5 Questions: Wisconsin at Ohio State

One question figures to reign above all, but we came up with five anyway in anticipation of the clash Saturday at the Horseshoe between Ohio State and Wisconsin. We examine Ohio State's run defense, turnovers, quickstrike passes, pass rush and the flu bug.

1. Can Ohio State stop the run?

This is easily the biggest question this week as Wisconsin brings the No. 1 running game in the Big Ten into Ohio Stadium to face Ohio State and the top run defense in the conference.

The Badgers average 217.2 yards rushing per game, while the Buckeyes have allowed a total of 231 yards in their last four games since Navy used the triple option to amass 186 yards in the opener.

"If we can set the edge and control the line of scrimmage, we're going to be successful," Ohio State linebacker Austin Spitler said. "We're going to get guys flying to the football. We're going to have to make them bounce. So I have to take on that role and just really force the edge."

Last season, the Badgers gashed the Buckeyes for 179 yards on the ground, and many of the principles of that trench battle on both sides are back this season, although Ohio State will be without nose guard Dexter Larimore, its best and biggest run stuffer.


2. Which team will win the turnover battle?

Both teams have benefited from taking the ball away frequently this season.

Wisconsin has a conference-best 15 takeaways (eight interceptions, seven fumble recoveries) while Ohio State is not far behind with 12 (eight interceptions, four fumble recoveries).

Fumbles have been a big problem for the Badgers this year. They have put the ball on the ground 10 times, including seven opponent recoveries. Ohio State has forced nine fumbles.

Turnovers prevented the Buckeyes from developing much of an offensive rhythm throughout the middle of the game last season in Madison after they came out with a fast start.

The Buckeyes have lost one Big Ten game in eight-plus seasons under head coach Jim Tressel when winning the turnover battle.


3. Which team will do a better job of rushing the passer?

The Badgers come in second in the Big Ten with 14 sacks, while Ohio State is not far behind with 12, although Spitler identified rushing the passer as the weakness of the Buckeye defense.

"That's always No. 1. If we affect the quarterback, we're going to affect their team," he said.

Three Buckeyes - tackles Robert Rose, Todd Denlinger and Cameron Heyward - have a pair of sacks to lead Ohio State, while defensive end O'Brien Schofield leads Wisconsin and the Big Ten with 4.5 of his own.

"He makes plays," Tressel said of Schofield. "He's all over the field and flies around and he's the emotional leader of that team."

Four sacks helped Wisconsin's defensive effort last season, and the last time the Badgers came to Ohio Stadium, Ohio State notched an eye-popping 10 against them.


4. Which team can get more big plays out of the passing game?

Ohio State and Wisconsin have both been run-first teams so far this season, but this game could turn on a big play in the passing game.

Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien has 12 completions of more than 20 yards this season, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor has nine such pass plays to his credit.

"They'll lull you to sleep throwing short, medium, heavy play action, but he can throw the deep ball," Ohio State cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "He has a really nice touch. They'll line up with two tight ends, a wideout and two backs, and the next thing you know, that thing is going long, so he will throw the deep ball."


5. Just who is going to answer the bell?

After other teams have battled sickness earlier in the season, Ohio State is fighting it this week.

Offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman told reporters Wednesday night starting left guard Justin Boren and tight end Jake Ballard both missed practice, as did Andy Miller, who was the starting left tackle earlier in the season and was splitting reps there before missing the Buckeyes' last game with the flu. Miller has yet to return to the team, a fact that seemed to surprise Tressel on Tuesday and personify the exasperation the coaching staff has with the uncertain situation of the entire team.

"Every day a couple more guys will be back, then a couple more guys will be out, so it's just a day-to-day thing," Bollman said. "Everybody who's a backup better be on their toes because they are going to be needed every minute."


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