Wisconsin football notebook: Ohio State game could carry heavy Big Ten implications

USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin wants to prepare for fourth-ranked Ohio State like any other game, but a win Saturday in Columbus could be the Badgers' key to winning the Big Ten Leaders division.

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Badgers don't want to believe a September game at Ohio State will solely determine which Leaders Division team will advance to the Big Ten Championship Game more than two months from now.

They aren't ignorant, though, to the magnitude of Saturday's game in Columbus, Ohio, and what a win could do in their quest for a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.

"We're a smart group. We understand the gravity of this game," inside linebacker Chris Borland said. "But we try as hard as we can every play every Saturday, so there's nothing that's going to change, it's just, we understand how important it is.

"They're a big-time team, one of the top teams in the nation, but it doesn't really change anything. We prepare each week as hard as we can, so there's really no more you can do."

"I'm sure we're coming in as underdogs or whatever, but we're ready to play them. We always give them a good game, so it'll be a hard battle fought between both teams." -Melvin Gordon

Ohio State has won 16 consecutive games since head coach Urban Meyer took over the program before last season, and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller -- who has missed the past two games with a knee injury -- will likely play after being described Monday as "around 90 percent" healthy by Meyer.

A loss for Wisconsin probably means the Badgers would need two other Big Ten teams to defeat the Buckeyes, currently the nation's fourth-ranked team.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen doesn't see it that way, though. For him, it's far too early to consider any game a championship-type match-up.

"Not with what I've seen from Northwestern and Minnesota and Indiana, and I can go on and on and on," Andersen said. "There's some good football teams out there. This is far from a championship game, and this game will just be one game in the conference race at the end. (Our players) can't look at one game in the conference and say, ‘This is the championship,' when they're all going to be contested, and they know that better than I because I haven't been on those fields yet."

No. 23 Wisconsin has given Ohio State all it could handle in recent match-ups. The Buckeyes won an overtime game in Madison last year and edged the Badgers at home by four points in 2011.

"I'm sure we're coming in as underdogs or whatever, but we're ready to play them," sophomore running back Melvin Gordon said. "We always give them a good game, so it'll be a hard battle fought between both teams."

Coaching carousel

Andersen's coaching history nearly took a drastic turn in 2005 when Meyer took the head-coaching job at Florida, where he went on to win two national championships.

Andersen was Meyer's defensive line coach during Meyer's last year at Utah in 2004. Andersen said there was a discussion for him to join Meyer with the Gators, but Andersen stayed at Utah and became the defensive coordinator after Kyle Whittingham was named the Utes' next head coach.

"(Going to Florida) was definitely in the equation, and it was discussed and talked about for myself," Andersen said, "but coach Meyer knew that I needed to stay there with Kyle, and that's what I wanted to do, so it was a very brief discussion, and I had already made that commitment to Kyle that if he was going to take a head job that I would stay there, so that's what I did."

Now Andersen and Meyer are set to face each other in one of the country's biggest games Saturday. Andersen noted that he and Meyer still have a good relationship, but said that the coaching match-up shouldn't be making headlines this week.

"It doesn't have anything to do with it," Andersen said. "This is about the kids. It always will be, and I'm sure he would say the exact same things. Much of our beliefs are always about the kids first, and he believes in putting them first, and I do too, so we like to deflect any of the talk about us and our relationship.

"I think we both care about kids, and we both coach because we do care about kids. I know it drives him, and it's the No. 1 thing that drives me."

Injuries and secondary shakeup

Andersen said he didn't have a good feel on the status of any of the team's injured players during his Monday press conference, but he did give insight into how the Badgers may shift the secondary around if cornerback Peniel Jean (leg) is unable to play Saturday.

With the way Michael Caputo has played at safety, Andersen said he may feel comfortable putting him more down into the box and let him be an outside linebacker-type of player, and he also said Dezmen Southward could play nickel corner in Jean's potential absence.

"Dez would like that," Andersen said. "But again, that will depend on the transformation at free safety at that point and who can get back there and play. Can Tanner (McEvoy) get in a spot where he could play some free safety for us? You've got to have a kid back there that can run and cover the middle of the field and react. It's a good question, and something we probably won't be able to answer until Wednesday."

Other Badgers who suffered injuries against Purdue were tight end Jacob Pedersen (knee) and center Dallas Lewallen (ankle), and Andersen said he'd have a better idea of injury statuses within the next 48 hours.

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