The B1G West division champion, and No. 8 ranked team in the CFP, Wisconsin Badgers (10-2 overall, 7-2 B1G) are headed to Lucas Oil Stadium for the sixth time in conference history to take on the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0 overall, 8-0 B1G) for the Big Ten title.
You may remember that these two teams met once before this season and...well...it looked like it was going to be a close game for about 90 seconds in the second half and then, it didn’t look like that.
But, like, whatever. EVERYONE lost to Ohio State this year so it’s not that big of a deal. And this time the game is at a neutral site and the Badgers offense was really clicking against Minnesota and, well, Wisconsin is going to need a lot more than those two things to beat Ohio State on Saturday.
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 Indianapolis and try to get revenge on the Buckeyes in the B1G Championship game.
1) So, we haven’t watched or heard about an Ohio State game since Wisconsin played the Buckeyes earlier in the season. Is it safe to assume that they lost most of them and multiple weaknesses were exposed? If it is not safe to assume that...well...how did the rest of Ohio State’s season go after the Wisconsin win?
Um, things went ok. There was a minor NCAA kerfuffle, concern about injuries to the only competent quarterback on the roster, and fans stumping for the first-ever three-way tie for the Heisman Trophy, but other than that, it was pretty uneventful.
In all reality, the last two weeks against Penn State and Michigan have been an interesting road for the Buckeyes. Obviously both resulted in double-digit wins against fairly highly-ranked teams, but there were a few issues that popped up for the first time this season in those contests. Against the Nits, J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields both lost fumbles (two from Fields), which really kept what otherwise was a decisive victory within shouting distance for the duration.
Normally, I wouldn’t put too much stock into a single game that had some uncharacteristic turnovers, but, on his first carry against Michigan, Dobbins literally dribbled the ball en route to a 35-yard gain.
And, on his first fumble against PSU, Fields appeared to injure his thumb on his non-throwing hand. We didn’t see any signs of that being a problem against Michigan, but the recent fumble issues do appear to be a bit more than just the traditional randomness that occasionally happens.
The more concerning thing that’s crept up is how the Wolverines were able to move the ball over the middle against the Buckeye defense. Part of that did have to do with the fact that starting slot cornerback Shaun Wade was out against UM (don’t worry though, he’ll be back on Saturday) (Editor’s note: OH THANK GOODNESS!), but it also was the first time that an opposing offense had taken advantage of Ohio State’s oddly under-athletic linebackers.
Tuf Borland is OSU’s starting middle linebacker, but he doesn’t play the majority of the snaps there, the more athletic Baron Browning does. Malik Harrison is the leading LB in terms of snaps, and he is also very athletic. But Pete Werner is the second most frequent LB in the game, and bless his heart, he has made tremendous strides since last season, but the OSU defensive coaches are asking him to do things that I just don’t think that he is capable of doing.
There have been times this year when he’s dropped back to play safety, which is nearly a fireable offense. However, UM’s offensive coordinator Josh Gattis took advantage of Borland and Werner in the middle of the field in the first half, throwing the ball to tight ends and running backs on crossing routes, and receivers on screens. Admittedly, Ohio State adjusted and Michigan QB Shea Patterson went 4-for-24 in the second half for 55 yards, but it is still very much an area of concern against an otherwise stout defense.
2) How will Justin Fields’ MCL injury affect Ohio State’s game plan?
I don’t think that it will affect the game plan much, because Ryan Day has been trying to avoid putting Fields in too many running situations all season. But, I do think that it will impact his running ability when plays break down.
He’s been an incredibly productive scrambler all season, and while I think he still will get some yards that way on Saturday, he’s wearing a bigger, bulkier brace on his knee for this game, so I wouldn’t expect too many big running plays from him on Saturday; either out of design or physical limitations.
3) What, if any, cracks in OSU’s armor have been exposed since their last matchup? Michigan seemed to at least kind of, maybe, a little bit kept Chase Young out of the backfield and Rutgers (!!!) scored 14 more points against the Buckeyes D than Wisconsin did. What can Wisconsin do to make Ohio State work for the B1G Title?
In addition to the passing over the middle thing I mentioned earlier, the one major thing that I think would be smart for any OSU opponent to focus on is getting the ball out of the QBs hands as quickly as possible.
Michigan had a great plan to chip and double-team Young, but they also prevented him from getting a sack simply because Patterson more often than not threw the ball before even the speedy Young could get into the backfield. Of course, that’s part and parcel to those quick, short routes that I mentioned before, but that’s really the only thing that we’ve seen be successful in stopping Young from breaking quarterbacks this year.
The Rutgers game…what can I say, it was Rutgers, nobody cared, they had more important things to worry about.
4) What do you think the CFP match ups will be and where do you think Wisconsin ends up going bowling?
I think that Ohio State will be No. 1 and will play No. 4 Utah in the Peach Bowl, and No. 2 LSU will play No. 3 Clemson in the Fiesta. Those picks might be biased, but I picked OSU, Clemson, Utah, and Georgia in the CFP to start the season, so I am rooting for three out of four (although, I did pick Clemson to beat OSU in the championship game, so just don’t remind our readers of that).
Where the Badgers end up I think will solely be decided by how things go on Saturday. If they play better than they did in the first match-up, I think that they would be a very attractive option for the Rose Bowl, since they always travel well, were in the conference championship game, and (unless they’re blown out) will probably remain ahead of Penn State. If it’s another 38-7 game (or heaven forbid 59-0), I would think an Outback Bowl berth is in the cards.
5) What is your final score prediction and who will win offensive and defensive MVP in the game?
Hoo boy, I like you guys a lot, so I don’t want to make people too mad, but I’m going to go 42-17. I think being indoors helps Ohio State’s offense compared to last time, but I also recognize that Wisconsin has improved quite a bit since late October.
I’ll play the defensive MVP pick safe and go with Chase Young. I can’t see him being shut down twice in a row, especially after how he played against the Badgers the first time. On offense, I’ll go a little off the board, because I wouldn’t be surprised if Wisconsin sells out to limit Dobbins. Fields is too easy of a pick, so I’ll say freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson. He’s been coming on really strong lately and is the most explosive player on Ohio State’s offense.
6) Do you think Chase Young has lost sleep over having to be blocked by Wisconsin starting TE Jake Ferguson 1-on-1 again? Because, uh, we have.
I do not believe that he has, but after being held to zero tackles by Michigan, I might suggest that Wisconsin not try to block him one-on-one.