There have been some magical nights inside Camp Randall, and Wisconsin has the chance to capture that magic again tonight with No. 2 Ohio State coming to Madison for the first time since 2012. The Badgers haven’t fared historically well against the No. 2 team in the country, posting just a 2-12-1 record. Wisconsin’s last win against the No. 2 team was in 1959 (Northwestern), as the Badgers have lost eight straight since then.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory tonight.
1, Offensive Bounce Back
If Wisconsin wants to be able to pull the upset, the performance quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the offense displayed against Michigan simply won’t cut it. It will be up to Hornibrook to be able to get the offense into a rhythm against a defense that allows only 246.6 yards a game. Head coach Paul Chryst always wants his offense to control the clock with methodical drives. Accomplishing that will start with the offensive line improving its pad level, getting a better push in the trenches and helping the running game get back on track. Hornibrook will need to be able to find ways of making the big throws to help keep drives alive, meaning it’s important that he goes through his options on each pass play opposed to locking on to his intended target. Ohio State has 10 interceptions on the year and doesn’t need much of a window to take advantage.
2, Creating Pressure
Few teams have been able to create pressure against Ohio State, evident by the number of sacks (three) and tackles for loss (nine) they have given up on the season. Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett has shown to be able to get the football out quickly and avoid the sack, as he’s third on the team in rushing yards (342 yards). Wisconsin will have its chances of pressuring Barrett but the one thing they can’t allow to consistently happen is miss on its opportunities to register a tackle for loss. There have been instances this year on defense where Wisconsin has been in position to register a sack but have either over run the play or simply couldn’t finish, resulting in a positive play for the offense. Wisconsin needs to find ways of putting Ohio State into third and long, allowing the Badgers to dial up some pressures.
3, Slowing Ohio State’s Rushing Attack Down
Ohio State has the top ranked rushing attack in the Big Ten (323.6), the conference’s leading rusher in Mike Weber (113.2 ypg) and three players who have rushed for at least 340 yards this season. Possessing a defense that has only allowed one 100-yard rusher this season, the key for the Badgers will be making sure neither Weber nor Curtis Samuel can get outside, as the two average 6.8 and 8.2 yards a carry, respectively. Even without outside linebacker Vince Biegel, Wisconsin’s defense has done well of staying discipline and making sure backs can’t get to the outside. If Wisconsin can continue to do that, it will help limit the big play in the run game.
4, Converting on Third Down
It has been a mixed bag for Wisconsin’s offense on third down. The three teams Wisconsin has had success against converting third down (Akron, Georgia State, Michigan State) all allow opponents to convert at least 41 percent on third downs. Against LSU and Michigan, two teams that rank in the top 16 in third down defense, the Badgers have gone a combined 7-for-30 (23.3 percent). Ohio State has held its five opponents to 28.9 percent conversation rate on third downs. It is vital that Wisconsin has success on first and second down to set up a favorable third downs and a higher percentage of a conversion.
5, Winning Field Position Battle
With two of the top defenses in the Big Ten squaring off, special teams will be critical to make opposing offenses work on a long field. Anthony Lotti has shown that he’s capable of pinning the football inside the 20-yard line but P.J. Rosowski was subbed in for Lotti during the Michigan game to deliver better hang time against the Wolverines’ dangerous returner Jabrill Peppers. Chryst says he’s comfortable using two punters going forward but both punter need to be consistent to prevent a big return.
When Wisconsin is on punt return, Jazz Peavy will need to be aware of where he’s fielding the football. There were two instances at Michigan when he fielded the punt inside his own 10-yard line. With field position likely to be a premium, Peavy will need to be smarter on whether or not to return a kick or let it be a touchback.
Ohio State will mark Wisconsin’s third straight top-10 opponent and the fourth overall this season. Having the bye week will help as Wisconsin regroups and prepares to play a team that is looking to make a return to the College Football Playoff. It will certainly be a team effort to knock off Ohio State, and Wisconsin’s defense showed last week – minus Biegel - it still can play big without missing a beat.
But no matter how well Wisconsin plays on defense, it won’t matter if the offense can’t find success against Ohio State’s defense. It’s vital that Wisconsin wins the field position battle, plays clean, forces turnover and other momentum plays to get the crowd into the game. I think they will happen.
In the end Wisconsin’s offense finds a way and the defense is able to contain Ohio State’s offense enough to give Wisconsin a 17-14 victory.