The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1 overall, 3-1 B1G) travel to Columbus to play the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0 overall, 4-0 B1G) in a massive game that has CFP implications, although fewer than before. The Buckeyes are coming off balling up Northwestern and punting them into Lake Michigan while the Badgers are coming off being on the wrong side of the biggest upset of the season.
Ohio State and Wisconsin are the Big Ten’s winningest programs over the last decade and over the last 10 meetings, six games have been decided by seven points or less. The Buckeyes have looked to be operating on a different level than everyone in the conference this season, however, and we wanted to find out from the source whether or not there was a way to slow them down.
Matt Tamanini of our SB Nation B1G cousins Land-Grant Holy Land is here to give us the lowdown on what to expect when the Badgers go to the Horseshoe for a top-15 BIG NUDE SATURDAY showdown.
1) So, a little bit of the luster may have been lost from this game due to whatever the hell that was in Champaign last weekend...but still! A top-15 matchup! Big Nude Saturday! Jonathan Taylor! Justin Fields! Chase Young! What are you most excited about in this matchup?
In my mind it is still a really big game, and the thing that I’m most excited about is actually seeing Ohio State play against a competent team. With all due respect to the first seven opponents that the Buckeyes have faced this season, they really haven’t been tested, and as good as they have looked — and they have looked completely dominant— I will still be a bit hesitant to completely buy into them as national title contenders until they are able to display that dominance against a quality opponent, which Wisconsin most certainly is.
2) Who is the Badgers player (non-Taylor division) that worries you the most on offense and the same question for the defense?
If you are taking Jonathan Taylor out of the equation, and I think picking the quarterback is a bit of a cop out, so I guess it would have to be Quintez Cephus on offense, right? Based off of last year’s defensive issues and the rare chunk plays allowed (including a few early last week against Northwestern), I am far more worried about the OSU run defense than pass defense. The Buckeyes have been incredibly stout against the pass this year, allowing only 136.3 yards per game (less than a yard behind the Badgers for first nationally). But, while they’ve faced two top-25 passing offenses (Florida Atlantic and Indiana) I wouldn’t really consider either of their offenses formidable.
So, while Jack Coan is a first-year starter, he has been around for a while, and when you pair him with a receiver as athletic as him Cephus, that has to be a bit concerning.
On defense, if I had to pick somebody, as obvious as it might be, it would be Zack Baun. The one part of Justin Fields’ game thus far that could cause some hesitation is his instinct to hold onto the ball a bit too long. While I expected the opposite to be true at the start of the season — given his reputation as a running quarterback — Fields has stayed in the pocket too long fairly regularly, leading to some unnecessary sacks.
Now, Ryan Day has said that they are comfortable with that, especially on third down, because the upside is him making a great play, but in a game that could be close, a pass-rusher like Baun putting pressure on Fields could lead to turnovers, poor field position, or (heaven forbid) an injury to the only capable quarterback on the roster.
3) What sort of schemes is Ohio State running this year on offense and defense?
On offense, it is a fairly familiar approach from the last two years, since Day was the offensive coordinator. However, with Justin Fields, you have a quarterback who is a) a better runner than J.T. Barrett, and b) a really good passer, but not yet as good as Dwayne Haskins. So, you are seeing a bit of a blend of the last two years. The zone-read game is still in the mix, as the threat of Fields to run must always be accounted for. However, the transfer QB hasn’t been asked to run very often, which is undoubtedly because OSU has next to no depth at the position. But, in a game against a defense as good as the Badgers’ I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking off more often, whether by design or out of necessity.
In addition to starting his college football career at Georgia, Fields was also a middle-infielder on their baseball team. So, his arm is much stronger than I think most people (myself included) expected. He has been accurate and poised as a passer, and the most impressive throws that he’s made haven’t been deep downfield, but instead on outs from the hash to the opposite sideline. While the crosses and mesh routes that Haskins threw to last year are still very much a part of the game plan, these are the throws that have been most impactful for Fields.
On defense, it has been a complete overhaul of everything that was being done in the back seven. Larry Johnson, who is arguably the best defensive line coach in the country, continues to rotate nearly a dozen great athletes across the front, but the linebackers and secondary look completely different. For the most part, Day has let his defensive staff run that side of the ball, but when he hired them, he apparently told them that he wants the defense to play more free than they did last year.
In the last two years of Greg Schiano’s time in Columbus, the reliance on press-man coverage burnt the Buckeyes as they finally dealt with the consistent loss of players to the NFL. This year, they are still playing man at times, but they are also mixing in zones that allow the players to know their responsibilities and to simply make plays. It’s a bit difficult at times to diagnose what it is that they are doing, because all off-season, we were told that new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison would be employing a hybrid linebacker-safety position that they called “The Bullet” (similar to what he had called “The Viper” while at Michigan).
