Preview: The Straw that Stirs the Offense

With Wisconsin's top offense going against Ohio State's top defense on Saturday, each team is looking for an edge on their opposite side of the ball. In just his second year on campus, Buckeyes sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor is challenging himself to become better every day.

MADISON - The most sought-after recruit in the 2008 recruiting class, Terrelle Pryor, from an outsider's prospective, is doing what the Ohio State coaching staff wanted him to do when he verbally committed.

Sure, he's THE quarterback at THE Ohio State University and he's drawn plenty of attention with some choice actions (like write ‘Mike Vick' on his eye black and tell the media afterward that ‘everyone kills people, murders people'), but there's nobody quieter when it comes to studying for the next game.

"He loves to study film, just be on his own with his DVDs and grow as a quarterback," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "Not unlike our team, his maturity early on was a big challenge, and I think that was going to be a big plus for him. We feel real good about him."

Tressel and the Buckeyes felt real good about Pryor last season, especially during his game-winning drive in Madison, and will feel good about Pryor heading into ninth-ranked Ohio State's match-up against Wisconsin Saturday in Columbus

Taking over the starting job in his third collegiate game, Pryor made just his third start - and first on the road - in Madison last October. The result was Pryor, with his Buckeyes trailing 17-13 with six minutes, 31 second left, answered with an 80-yard drive, looking like a savvy veteran instead of a true freshman, for the winning touchdown in the Buckeyes' 20-17 victory.

On the winning drive, Pryor converted two third downs, including a third-and-6 with a 19-yard pass completion to Brian Hartline, and overcame two second-and-longs, including a 27-yard completion to Hartline, and delivered an 11-yard scoring run on an option play that the Badgers failed to line up properly on the touchdown.

"I think anytime you haven't inexperience, it's a tough one," Tressel said of Pryor. "He certainly has a much better understanding of what he is preparing for this week. He's played against the Badgers and knows how difficult every yard is and how every play is so critical. You would like to think that's one more piece of experience that can help him as he continues to work to be the quarterback that we want him to be."

Without his three main weapons - tailback Beanie Wells (1,197 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and wide receivers Brian Robiskie (42 catches, 535 yards, 8 TDs) and Brian Hartline (21, 479, 4) – and three new offensive linemen from last season, Pryor has adjusted in the running aspect, leading OSU in rushing (298 yards, three touchdowns) but has struggled in the passing game, ranking 10th in the conference in passing yards (172.2 per game) with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

"He's still the same Pryor that gave us trouble last season," senior linebacker Jae McFadden said. "He's a tough player and he finds ways to get it done."

Getting it done could be the anthem for the Ohio State defense, a unit that lost standout Marcus Freeman, Malcom Jenkins and James Laurinaitis. One wouldn't know it by the stats that this was a unit looking for answers at the start of the season. The Buckeyes rank first, ninth in the country, in total defense (252.6 ypg), first in pass defense (169.2 ypg) and first in rush defense (83.4 ypg).

Giving up just 2.7 yards per game and allowing only three rushing touchdowns in the last 15 quarters, it's going to be strength vs. strength with Wisconsin's bringing in the conference's top rushing offense at 217.2 yards per game.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we need to run the football if we want to win," UW coach Bret Bielema said.

But the Badgers, unlike some past trips to Columbus, are brining more to the Horseshoe than a power running game. In addition to their rushing prowess, the Badgers are averaging 216 passing yards per game, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien has completed 60 percent of his passes in every game and leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (154.7), and the offensive line has not allowed a sack in four of its five games.

All of this contributes to the Badgers having had more than 400 yards of offense in each of their first five games, the longest streak since 2000 and the first time they have opened the season with a run like that since 1993.

It's a main reason why Tressel and Bielema expect a dogfight on Saturday.

"The thing we know for sure," Tressel said, "when you play Wisconsin, you're going to have to play 60 minutes or more."

Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) vs. No.9 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 10 at 2:30 a.m. CT

Stadium – Ohio Stadium (capacity: 102,329/ natural grass)

Television - ABC (Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, Holly Rowe)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Ohio State leads 52-17-5 (27-7-3 in Columbus)

Last Meeting - Ohio State won, 20-17, on Oct. 4, 2008 in Madison

UW Notes:

With a 31-28 win over Minnesota, Wisconsin improved to 5-0 on the season, one of just eight teams in the country with a 5-0 record. This is the second time the Badgers have opened the season with five consecutive wins under head coach Bret Bielema (2007 was the first). It is also fifth time UW has started 5-0 in the last 10 seasons.

Wisconsin is +5 in turnover differential. That +1.00 turnover margin leads the Big Ten and is tied for 17th in the country.

Four of Wisconsin's five wins have come by eight points or less. Under Bret Bielema, the Badgers are 14-5 in games decided by eight points or less.

Wisconsin has scored at least 31 points in its last four games. The Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank 19th in the country in scoring offense at 35.0 points per game. The school record for scoring offense in a season is 34.3 point per game in 2005. UW has won 27 straight games when it scores at least 30 points, dating back to Oct. 15, 2005.

Ohio State Notes:

Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore will miss Saturday's game against Wisconsin with a strained right knee. Todd Denlinger will start in Larimore's place after filling in well against Indiana with his first career interception.

The Badgers have won three of four games in Ohio Stadium, with the teams splitting the last eight games overall. The two teams are 4-4 in the last eight meetings, a far cry from when OSU won 21 in a row from 1960-80 and 32 of 33 from 1946-80.

Over the last three contests, Ohio State has allowed just 13, 82 and 18 yards rushing vs. Toledo, Illinois and Indiana, an average of only 37.6 yards/game. It has been 15 games since the Buckeye defense allowed a 100-yard individual rushing performance; that was by USC's Joe McKnight, who gained 105 yards on 12 carries in the 2008 meeting. Since the beginning of the 2005 season, the Buckeyes have allowed only seven 100-yard rushers during a span of 57 games.

Ohio State's defensive squads have held opponents to fewer than 21 points 43 times since 2006, the best among FBS teams. The Buckeyes are 41-3 in those games. Ohio State's defense has allowed fewer than 10 points 22 times since the start of the 2006 season.

Prediction

Through five games, Wisconsin has been thoroughly tested without having been truly tested. The Badgers have faced five unranked teams, four at home, and have survived by skin of their knuckles. As stated above, Wisconsin has won four games this season by eight points or less. What it doesn't state above is that in three of those games, UW had a double-digit lead with less than seven minutes to go.

UW needs to start fast Saturday, especially since the Buckeyes have made a habit of coming out with their foot on the accelerator. This season, Ohio State has outscored the opposition 44-14 in the opening 15 minutes and 47-19 in the second 15 minutes. On the flip side, the Buckeyes have allowed 28 fourth-quarter points, giving the opponents a glimmer of hope at the end of games, much like Wisconsin.

The Badgers are a different team this year in many areas, one of which is third-down conversions. A year after converting only 38 percent, Wisconsin is moving the chains on third down 56.3 percent (36-of-64) of the time, best in the Big Ten and third in the country.

UW, a 16-point underdog, will need a four-quarter effort to win for the fourth time in the last five trips to Columbus. UW has all the fire power on offense to beat Ohio State and really make a statement that they are for real. Unfortunately, the defense, particularly the secondary, has shown, at times, they are still a work in progress. If the Badgers give Pryor time, he's going to hurt UW, much like he did last year.

Therefore, Pryor and the Buckeyes squeak by.

Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 4-1

Against the Spread: 4-1


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