Wisconsin – which moved up three spots to No.8 in this week’s Associated Press poll – has been winning games based off its defense, which ranks in the top 10 in scoring (12.2) and rushing (90.4 ypg) and 11th in total defense (291.4).
The offense has been far from efficient, ranking 78th or worse in rushing, scoring, passing and total offense (UW’s 360.2 yards per game ranks 106th in the country).
“A lot of the stuff is just one guy doing his job here and it could spring a big play,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s pretty encouraging moving forward … It’s just one guy here, one guy there and we’ll spring some big plays.”
The matchup with No.2 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) Saturday will be the fourth top-10 opponent Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1) has faced this season and the third with a top-20 rushing defense.
Wisconsin rushed for 134 yards against LSU (18th at 108.2 ypg) but was limited to 71 against Michigan (13th at 99.2). The Buckeyes are ninth at 97.8 yards per game and the only FBS team to not allow a rushing touchdown this season.
“It’s going to be huge,” Ogunbowale said of establishing the run early. “This game or any other game, we always want to establish the run early and be able play off of that as the game goes on.”
Through five games, Wisconsin has 15 pass plays that have netted at least 20 yards but only three run plays. All three came against Akron in the home opener, which included a 23-yard jet sweep by Jazz Peavy and a 35-yard run by Bradrisk Shaw in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been really inconsistent,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “That’s what we’ve been working on and what we need to continue to work on. There’s been a few instances where we’ve tried to make the explosive runs instead of taking what’s there. I think the explosive runs are byproducts of just doing your job well.”
Injuries have certainly played a part in the equation, too. Wisconsin has had three different offensive line combinations in five games and senior tailback Corey Clement has already missed one game with an ankle injury.
Although the team’s leading rusher, Clement has struggled through four games, rushing for 319 total yards on 82 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per carry and 79.8 yards per game.
“There’s some times where he’s been a little bit impatient about trying to create the big play instead of taking it when it presents itself,” Chryst said. “That was good for him to see. It’s the discipline of the little things of being on your track, understand when it’s there and when it’s not there … All 10 have got to help Corey, and yet I think there are some things that Corey can do to help himself.”
Own Toughest Critic
While the bye week came at a good time to give some starters time to rest, it forced redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook to take a closer look at his subpar performance at No.4 Michigan.
Making his second straight road start, Hornibrook finished with only 88 passing yards on 9 of 25 passing. He threw a third-quarter touchdown to tie the game at seven but threw three interceptions, two in the fourth quarter when UW was trying to make its comeback.
Hornibrook studied that game and the three previous ones he appeared in to analyze the plays he could have finished differently, his incompletions and his execution. He said he’s learned from it and, more importantly, moved on from it.
“I know if I’m doing something wrong, I usually don’t need somebody to tell me that I’m doing it,” Hornibrook said. “Everything you hear after a game, like we had last week, I already found all those things. I feel like I do a pretty good job of not letting other people influence me when I think of myself. I know what my abilities are. I know what I can do.”
When asked about the team’s confidence in Hornibrook rebounding, Ogunbowale responded with “a lot.”
“He has a lot of confidence in himself, which makes it easier for us to have confidence in him,” Ogunbowale said. “ … He has very high standards for himself, so anything he does that he’s not happy with, he comes back and you can’t even tell. He kind of has amnesia with it. He’ll come back, command the huddle, show a lot of confidence and poise while he’s calling the plays and things like that.”
Wisconsin hasn’t play a home conference night game since beating No.8 Nebraska, 48-17, in October 2011. A year earlier the Badgers knocked off No.1 Ohio State in a raucous environment that paved the way to the program winning its first of three straight Big Ten titles.
Junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt was in the stands for that game on his birthday weekend and later rushed the field with his family to celebrate with older brother J.J. Watt, who had three tackles for loss and two sacks that night against the Buckeyes.
“It was incredible,” Watt recalled. “Opening kickoff, obviously, taking it back to the house was pretty special. A lot of people said it was the loudest they’ve ever heard the stadium. To say that I was in the stadium on that day was pretty cool.”
Hornibrook experienced last year’s night game against Hawaii from the sidelines while redshirting, help call in plays to quarterback Joel Stave. It was the school’s first home night game since September 2012.
“From what I’ve experience, it’s awesome,” Hornibrook said. “Everybody talks about it. It’s a little bit different at night. I can’t wait to get in front of our fans again.”
Three weeks into conference play the Badgers sit in a three-way tie in third place in the Big Ten West, one game behind No.10 Nebraska and a half game behind Iowa. The Badgers will face both those schools the next two weeks.
“This is a huge game and a great opportunity for us to do some big things from playing at home playing against the No.2 team in the country,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s exciting, but we come into every game with the same mindset. Obviously this is a pretty large game. I think it’s been hyped up and it’s going to continue to be hyped up, but we’re going to do the same thing we do every week.”
Extra Points: OLB Vince Biegel (right foot) and CB Natrell Jamerson (left leg) are listed as OUT for Saturday … S Keelon Brookins (left leg), RB Taiwan Deal (right leg), LG Jon Dietzen (right leg), DE Chikwe Obasih (right leg) and RB Bradrick Shaw (right shoulder) are all listed as questionable … Wisconsin’s game at Iowa Oct.22 will be at 11 a.m. and be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.