per game. Tailback P.J. Hill is a 236-pound load, and three of the offensive linemen weight in at 320 pounds or above.

The Buckeyes' first two opponents, Youngstown State and Ohio, ran open spread offenses, and then No. 1 USC used a pro-style attack to put up 35 points.

"USC actually ran the ball quite a bit but Wisconsin runs the ball different than they do," Ohio State safety Anderson Russell said. "It's definitely going to be a changeup for us defending a team that runs the ball in between the tackles like they do."

Ohio State has become more effective at stopping the spread offenses they face on a regular basis as the year has gone on. Troy chewed up a lot of yardage but the Buckeye defense stiffened when necessary, and Minnesota had just six points and 124 yards of offense through three quarters.

The Buckeyes used some specialized formations to defense those teams, in particular on the defensive line. The squad moved ends Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson to tackle on some plays while finding a place on the field every play for quicker defensive ends Thaddeus Gibson and Curtis Terry, both converted linebackers.

Ohio State also went with five defensive backs on most plays, getting Jermale Hines and Donald Washington into the game more often as the fifth DB while seeing Ross Homan move to the bench for many plays.

Against the Badgers, it wouldn't be too surprising to see Homan back on the field at weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 defense for many plays, while Wilson and Heyward should move back to end, especially if a middle man like Todd Denlinger is ready to go.

"Sometimes there's a little bit of personnel shifting," head coach Jim Tressel said. "Sometimes against the spread teams you might put your bigger defense ends inside and bring in your smaller defensive ends to run the field and all those things. Maybe you go the opposite."

Once the week is over, the Buckeyes will continue to alternate. After facing the Boilermakers' spread on Oct. 11, Ohio State will trip to Michigan State to face a team that is giving the ball to tailback Javon Ringer on more than 50 percent of its plays. After that the Buckeyes see the opponents – Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan – go spread heavy.

"I guess that's the hand we were dealt," Washington said. "It's not about how the team is going to attack us or what kind of offense they have. … It's about what we're going to do on defense and us being fundamentally sound, playing our coverages, and we'll be fine if it's a spread or a run attack."


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