With its first conference victory of the 2013 season secured this past weekend after a 41-10 rout of Purdue, Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) now sets its sights on Ohio State. The Buckeyes (4-0, 0-0) are the fourth-ranked team in the country and many have tabbed them to not only win the Big Ten this season, but to also go to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
Ohio State went undefeated in its first season under head coach Urban Meyer, but the Buckeyes were ineligible for both the Big Ten Championship Game and an appearance in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. Last year in Madison, the Buckeyes defeated the Badgers, 21-14, in overtime.
In order for Wisconsin to avoid losing at Ohio State for the fourth straight time, it's going to need to put in the hard work this week in the film room and on the practice field. Here's a look at a few of the things the Badgers will surely be thinking about.
At the beginning of the season, experts from across the college football landscape pegged the Buckeyes' quarterback to be a leading Heisman Trophy candidate by season's end. That prediction may still hold true, but instead of Braxton Miller, it may end up being Kenny Guiton.
Miller went down with a sprained MCL in his right knee in the first quarter of the game against San Diego State and Guiton has proven more than capable of filling his shoes.
In nine quarters of action, Guiton has thrown for 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. The senior from Houston, Texas, has also set two Ohio State records: longest touchdown pass (90 yards to Devin Smith at California) and most touchdown passes in a single game (six vs. Florida A&M, all of which were in the first half). Granted, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M do not have defenses anywhere near the level of competition Guiton would see in a Big Ten match-up. SDSU (39th in FBS), Cal (93rd) and Florida A&M (63rd in FCS) would have each ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten last season in total defense.
It remains to be seen whether or not Miller will be healthy enough to suit up by the time the Badgers roll into town Saturday night, but regardless of who is starting at quarterback, Wisconsin will have to prepare for yet another dual-threat at the position.
Last year, the Badgers held Miller in check as the then-sophomore was held to 10-of-18 passing for 97 yards and just 48 yards on the ground in 23 attempts (2.1 per), so there is a blueprint for stopping one of the best dual-threats in the country. With that being said, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer might have something in store to make things a little more difficult on the Badgers: putting both quarterbacks on the field.
After the Buckeyes' 76-0 victory over Florida A&M last weekend, the most lopsided win for Ohio State since 1935, Meyer said to the media:
"He (Miller) is our starting quarterback. Our backup quarterback (Guiton) has earned some time. I can't tell you how. I've been going through scenarios in my mind, and I don't know what it is. I'm going to see how we practice this week, but Braxton is our starting quarterback."
It sounds as if regardless of whether or not Miller is ready to go, Guiton will see the field as much as possible. The good news for the Badgers is that Miller and Guiton play the same style and the offense does not change when one is in and one is out.
The Badgers will come into Columbus with one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the nation. Melvin Gordon leads the Big Ten in rushing by nearly 40 yards per game, averaging 156. James White is fourth in the conference at 110.5 and Corey Clement is eighth with 83.5. Wisconsin is third in the nation, averaging 349.8 yards per game on the ground.
Ohio State isn't far behind the Badgers in the ground game, as the Buckeyes have averaged 311 rushing yards per game so far this season, sixth in the nation. Senior running back Carlos Hyde, suspended the first three games of the season for his involvement in a July bar altercation, saw little action in last weekend's game as he carried the ball just five times for 41 yards and a touchdown. There is little doubt that Hyde will have a bigger impact on the game this coming weekend. In the game against the Badgers last season, Hyde had 87 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Senior running back Jordan Hall has received the bulk of the carries in Hyde's absence and, just as Guiton is doing, he's proving more than capable of seeing the field. Hall has 68 carries for 422 yards (6.2 yards per attempt), good for fifth in the Big Ten.
Against the run this year, both the Badgers and the Buckeyes have been mightily impressive. Wisconsin has allowed a total of 305 rushing yards so far this season, second in the Big Ten, and is allowing an average of 2.5 yards per attempt. Ohio State has allowed a total of 319 rushing yards, fourth in the Big Ten, and is allowing an average of 2.6 yards per attempt.
With both teams facing minimal amounts of rushing talent to begin the season, each will be put to the test against some of the most prolific rushers in the conference.
For all the marbles
There is no way around this. There is no other way to say this. This is a B1G game with B1G implications.
When the Big Ten realignment takes place next season after the arrival of Rutgers and Maryland, Ohio State (East) and Wisconsin (West) will no longer be in the same division and, as a result, will not face each other during the regular season until 2016.
Not only is bragging rights for the next three years on the line, but it is also on the line for two former colleagues. Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen was the defensive line coach under Urban Meyer in 2004 when Meyer was in his second and final season at Utah. While the two only worked together for one year, they have formed a relationship that is much better than that of Meyer and former Badger head coach Bret Bielema.
Aside from the bragging rights, this game very well could decide who represents the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game this December. In other words, the road to Indianapolis runs through Columbus.
After this weekend, both teams play against Northwestern but have no other true tests remaining on their schedules -- except for Ohio State, which has to travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Wisconsin is just 4-8 against Ohio State since the turn of the century, and 2-3 at Ohio Stadium in that timespan.
The Buckeyes were Big Ten champions from 2005-09, and Wisconsin has won the past three.
Beating a top-five BCS team at its place on a Saturday night is a very daunting task. With one road test and one Big Ten victory already in its pockets, this young Badger squad will look to shock the country on national television. If successful, Wisconsin will control its own destiny to get back to Indianapolis and, ultimately, Pasadena.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
- The Monday After: Purdue vs. Wisconsin
- Kielbasa Kings Episode 12: Purdue vs. Wisconsin recap; Big Ten media days with Andy Johnson
- Purdue vs. Wisconsin: Run/pass charts, observations
- B5Q interviews ESPN's Chris Connelly, reporter on Jake Dowell's emotional story
- Wisconsin vs. Purdue: Badgers use ground game to steamroll Boilermakers
- Wisconsin climbs to No. 23 in Week 5 AP Top 25