The Wisconsin Badgers are back in Indianapolis on the heels of a seven-game winning streak with three wonderful quarters of football and a running back that you'd be an idiot or someone who really identifies with the comedy of musicians not to give the Heisman Trophy to. Ohio State hasn't lost since J.T. Barrett was a wee one in game two of his college career. Barrett grew into a man under the Urban Meyer supersystem, but he's hurt. This is enough for Vegas to list Wisconsin as four-point favorites. But the Badgers haven't been a degenerate-friendly team all year. Will they buck the Buckeyes and the trends?
To do so, they're going to have to get to Cardale Jones. Sure, he's best known for a tweet about playing school, but he's also a physical specimen that has the same sort of mobility and rocket arm that offers comparisons to the Byron Leftwich's and Daunte Culpepper's of the world. Ohio State has allowed 23 sacks on the year, which means the opportunity is there for Dave Aranda to make life for Jones very difficult and Vince Biegel and Derek Landisch to make cool plays. But they will have to get there.
Scouting Ohio State
Scouting Ohio State
Because the only time a healthy Badgers defense really got smacked was when they played Iowa. You remember. Jake Rudock got rolling and Wisconsin hung on to win by two. Iowa also had four targets that ended the regular season with 32 catches or more; the Buckeyes don't have the same kind of possession power (they have four receivers with 26 catches), but they do have two home-run threats in Devin "25 yards per catch" Smith and Jalin Marshall, and Michael Thomas is 6'3 and physical. A blitz at the wrong time could cause a shock to the Badger fans' psyches.
Running-wise, this is a classic Urban Meyer spread offense. A lot of read options, a lot of runs by a mobile quarterback and a running back who's quick and can take contact. Ezekiel Elliott is a perfect fit for that running back, and will be a threat to make a catch or two along the way. They like going to the perimeter and stretching a team horizontally, and obviously there's cause to believe Landisch and Marcus Trotter are going to make a lot of plays flowing sideline-to-sideline, but expect Joe Schobert to get tested as they attempt to make their chunks going his direction. Obviously Michael Caputo is going to get tackles, but if Peniel Jean starts threatening nine or 10 tackles again, that means the offense is going good for ol' Urban.
For the Badgers, Joey Bosa is that seeming sort of once-a-decade, J.J. Watt-esque annoying freak who makes this defense statistically decent all by himself: 20.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles are numbers that will cause any logical offensive coordinator to game plan for him all alone. Add to that quick defensive tackles in Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett with an offensive interior that has Dan Voltz questionable and Ray Ball and deep reserve guard Trent Denlinger looking unlikely to play, and you've got a situation that might prove advantageous for the Buckeyes.
That said, if there's gamesmanship and it looks like the Badgers can get away without burning Michael Deiter's redshirt, you can run on Ohio State. David Cobb did it, Jeremy Langford did it, Tevin Coleman really did it. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement may be dinged up, but so long as the Badgers don't bunch up and try to beat Ohio State on the pure hoss of the offensive line, they will have success moving the ball forward. The second level is athletic, but can be moved out of position, and the secondary features great ballhawks, but the Badgers are a higher-caliber version of what Minnesota wants to do. There won't be many chances to hawk.
Speaking of that thing Flexbone teams do more often, Joel Stave -- and hopefully Tanner McEvoy once or twice, because come on, you're wasting Tanner McEvoy if there isn't a scintilla of a chance he throws the ball -- should have opportunities to be efficient if Joey Bosa doesn't just rampage like some kind of Brock Lesnar-like monster. Sure, they're leading the Big Ten in interceptions with 18. Sure, they're only allowing 6.0 yards per pass attempt. But opponents are completing passes at a 56.3-percent clip against them. If you don't try to get too cute with your passing, you can move the ball through the air.
Ironically enough, since the Illinois game, Wisconsin has been able to cull together a reasonably good and definitely efficient passing attack. The last half of the year, the Badgers completed passes at a 62-percent clip and 8 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns against two interceptions. Yeah, it's not eye-popping yardage-wise, but there are two things you have to remember. Melvin Gordon still exists and the 8-of-20 in the swirling morass that was Nov. 1 in Piscataway, N.J., is an environment that's not going to repeat here.
I don't expect 25 attempts and 225 yards, but Joel Stave's best game last year was in the Horseshoe. He's not afraid of Joey Bosa, unlike yours truly.
Short story longer, this is a game where both sides have questions, both sides have big answers and both sides can easily win. My gut says that Vegas might be overreacting to Barrett's injury, but we've also seen the Badgers play clutch in the fourth quarter. I may not be as effusive about a win as some, but I'm not seeing a coronation for the Buckeyes, either.