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Wisconsin football: keys to victory at Ohio State

Folks, this one is going to be tough.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1 overall, 3-1 B1G) will face their biggest test of the season this Saturday when they take on the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0 overall, 4-0 B1G). The Coaches and AP Poll may have the Buckeyes ranked third, but that has human error involved and gives benefit to historically good teams like Alabama and Clemson.

If you look at the stats on THIS YEAR alone, Ohio State is the best team in the country, and it really isn’t that close. They’re top five or ten in almost every important category including first in team efficiency, first in margin of victory, first in ESPN’s Football Power Index, first in S&P+ ratings and boast a top-five offense and defense to go off of that.

So what am I saying, Ohio State is really good? We all know that, but I am also saying these keys to victory will be more important than ever come Saturday morning.

Sustain drives

The 2019 Wisconsin Badgers have made a killing on time of possession. So far this season the Badgers rank first in that category, which is incredibly impressive given that triple option attacks from the military academies almost always occupy the top two or three spots.

The Badgers have done a great job of keeping their offense on the field and shortening the football game, and it will be crucial to do so on Saturday. Ohio State comes into the week ranking near the top in almost every defensive category. They’re the nation’s No. 2 defense behind the Badgers, and have dominated in almost every facet. However, if there has been one area of moderate weakness it has been the rushing defense which ranks is ninth.

Yes, ninth is the worst phase of their defense.

If Wisconsin wants to pull off the upset, they’ll have to take time off the clock and keep the Buckeye offense off the field. In 2017 the Badgers dominated the Big Ten Championship in terms of TOP, and they hung around in that game. Turnovers were the killer in that one, just like last week. Taking care of the football, sustaining drives, and converting drives into points will be imperative on Saturday.

Win at the line of scrimmage

If there is one way to somewhat slow this Ohio State offense down, it will have to be by winning the line of scrimmage defensively. The Buckeyes don’t really have any weakness, but the area that has seemed to struggle a bit is the passing offense and pass protection. Ohio State currently ranks No. 66 in passing offense, and No. 64 in sacks allowed which is incredibly low considering them ranking in the top ten of almost every other category.

If the Badgers want to have success against the Buckeyes offense they’ll have to get after Justin Fields and attack a somewhat new offensive line that had to replace four of their five starters coming into the season. Surely those figures give you hope, but you also have to consider that the Buckeyes haven’t had to rely on the pass when they have a hammer back like J.K. Dobbins and the nations third best rushing offense.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Fields is also incredibly vital to that rushing attack, so winning the line of scrimmage in that phase will be important as well. The Badgers have the nation’s top defense statistically, but we saw some gaps that were concerning last week. If they don’t have that cleaned up at the line of scrimmage, it will be a long day for the defense.

Win the battle on third down

As mentioned above, sustaining drives is going to be crucial for the Badgers and, in turn, that of course means converting on third downs. Overall, third down will be the down that decides this football game on both sides of the ball. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State have units that rank in the top ten on third down so far this season.

The Badgers have the sixth best third down offense, while the Buckeyes have the No. 1 third down offense. The Badgers have the No. 1 third down defense, while the Buckeyes have the No. 3 third down defense.

Essentially, something’s gotta give here.

One of these teams is going to have to have success on third down, and the team that has more success on winning third down on both sides of the ball probably wins this football game. For Wisconsin you have to sustain drives on offense, but you also have to get this dominating attack of Fields and Dobbins off the field when given the chance. If there is one aspect of the game to watch it will be this one, on both sides of the football.