5 Questions: Ohio State at Wisconsin

Before Ohio State and Wisconsin hook up Saturday night in Camp Randall Stadium, we take a look at five important areas that could turn the game one way or another, including pass protection, red-zone offense and a pair of big, talented star running backs.

1. Which team will protect the passer better?

Wisconsin is 22nd in the nation in sacks allowed per game (1.0), a respectable number that might be a bit deceiving because the Badgers allowed zero sacks in the first three games of the season before giving up four to Michigan.

Badger quarterback Allan Evridge was under significant pressure from the Wolverines and struggled mightily.

Ohio State's pass rush has left something to be desired this season, but the Buckeyes can look back at last season's clash with the Badgers for some confidence: Ohio State notched 10 sacks in that game.

OSU cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson attributed that success to simple perseverance.

"The more and more you look at that film, some guys made some plays, and that's what going to have to happen, not only in this game but every game we play for sure," he said. "Some guys got off blocks and went full speed ahead, and we were able to get them in some third-down-and-long situations, which also helps."


2. Which team will play better in the second half?

Most Buckeye fans probably are aware of the 19-0 lead the Badgers blew last weekend at Michigan, but that was not the first time Wisconsin was outplayed in the second half. In a 13-10 win at then-No. 21 Fresno State Sept. 13, Wisconsin gave up 250 yards in the second half after allowing just 93 in the first.

In those games, Wisconsin has been outscored by a combined 37-9.

Ohio State, meanwhile, has outscored opponents 65-39 in the second half overall. That includes 15 points the Buckeyes allowed last week against Minnesota while substituting some younger defenders after taking a 34-6 lead.


3. Which star running back will have the bigger day?

In Chris Wells, Ohio State has perhaps the nation's best running back. The man known as "Beanie" energized the Buckeye offense last week by rushing for 106 yards on 14 carries after missing three games with a foot injury.

At 6-1, 237 pounds, he is not only the biggest Buckeye running back but also the best at reading blocks and making defenders miss.

Wisconsin will counter with P.J. Hill, a 5-11, 236-pound junior with 3,230 rushing yards in his career. That total is eighth among active collegians, and his average of 115.4 yards per game for his career is the best in the country for players with at least 15 games under their belt.

Although Wells has more big-play ability, both are big men who run hard between the tackles and are hard to bring down. They can wear down defenses as well.

The Badgers certainly know how good Wells is: He gashed them for 169 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's win last season as Hill sat out the game because of injury.


4. Can either team improve in the red zone?

Ohio State enters the game Saturday night with a respectable red-zone scoring percentage of 86.7, but scoring touchdowns has been a greater issue. The Buckeyes have just seven touchdowns on 15 trips into the red zone. They are the only team in the Big Ten with a touchdown-percentage lower than 50.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, is 10th in the league with an overall scoring percentage of 76.2 (16 for 21), and the Badgers have 13 touchdowns in the red zone. In seven times inside the red zone the last two games, Wisconsin has just two touchdowns.

Both teams could be more dangerous in the red zone this week, however, as Wisconsin expects to get back talented tight ends Travis Beckum (who played only the fourth quarter last week) and Garrett Graham.

Ohio State safety Anderson Russell told reporters this week one of Evridge's best attributes is his ability to get the ball to his taller weapons like Beckum, Graham and 6-5 receiver Kyle Jefferson.

The Buckeyes are 5-5 with four touchdowns in the red zone since Terrelle Pryor assumed the role of starting quarterback. Pryor has accounted for all four touchdowns: Three passing and one on a boot leg in which he showed just how dangerous his 6-6, 235 pound-frame can be when it gets out on the edge.


5. Will the Camp Randall atmosphere discombobulate the Buckeyes?

The last time the Buckeyes traveled to Wisconsin was 2003, a 17-10 upset that ended Ohio State's 19-game winning streak.

With 16 wins in a row at home, the Badgers have the nation's second-longest home winning streak (Oklahoma leads the way at 20), and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is undefeated at Camp Randall as a head coach.

Ohio State players saw clips of the stadium from the post-third quarter playing of House of Pain's "Jump Around," which is the most often-cited example of the stadium's intimidating atmosphere, but none of the Buckeyes seemed too concerned.

"It's just the crowd jumping around," Russell said. "We've still got to play a football game." Senior receiver Brian Robiskie said strong pregame preparation should go a long way to override any such concerns.

"When you're not prepared and you don't feel real comfortable where you are in some of these stadiums, that's when you can start to feel maybe a little nervous and anxiety can set in a little bit, but if we just prepare like we're capable of and we do all of the things that we need to this week, then I think Saturday we shouldn't worry about it."


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