However, we have not seen much of a swap at that position. Instead starting outside linebacker Peter Werner has been occasionally dropping back into a deep safety position when the offensive motion and alignment dictate that. This is not something that I would have expected or wanted to see happen, but the coaches have said that they are very comfortable with it.
4) What is the biggest difference between a Ryan Day coached team and an Urban Meyer coached one?
This one is a little hard, because Day was on the staff at Ohio State over the last two years. So certainly his fingerprints were on the offense before he became head coach. Then, he almost completely revamped the defensive coaching staff and approach, which has paid obvious dividends. However, to me, the most substantive change is in the demeanor of the head coach.
Meyer, sometimes to his detriment, was a guy who often lived in a constant state of hype. That obviously can aid in getting a team ready for big games, but it can also lead to let downs (see Iowa and Purdue the last two years) and health issues (see Meyer’s semi-regular retirements).
However, Day is a much more even-tempered, process type of guy. He doesn’t get too animated, and talks much more about focusing on watching his team’s film than the opponent’s. So far, this has prevented the Buckeyes from falling victim to any supposed trap games, but we haven’t yet seen if it can get a team prepared for a major challenge, like they will have this weekend.
As of now, I don’t expect that to be a problem — since players are generally more than capable of amping themselves/each other up — but it is the most obvious difference between the two coaches thus far.
5) Is there any way to effectively take Chase Young out of the game or should the Badgers just accept that Jack Coan is going to be sacked a handful of times and hope he doesn’t fumble?
One-on-one? No. Young is faster and stronger than either of the Bosas, and his technique has improved to the point where he is at least on their level. So, having an end or tackle try to block him on his own won’t work consistently for an entire game. Of course, the other option is to assign more than one player to him, whether that’s a double (or triple)-team, or having a back set to chip him.
The problem with this is that Ohio State has a number of other very capable defensive lineman. Obviously they aren’t Chase Young, but if too much attention is paid to him, Jonathon Cooper, Davon Hamilton, Jashon Cornel, Tyler Friday, Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison and the other handful of players that regularly rotate across the defensive front are also capable of blowing up plays in the backfield.
So, I think there is a level of understanding that quarterbacks won’t have a ton of time on passing plays, therefore the best answer is to get rid of the ball quickly to negate that rush. otherwise, Coan will be taking his life (figuratively… I think) in his own hands.
6) Who are a pair of players (one offensive and one defensive) that are a little bit under the radar that could have an outsized impact on the game for the Buckeyes?
On offense, I would say that Chris Olave is the biggest of a handful of candidates (I’d also say that Garrett Wilson and Master Teague III could qualify as well). Olave is not one of the Buckeyes’ starting wide receivers, but he generally gets into the game early and often. He is the most consistent big-play receiver for Ohio State this season, while K.J. Hill (who will likely become the OSU career leader in receptions before the end of the season) is the possession guy and Binjimen Victor has the potential to hit big plays, Olave blends the two and is liable to deliver something eye-popping anytime the ball is thrown his way.
On defense, I’m not sure that this guy qualifies, but he’s not nearly as heralded as Young or Jeff Okudah on the defense. Linebacker Malik Harrison is having a very good season, and I imagine will be very important to combat Wisconsin’s rushing attack. Harrison is far more athletic than the other two starting LBs (Tuf Borland and Werner), so his ability to make plays against a running back as good as Taylor will be important.
I should note as well that while Borland is the starting middle linebacker, Baron Browning actually plays more snaps at the position — which is a good thing, if you ask me. However, Browning was out against Northwestern last week, and while he is expected back, we don’t yet know how much he will be able to contribute.
7) For any Badgers fans heading to Columbus: where should they eat? What should they drink? Anything cool to see in town that they shouldn’t miss?
It’s not on campus, but if you’ve got a little extra time, you might want to head to Dublin and check out Urban Meyer’s Pint House, which just opened earlier this month and got really good reviews for both the football friendly atmosphere and the food and drinks.
However, if you are looking for something a little less partisan, there are great options close to campus in the Short North and Arena District. If you are looking for a good place to drink, try Betty’s Bar on Nationwide Boulevard near the minor league baseball stadium Huntington Park. If you are looking for something to do while you drink, the 16-Bit Bar & Arcade is in that area as well, and is next door to Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, which has over 40 specialty hot dogs.
For stuff that’s a little more food-focused, try grilled cheese joint Melt in the Short North or the Short North Food Hall, which has three menus (taqueria, pizza, and burgers/hot dogs/brats).
UPDATE [THURSDAY 10 PM CT] WITH SCORE PREDICTION BECAUSE DREW IS AN IDIOT AND FORGOT TO ASK!
Haha, I thought it was a purposeful decision to spare me the wrath of your readers. But, I expect both teams to move the ball on each other more than their opponents have throughout the season thus far, but I think the depth advantage that Ohio State has on both sides of the ball will eventually allow them to pull away in the second half. I will go Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 17.