The bye week came at a good time for Wisconsin and head coach Paul Chryst, allowing the Badgers to rest their starters and improve on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin will need to be prepared when they square off with No. 2 Ohio State, the Badgers’ second consecutive game against a team ranked in the top four for the first time since 1996.
Ironically, one of the two teams Wisconsin faced that season was No.2 Ohio State, a road game that the Badgers lost by three points. Wisconsin will look to snap a four game losing streak in the series, as the last Wisconsin victory came in a thrilling 2010 night contest against the top-ranked Buckeyes.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a victory over Ohio State.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, T.J. Watt OLB (4): Watt has been simply unstoppable through two Big Ten games - 17 tackles (11 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. It has been difficult for teams to stop Watt from creating pressure but the junior has turned it up another notch since Big Ten play started. With Vince Biegel sidelined this week, Watt will need to continue his high-level play in order to try and disrupt an Ohio State offense that beats teams in multiple ways, a reason they lead the conference in total offense (537.6 yards per game). Ohio State has only allowed three sacks and nine tackles for loss this season, so Watt’s length and his ability to create pressure will play an important role on whether or not Wisconsin can pull the upset.
2, Alex Hornibrook QB (3): In the 14-7 loss at Michigan, Hornibrook’s yards decreased as the game went on and he had as many interceptions as he did completions and passing yards in the fourth quarter (two). It is safe to say that Hornibrook needs to rebound against a talented Ohio State defense that is capable of creating turnovers. In particular Hornibrook needs to make sure Wisconsin doesn’t consistently have short drives and possessions. Too often Wisconsin had three and out’s against Michigan and were unable to flip the field position. If Hornibrook can’t consistently establish drives it will be difficult for the offense or him to find success against a Buckeyes defense that has held four of five starting quarterbacks under 200 passing yards.
3, Corey Clement RB (2): Clement has only surpassed the 100-yard mark once this season and will be facing a defense second in the conference against the run (98.0 yards per game). Clement will need to be able to pick up the tough yards and put the offense in manageable third downs, something it was unable to do against the Wolverines. Ohio State is only allowing 2.8 yards per carry, meaning many successful runs will be hard to come by. When the hole is there, Clement will need to take advantage. Failure to do so will make UW one-dimensional, not a recipe for success against Ohio State.
4, Michael Deiter OL (NR): The best interior player on Wisconsin’s offensive line, Deiter – whether he’s playing left guard or center – needs to elevate his play and the play of those around him. Although Wisconsin delivered a couple chunk run plays between the tackles against Michigan, the Wolverines were able to bring constant pressure over the center to close running lanes and pressure the quarterback, both of which yielded dividends throughout the game. Ohio State’s front is on the same level as Michigan’s, so failure to protect the interior of the pocket and open up alleys for Clement and others could make for a long night. Being able to sustain more consistent offensive drives starts with Deiter and the rest of the offensive line being able to get the better push up front.
5, Jack Cichy MLB (NR): Wisconsin’s rush defense will be put to the test against an offense averaging a conference-best 323.6 yards a contest and have two players who rank in the top 10 in conference in rushing yards per game. In particular Curtis Samuel averages 8.2 yards per carry and Mike Weber is at 6.8. Wisconsin has done well through five games of taking away team’s rushing attack, leading the conference in rush defense (90.4 yards), and Cichy has been one of the reasons why with a team-best 35 tackles, including a career-high 12 stops at Michigan. Cichy and Wisconsin’s defense have been able to hold opponents to 3.1 yards per rush, making it important that Cichy stays disciplined to prevent the OSU’s running backs from getting into space.
6, Derrick Tindal CB (NR): Registering an interception in consecutive games, Tindal has been steady helping shut down his side of the field. However, the first year starter will need to be ready to face J .T. Barrett, who has a conference-best 166.6 passing efficiency and a trio of receivers who are capable of making a play at any time. Barrett has only three interceptions on the season and routinely places the football where only his target get it. Tindal will need to be sound in his coverage to prevent the big play, while registering a pass breakup or an interception would be a bonus.
7, Jazz Peavy WR (NR): Despite a team-high seven targets, including three on third down, Peavy only had one reception at Michigan. Even so, the junior has been one of Wisconsin’s more reliable targets in the passing game: all six of his third down receptions have resulted in first downs. Outside of being targeted in the passing game, Peavy has been called on to run the jet sweep, a play UW ran twice against the Wolverines and netted 23 yards. Peavy has been effective on that play this year and he’ll likely be relied on again if the Wisconsin running game is struggling.
Others to Note
Garrett Dooley OLB: The junior erased many concerns about his ability to step in for the injured Biegel, as he finished with a career-high seven tackles two weekends ago. Dooley will have to put together a similar performance to help take pressure off of Watt, creating pressure in the passing game and being disciplines against the Buckeyes’ zone-read looks.
Andrew Endicott K: Ohio State has held opponents to 10.8 points a game so it could be tough sledding to consistently come away with touchdowns. If Wisconsin gets into field goal range, it will be up to Endicott to make sure Wisconsin can leave the field with some points in what should be a close game.
Troy Fumagalli TE: Only making two catches last time out, Fumagalli is a great option to help Hornibrook get in a rhythm with short passes to set up manageable third downs or to move the chains. Fumagalli has been a third-down weapon for the Badgers, as he has caught eight of his 10 targets with six resulting in a fresh set of downs.
Olive Sagapolu NT: Sagapolu continues to do his job and do it well. Outside of allowing Wisconsin’s linebackers to create the pressure they needed to against Michigan, Sagapolu registered a career-high five tackles. Ohio State has been able to protect Barrett well, making it important that Sagapolu takes on the necessary blockers and create the lanes for Cichy and T.J. Edwards in order to stop the run and help prevent them from attacking the perimeter.