I know I've been busy having fun with the numbers game and the narratives game. But it's time to get down to the nitty gritty. Saturday night. Columbus, Ohio. The game of the week for the ESPN family of networks. The game of the year for Wisconsin comes in September.
And we really don't know just how good either team truly is. Now I'm not saying that Ohio State is going to lose its next two games by any stretch of the imagination. But as I said yesterday, Cal's 97th ranked running game was the best OSU's faced so far. If you're looking for a step up in weight class? Melvin Gordon and James White are about four levels above their weight class.
That being said? That whole thing about the Badgers being great at run blocking even if the pass blocking leaves something to be desired thing is going to face a major test, too.
For one, Arizona State is 80th against the run and despite what couple be an inflated statistical ranking, Ohio State has a youthful and athletic front seven, and Noah Spence could be the force that helps bring agita to a Badger nation by the chasing and capturing of Joel Stave for sacks. And while we're not going to say he's better, Ryan Shazier is on Chris Borland's level. He has a professional future ahead of him as well.
With the Badgers potentially missing Dallas Lewallen for the game, a shuffled offensive line could well not open the holes our running backs are accustomed to. But again? The Badgers are the subject of the puffery of a coach who's worried about motivating his team. He's worried about the skills of Gordon and White.
(And Corey Clement as emergency contact is a nice luxury to have.)
Considering this theme? You've got to consider the fact the Badgers having a top-six run defense is going to be put to the test as something potentially statistically inflated. Marion Grice may be a great runner, but the Badgers haven't faced their own version of a Cerberus monster. It may even be a Hydra. Jordan Hall has averaged two touchdowns a game to co-lead the nation with eight, and with the face-mashing power of Carlos Hyde plus someone who through 20 carries has shown a little of that Melvin Gordon magic in Ezekiel Eliott. That's enough talent to make keeping a spy on Braxton Miller (or Kenny Guiton) a tricky proposition.
While the running game versus front seven is going to be a battle of two teams that are about to find just how good they really are, the passing game's going to be a different story. Peniel Jean looks like he's going to be out for the Ohio State game. This means we're about to see if the kids (Reynard and Shelton) can answer the challenge. No one's been out-and-out dominant in regards to receiving stats. Philly Brown (BY THE HOUNDS OF HELL I STAB AT THEE) and Devin Smith share the lead with 16 catches; Smith and Chris Fields both have four touchdowns. But Miller and Guiton are more than just complete-a-pass-if-necessary types and their receivers can make you pay. Their stats are low because they haven't needed to pass.
Then there's Wisconsin. Jared Abbrederis vs. Bradley Roby is going to be a duel. No ifs, ands or buts about it. But Jacob Pedersen likely won't play. Kenzel Doe won't. And Jeff Duckworth's unlikely as well. White's going to do his thing. But as I've said before in games where we were the favorites and the poor fools we were facing had to face us down: A win's going to be a lot more difficult without something previously unseen emerging.
Stave has one receiver and a good pass-catching running back. Ohio State has an athletic, attacking front seven. Roby is a professional-level corner.
I can be ebullient and hyperbolic. But friends, if the expected happens, or worse, an unexpected sort of bad rises out of the nutty muck? It will fall on our passing game.
That being said, Gary Andersen's the sort of coach who always has his team ready for the sort of game that this will provide. And I don't think Melvin Gordon knows how to not go and get some big gains. In the story of the Badgers' season, this may be their Guy Fleegman week.
But they will never give up, never surrender. Even if they don't win.