Wisconsin defense dealing with unexpected challenge against Ohio State

Mike McGinnis

The Badgers contained Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller as good as anyone when Wisconsin took Ohio State to overtime last season at Camp Randall Stadium. After the emergence of Kenny Guiton, though, defending the Buckeyes' quarterback position comes with a twist this week.

MADISON -- Dave Aranda has seen the blueprint for slowing down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. Last November, Wisconsin held the Buckeyes' Heisman Trophy candidate to 97 passing yards and just 48 yards on 23 carries in an overtime loss at Camp Randall Stadium.

First and foremost, the first-year defensive coordinator said, the Badgers stopped the run, and on third down contained Miller and forced him to step up in the pocket to make throws. Aranda himself has plenty of his own experience shutting down dual-threat quarterbacks from his time as the defensive coordinator at Utah State.

But there remains a tougher question for Aranda to answer as Wisconsin prepares for fourth-ranked Ohio State -- whether or not Miller will be the Buckeyes' man under center for the entire night.

As one of the nation's top quarterbacks sat out the past two games with a knee injury, unknown senior Kenny Guiton rivaled Miller's passing ability during his absence. Guiton has completed 68.4 percent of his passes this season and thrown 13 touchdowns to two interceptions. Last week against Florida A&M, he tossed six touchdowns in the first half alone.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer listed Miller and Guiton as co-starters on the depth chart Tuesday but said Wednesday that Miller will probably start. It remains a mystery, though, as to how the Buckeyes plan on using their two standout signal callers going forward. Meyer, who ran a two-quarterback system when Florida won the national championship in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, said Wednesday that he's still "working through exactly how we're going to manage" Saturday's game.

"They both present different problems," Aranda said. "(Miller) has got eyes in the back of his head, can scramble, can make plays in the run, can extend plays. He's got an uncanny ability for it. Really some of the best I've seen at it. His passing has improved down the field. He can complete the deep ball well.

"(Guiton) is very accurate with his arm. He reminds me of the kid we had at Utah State, Chuckie Keeton, in terms of how he can move, how he throws well on the run."

"I think we have the personnel (to do that) more so this year. We had four guys with their hand in the dirt, and that's a little harder to contain option looks, spread looks, so the 3-4 works to our advantage." -Chris Borland

Of the many problems Wisconsin thought it might have defending Ohio State heading into the season, this certainly wasn't one of them.

Badgers head coach Gary Andersen said Monday, though, that this week's preparation doesn't change, regardless of which quarterback takes the field for the Buckeyes. And while Andersen and Aranda weren't around during Wisconsin's impressive showing in this match-up last year, nearly the entire front seven returned.

"I think we kept him contained," inside linebacker Chris Borland said of Miller. "We took away a lot of options he had. One simple thing is we kept the edge, kept him boxed in. On passing plays, had gap integrity on the pass rush. Didn't allow any scrambles.

"I think we have the personnel (to do that) more so this year. We had four guys with their hand in the dirt, and that's a little harder to contain option looks, spread looks, so the 3-4 works to our advantage."

Nose guard Beau Allen also said the Badgers often sent out smaller, faster personnel onto the field against Ohio State last season, another aspect that helped Wisconsin rattle Miller.

Even so, Guiton has shown the ability to pick a defense apart solely with his arm, and an inexperienced Wisconsin secondary could be put through a difficult test Saturday if Guiton sees the field against the Badgers.

"They're taking more shots downfield (this year)," Borland said. "They've had success on a lot of big plays. They stress you everywhere. I think it always starts with stopping the run. Even though they are a spread team, they like to establish the run. They stretch your defense horizontally, vertically and in the middle, too. Stopping the run's the first key, but after that, you've got to really take care of everything."

Outside of the quarterback position, Andersen said he sees a noticeable difference in the skill and speed on Ohio State's roster compared to a year ago. That's quite high praise for a team that finished 12-0 last season, and could make defending the Buckeyes' offense all the more difficult.

"They're a lot better team than they were a year ago," Andersen said. "It's a dramatic difference, in my opinion. ... If I sit back and watch them a year ago and how they play offense now, they were in a lot of games last year that were highly contested, tight ballgames that were low-scoring. This year, it has not been that way. The quarterbacks are doing a good job of running when they see the crease and they have a really good opportunity to go get it, but they're also doing a good job of buying time and they're keeping their eyes down the field better.

"Whoever's in there -- one guy might do this a little better than the other, but it doesn't really matter. Either quarterback can run the offense and has been very successful."

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