While the Badger offensive line had the power to open some holes in the running game, their size turned out to be a liability when it came time to protect quarterback Scott Tolzien, for whom Ohio Stadium was a house of horrors for about three hours Saturday.
"I think every single tackle has a problem with a guy who has good speed, and I mean I'm not saying I have good speed or anything, but I try to go as hard as I can every play," said ever-modest Ohio State defensive end Nathan Williams, who looked plenty fast while running around whichever Wisconsin offensive lineman tried to hinder him.
Ohio State sacked Tolzien on his first dropback of the day and five times thereafter, but sacks aside, the times he was not hurried or harassed seemed few and far between.
Among the many times an Ohio State defensive lineman was able to bother Tolzien came in the first quarter when the Badgers were threatening to draw first blood.
They had reached the Buckeye 31 when Tolzien dropped back to throw only to be hit by a blitzing Austin Spitler from his left and defensive tackle Doug Worthington from the middle of the line. The throw sailed high then directly into the arms of Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman, who returned the interception 89 yards for a touchdown, and the tone seemed sufficiently set.
"You could see him elude (the pressure) a couple of times, but bottom line, there were just straight up guys right in his face that really threw his confidence off and made it difficult for him to read his routes and progress us down the field," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said.
The Buckeyes seemed to know that might be the case if they sufficiently slowed down Wisconsin tailback John Clay, the Big Ten's leading rusher entering the game.
Clay ran for 59 yards on 20 carries, barely half the average with which he entered the game (116.4 yards).
"We always want to do that going into a game," said Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan, who lead Ohio State with 15 tackles, including two sacks. "Stop the run and try to make them one-dimensional with the pass.
"They're just so good at what they do running the ball: great backs, great o-line, and don't get me wrong, they have great receivers and great tight ends, but we just kept coming after them. We had a great defensive plan the coaches made up for us and we just kept attacking them."
Among the attacks in the game plan was a wrinkle in the team's nickel package that called for pass rush specialists Thaddeus Gibson and Williams to share the field, something they had done only rarely earlier in the season but did regularly against Wisconsin.
Former high school linebackers who have moved to defensive end in college, the 240-pound Gibson and 245-pound Williams generally hold down one side of the line while a bigger player such as Cameron Heyward or Robert Rose mans the strong side. The first time the Buckeyes went to a five-defensive back alignment against the Badgers, Heyward slid inside to tackle and Williams replaced nose guard Todd Denlinger, and that was part of the nickel package for most of the game.
"The coaches saw something we could take advantage of and I think they did a good job," explained Williams, who had five tackles, all solos, including a sack. "Our coaches have been amazing with game planning. It's just been totally different, and I think that's why you see us having as much success as we've had."
Gibson, who has applied plenty of pressure to quarterbacks this season but had yet to come away with an official sack until he threw Tolzien for a loss in the second quarter Saturday, said he is a fan of the alignment and of Williams.
"That kid is a good player, and I'm happy when he's out there because I know that not only are they going to be watching me, but they better watch him, too, because he's going to come off that ball 100 miles per hour and get the job done," Gibson said. "It's a great package.
"When we looked at their tendencies, we knew that going into this game on passing games we could get a great speed rush and get their hands off and bend that edge, and that's what we did today. Once they started throwing the ball, we just turned our ears back and started to make plays."