For all the attention surrounding Saturday’s matchup between No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State, the 81st meeting between the schools could very well boil down to an aspect of football these programs are no stranger to: the running game. A variety of rushers have carried the Badgers and Buckeyes to Heisman Trophies, conference championships, a national championship; even this and (sigh) this.
Both teams enter the 2016 installment of this matchup with a familiar cast of characters: behemoth offensive lines, talented running backs and the philosophy that whomever runs the ball better will leave Camp Randall Stadium with a victory. Since 2000, Wisconsin and Ohio State have faced off 13 times. Nine have resulted in Ohio State victories, and the Buckeyes have predictably won the battle on the ground.
|Ohio State Wins over Wisconsin since 2000|
|Total, Per Game||30.55555556||41.22222222||202||4.90||15||39.56||118.67||3|
|In Madison, Per Game||4||20.75||42.25||187.25||4.43||13||45.5||168.5||3.70|
|In Columbus, Per Game||4||33.25||41||192||4.68||20.75||34.25||80.75||2.36|
|Neutral, Per Game||1||59||38||301||7.92||0||37||71||1.92|
Wisconsin has only come away with four of those games, all in Madison, but the script flips in those Badger victories.
|Wisconsin Wins over Ohio State since 2000|
|Total, Per Game||14.5||35.5||111||3.13||23||43.5||159||3.66|
|In Madison, Per Game||4||14.5||35.5||111||3.13||23||43.5||159||3.66|
|In Columbus, Per Game||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
A keen eye will notice that Wisconsin has not run the ball significantly better, but Ohio State has seen noticeably different results in those UW wins. Specifically, the Buckeyes score half as many points, run for 45 percent fewer yards and average 1.77 fewer yards per carry in losses than in victories.
While the offensive lines will play a big part in the running game success this weekend, much of the focus will fall on the running backs. The starting running backs, in my opinion, have the biggest chance to decide the game on Saturday.
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Badger fans can probably fill in the blanks from here. Clement is now three weeks removed from an ankle injury that caused him to miss Wisconsin’s last home game and enters Saturday on two weeks rest after the team’s bye. The hope across much of Madison and the state is that Clement is at or near 100 percent. If the LSU game-version of Clement can return, Wisconsin certainly will have a chance.
Adding to the importance of Clement’s health and effectiveness, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook enters his third career start coming off a poor performance against Michigan. It certainly won’t be easy, as the Badgers face an Ohio State defense that ranks ninth nationally against the run (97.8 yards allowed per game) and fourth overall.
Ohio State RB Mike Weber
I’m not going to lie—this guy scares me a bit.
Weber is a redshirt freshman who came to Columbus last year as one of the top running back prospects in the country. Following the departure of Ezekiel Elliott, Weber has taken the reigns at running back and leads the Big Ten with 113.2 yards per game.
Weber and his 6.8 yards per carry are scary enough...
…but he’s downright devastating when you start considering that he isn’t Ohio State’s only threat. Fellow running back Curtis Samuel adds 82 yards per contest, while quarterback J.T. Barrett has averaged another 68.4 and adds a read-option element that will put extra stress on the Wisconsin defense.
Weber and his fellow backfield mates have their work cut out for them as they take on the vaunted Wisconsin run defense. Despite a few injuries, the Badgers rank sixth in the nation against the run (90.4 yards per game).
Whichever defense gives to these talented backs may find themselves adding to their loss column.