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Ohio State’s run game, front seven created problems for Wisconsin

The Badgers struggled in a couple of areas they normally excel in.

INDIANAPOLIS — All week long, and all season long, people lauded the Wisconsin Badgers for their identity and how strongly they believe in it. They live by the sword, and ultimately died by the sword on Saturday.

The Badgers run the ball and stop the run. They struggled in both departments in the Big Ten Championship Game, and it ultimately cost them their ultimate prize. Ohio State rushed for 238 yards, led by true freshman J.K. Dobbins’ 174, and controlled the first half of the game with big plays. Dobbins had two plays, a 77-yard rush that led to Ohio State’s first touchdown and a 53-yard gain that led to another Buckeye score, that really crippled the Badgers’ defense. With safeties brought up close to the line of scrimmage, one missed tackle was all it took for the speedy Ohio State back to be off to the races.

Buckeye run game stymies Badgers

Ohio State has one of the more complex run schemes in the country, and it gave the Wisconsin linebackers fits.

“It’s just being disciplined, something we’ve been really good at all year,” senior linebacker T.J. Edwards said after the game. “We did some uncharacteristic things tonight, but that’s a really good football team with a lot of good players that can hurt you in different ways.”

Edwards’s comments echoed those of a clearly dejected Ryan Connelly. The Badgers’ junior leader in tackles for the season led them with nine tackles Saturday night, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Buckeyes from winning the run-game battle.

“The toughest thing for me was how patient J.T. Barrett was,” Connelly said. “Normally we like to play downhill and fast, but he would just wait, and wait, and wait, and it made things frustrating.”

Arguably the toughest aspect of the Ohio State run game is the element of the quarterback as a rushing threat, which gains the offense a numbers advantage from a blocking standpoint. While much was made of Barrett’s health after having a knee procedure earlier in the week, his effectiveness as a runner was a catalyst for Ohio State, who turned to Barrett in nearly every short-yardage situation, including a fourth down near the end of the game that Barrett got by less than a yard.

“You kind of have to get a feel of it,” Junior Andrew Van Ginkel said. “They’re very good at being patient, and as soon as they see a hole, they hit it. All we can do is stick in our gaps and make an opportunity when it comes.”

Buckeye front seven shuts down Badger run game

Asked to identify the last game he played in where his longest rush was seven yards, the only response Jonathan Taylor could muster was, “It’s definitely been a while.”

The Badgers, known for their tough rushing attack, finished the game with 32 carries for 60 yards, a simply unacceptable total for a team whose meat and potatoes is running between the tackles. Alex Hornibrook finished with 40 passing attempts, which isn’t this team’s optimal mode of operations. While I think the Badgers would be first to admit they didn’t execute well enough to win, what can’t be lost was the opposition they faced.

Nick Bosa, the younger brother of the San Diego Chargers’ Joey Bosa, is a future high first-round pick. Sam Hubbard, the “other” defensive end, will be a top-two-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Dre’Mont Jones, Jalyn Holmes, Tyqwan Lewis, and Robert Landers are only a few of the other ultra-talented players the Buckeyes’ defensive front possesses, and that made life hell for the Wisconsin offensive line and running game on Saturday.

“They were definitely a step up,” Taylor said when asked if Ohio State felt like a jump in competition from anyone the Badgers had played this season. “Whenever you play the Buckeyes, you have to bring your ‘A’ game, because you know they’re going to bring theirs.”

Michael Deiter, who faced his toughest competition in the Big Ten Championship Game, spoke about the difficulties the Buckeyes gave the Badgers in their outside zone running schemes, which really limited Taylor.

“The first thing you’ve got to do is recognize it,” Deiter said. “Playing a team that fast and athletic, running outside-zone, you know you’re going to get some fast flow linebackers, and you’ve got to change your landmark and movement. I think we did an alright job of adjusting, but it wasn’t good enough to win.”

Ultimately, the Badgers got beat by the better team in Indianapolis. Wisconsin came close—really close—to upending Ohio State and completing one of the more memorable comebacks in recent program history. One stat tweeted out earlier this week really resonated throughout the week, and it would be tough for anyone to argue.