Know Your Foe: Ohio State

Looking for its first win at Columbus since 2004, No.23 Wisconsin faces its stiffest test of the season against No.4 Ohio State Saturday night. Badger Nation gets the inside scoop on this week's opponent from Buckeye Sports Bulletin beat writer Jeff Svoboda.

1) Ohio State cruised through the nonconference schedule as expected. How did its four games against undermatched teams prepare them for Big Ten play?

Svoboda: What the nonconference schedule allowed Ohio State to do was find out just how deep its team is, and the answers were favorable at a number of spots. In particular, the Buckeyes now know the skill position depth is much greater than it was a year ago. It also allowed the Buckeyes to get through early-season issues like Braxton Miller's injury and suspensions to players like Carlos Hyde, Bradley Roby and Rod Smith without major on-field issues.

2) The Buckeyes had a lot of off-the-field distractions prior to the season, but it doesn't seem like Ohio State missed a beat. Who were some of the players that stepped up in the suspended player's absences?

Svoboda: Ohio State says it has received good leadership from the players who were suspended, but there's no doubt their backups played pretty well. One thing the suspensions at running back did was they allowed senior Jordan Hall to excel, and he now has eight touchdowns in four games after coming back from a medical redshirt campaign. Moving over to defense, sophomore Armani Reeves got more playing time in Roby's stead at cornerback and was hit or miss while showing some pretty good potential.

3) The million dollar question: what's Braxton Miller's status for the game? How big of concern is it that Miller has missed the last two games before a physical matchup with Wisconsin?

Svoboda: Urban Meyer put Miller at 90 percent at his Monday press conference, but the coach has been confident about his quarterback's status each of the past two Mondays as well. This time, though, there's reason to believe the junior will play. It seems that two to three weeks is a normal recovery time for a sprained MCL, putting him on track to play against the Badgers. Rust will be a concern but Meyer said he'll work the quarterback hard in practice to try to handle that problem.

4) If Miller does play, will the Ohio State coaches still find a way to utilize Kenny Guiton's abilities?

Svoboda: I would say, honestly, the answer is no. As much as everyone likes Guiton and is happy to see the easygoing senior get his reward, if Miller is healthy and effective, he's the man. Now, if Miller comes out and struggles or reinjures himself, there will be little hesitation to give Guiton a chance, but it just seems to me that if Miller comes back and gets the job done, they'll stick with the hot hand.

5) Wisconsin and Ohio State are first and second in the Big Ten in rushing offense. The Badgers are doing it with three different tailbacks. How are the Buckeyes doing it?

Svoboda: First of all, the offensive line deserves credit. The left tackle (Jack Mewhort), left guard (Andrew Norwell), center (Corey Linsley) and right guard (Marcus Hall) are all seniors, while sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker is quite a mauler. Tight end Jeff Heuerman and the starting wideouts are also very good blockers. Moving on, the scheme is obviously solid -- Meyer has been doing this for a while -- and the personnel is strong in the backfield. Miller is a freak athlete, while Guiton runs the OSU option plays with confidence and verve. In the backfield, Hall is a quick, shifty back, while Hyde can bull for tough yards between the tackles and true freshman speedster Dontre Wilson has been a handful for teams to corral on the edge.

6) Ohio State has 12 punts in four games. Its opponents have zero returns (eight fair catches). What has made that unit so good?

Svoboda: Ohio State lost its punter recruit on national signing day, so the program had to scramble to find 21-year-old former Australian rules football player Cameron Johnston from down under to come to America to serve as the punter. The book on Johnston is that he has a cannon for a leg, so the coaching staff made it a point to teach him control and height on his kicks during fall camp. Johnston has taken to that, booming high kicks that allow his coverage unit to get in place and force fair catches. And also, luckily for Johnston, the few punts he hasn't quite hit flush have ended up rolling nicely without a return.

7) The Badgers and the Buckeyes have played some classics over the last decade. Michigan will always be the number one rival, but do the players, coaches and fans view them as number two?

Svoboda: I think it has gotten to this point. Over the last 30 years, there have been some crazy battles between the Buckeyes and Badgers, and honestly, it seems like just about every Wisconsin win over the Buckeyes carries with it some emotional scar. Simply put, the losses to Wisconsin have either been hugely important (the upset of No. 1 OSU in 2010) or hugely embarrassing (Ron Dayne running wild in 1999 to overturn a 17-0 deficit). So yes, the rivalry is alive and well.

8) Where areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Ohio State trouble? Where do you think the Buckeyes have the edge over the Badgers?

Svoboda: Ohio State's defense has looked pretty good against traditional rushing attacks so far, fitting into gaps and defeating blockers at the point of attack, but there is a chance the Badgers just go wild on the ground this weekend. OSU lost four starting D-linemen after last season and this year's DL is beat-up, while the linebackers are still inexperienced other than Ryan Shazier. If Wisconsin gets rolling on the ground, it could be a long day for OSU. On the other side of the coin, I think the Buckeyes' experienced secondary should do a pretty good job of shutting down the UW passing attack, and I have a hard time believing anyone will truly slow down the OSU rushing game this season.

9) What is the one thing Ohio State needs to do well in order to win Saturday?

Svoboda: My answer would be run the football. Last year, the Buckeyes simply couldn't move the ball and only won the game because of a punt return touchdown and a defense that repeatedly stiffened when it had to. The OSU offense is predicated on moving the ball on the ground, and with four senior linemen, a mobile QB and a running back rotation that is as deep as any in the country, the Buckeyes should be able to rack up ground yardage against anyone. If they don't, something is wrong.

10) What's your prediction for the game?

Svoboda: I picked 33-20 in our print publication and I'll stick with that here. Wisconsin was able to handle the Buckeyes' offense last year, but I am not sure that will happen again with the new coaching staff in place in Madison and a new defensive scheme on the field. OSU is simply rolling too strongly right now to be shut down, and I think the Buckeyes' ability to put points on the board is stronger than Wisconsin's at the moment. I also think the home-field advantage is crucial in this series.

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