"Two classy programs, two people that believe that football is a physical game," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Brian White said.
Both Ohio State and Wisconsin want to beat opponents into submission with punishing defense, mistake-free, run-first, physical offense, and quality special teams capable of a big play.
"They play the same style of football we do; we play the same style of football they do," Wisconsin tailback Anthony Davis said. "When we come together and play it is like a dogfight all day. I think it will always be a competitive game."
The games have been memorable in recent years:
- Last season, Wisconsin ended Ohio State's 19-game winning streak with a 17-10 win at Camp Randall. Afterwards, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez described the atmosphere as better than the day Ron Dayne broke college football's rushing record and the Badgers' clinched a trip to the Rose Bowl in 1999.
- Two years ago, also in Camp Randall, the Buckeyes marched into Madison and came away with a hard-fought 19-14 victory.
- The last two times the Badgers traveled to Columbus, Ohio State burst out to a 17-0 lead before Wisconsin came back to win: 42-17 in 1999, 20-17 in 2001.
"It's about playing the game, and executing the game, and not getting wrapped up in any nonsense," Alvarez said. "And I don't think I even have to talk to my players about that. It's hard enough just to execute. They're a good enough football team, you have to be able to play and execute a game plan and know what you're doing, recognize things, anticipate things. There's not enough time for (anything) extracurricular."
The game is consistently meaningful. Either Ohio State or Wisconsin has won three of the last six Big Ten titles. At least one of the two schools has been ranked in 12 of the last 13 meetings. This year Wisconsin (5-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) is No. 15 in the Associated Press poll, while the Buckeyes (3-1, 0-1) are No. 19.
What is more, only Michigan can match Wisconsin's 3-2 record versus Ohio State the past five seasons.
"I think Barry's [Alvarez] done a great job of building a program," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He knows exactly what he wants from his team… there are teams that coincidentally sometimes are good matches for one another."
"We have played them well the last few years but that doesn't matter," Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco said. "All that matters is right now."
Ohio State will be plenty fired up come game time. The Buckeyes have been scrutinized immeasurably since losing at Northwestern last week, want redemption for their loss in Madison last year and, most importantly, know that they need to win this game to stay in contention for the Big Ten title.
The Badgers are hoping to stay on point, despite the emotion that could be invested Saturday.
"I really hope that our guys take the same approach every week," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "I really believe that they do…from where they are at the beginning of the year to where they are now is because they took an approach that we are going to be 1-0 on this situation and then carried it over on every week."
Wisconsin linebacker Reggie Cribbs characterizes the matchup best: "A heavyweight fight. Two defenses that love to play defense, two offenses that love to run the ball. It is definitely going to be a slug them out…It is going to be an ugly football game I should say."
Ugly may be the appropriate word if you visit ‘The Horseshoe' or tune in looking for some points.
Anthony Davis gave Wisconsin's offense a jumpstart last week and Ohio State's defense has been uncharacteristically average against the run this year, but the Buckeyes will be geared up to stop the run, likely by thrusting eight or nine guys into the box. If they succeed, the onus will be placed on a struggling Wisconsin passing game facing a very good pass defense.
The Buckeyes offense could be similarly hamstrung. Ohio State has struggled to run the ball, has been dangerous but inconsistent throwing it, and has turned it over 10 times. Now, the Buckeyes face the No. 1 defense in the nation—not exactly a recipe for a breakout game.
"I think if you look at all the good defenses in our league over the years….you'll find that they could stop the run and kind of made teams play left-handed," Tressel said, "and knowing they were going to throw and all of a sudden you can get pressure on the passer, which is the key to stopping the pass game."
If the defenses have their way Saturday, each team will be playing with both hands tied behind their backs.
Ohio State is one of the most revered college football programs in the country. Rightfully so, Badger players and coaches said this week.
"I always think of ‘The Horseshoe', the history behind the university, the Heisman Trophy winners," offensive coordinator Brian White said, "just the storied past and a game that you really feel privileged to be part of when you get to play against the Ohio States of the world and at Ohio State—those are special days for coaches and players. We've always looked forward to them and we will look forward to it on Saturday."
Tailback Anthony Davis reminisced fondly of the Badgers' win his freshman year (20-17, 2001) and not just because Wisconsin won.
"I remember being down early," he said. "I remember the environment being a hostile environment to play in but also an exciting environment to play in."
Why was it exciting?
"It was fun for me," Davis said. "I was a freshman so I'd never been to the stadium before. I think they just had the stadium renovated. It is a great atmosphere to play in. It is something I was looking at on TV for years and then before you know it I was playing (there)."
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema played and coached against Ohio State during his time at Iowa.
"A great environment to play. It is a place that has a lot of storied tradition, a lot of different things that have gone on there that have made Ohio State what it is," Bielema said. "But the best thing about football is it is 11 guys against 11 guys on the field at one time. Whoever executes and does the things that they need to do the best, is going to have success."
Quarterback John Stocco was asked about last season's game in Madison.
"Watching that game was unbelievable," he said. "It was an unbelievable environment. We are going to have another great environment over at their place this year."