Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Suddenly back in the thick of the Big Ten conference championship race, the Ohio State football team has near-control over its own destiny despite a 1-2 conference record. Assuming Penn State will lose at least one of its conference games against Illinois, Nebraska or Wisconsin, OSU can win out and earn a trip to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. But that begins this week against a bitter Badger brigade.
The offense may have an easier task than the defense this week as they face a Wisconsin defense that gave up 399 total yards against Michigan State last weekend.
However, less than one-third of that was on the ground, and Daniel “Boom” Herron is the Buckeyes’ best threat. Expect Herron to get plenty of carries again this week, as the Buckeyes have won 21-of-24 contests in which he has crossed the goal line.
Braxton Miller likely isn’t going to throw any miracle Hail Marys this week. However, he will need to complete more than one pass and will need to be effective in doing so if the offense is going to function against the Badgers. The Buckeyes got by the Illini by solely rushing the ball, but Wisconsin has a better defense and will have a gameplan to stop the run with plenty of rushing film to analyze.
The biggest key for the offense and the team as a whole is to eliminate penalties this week. False starts have plagued the offensive line (J.B. Shugarts) this season and really hinder an already suspect offense. Sparty had zero penalties in their victory last weekend.
The offense has to keep hold of the ball as well; turnovers will likely be too much for a bulimic scoring offense to overcome.
Pressure, pressure and more pressure: For the defense to be successful, they have to disrupt fifth-year senior quarterback Russell Wilson. In winning their first six games by 31 points or more, Wilson and the Wisconsin offense had only thrown one interception and given up five sacks. Sparty got to Wilson for two picks and three sacks, which arguably was the difference in the game.
John Simon will lead the “silver bullets” on the defensive line in their assault on Wilson. Big Johnathan Hankins will look to build on his nine-tackle performance last week and the Buckeyes will need his 6-foot-3-inch, 335-pound frame against a Wisconsin O-line that averages 322 lbs. and 6-foot-5-inches tall.
If the silver bullets can contain Montee Ball and the Wisconsin rushing attack and pressure Wilson into making bad throws, then the Buckeyes have a shot. Forcing turnovers will be even more important this weekend as the Buckeyes will need to keep the score down to have a shot. Redshirt freshman cornerback Bradley Roby is second in the Big Ten with three interceptions and could make an impact.
Junior punter Ben Buchanan and sophomore kicker Drew Basil have been consistently phenomenal in the kicking and field position game for the Buckeyes, as have the coverage units. The Buckeyes will need to depend on special teams once again this week, and expect them to respond.
The coaches have to be intelligently aggressive this week. Giving Miller the opportunity to make plays while not putting him in a position to turn the ball over will be a difficult but necessary balance to reach.
Just as they did against Illinois in calling for the long field goal against the wind, the coaches must have confidence in their players and give them the opportunity to perform.
The team really has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Some risks on offense and special teams are warranted and may yield high rewards for the Buckeyes.
With the ‘Shoe filled with scarlet spectators for Saturday’s night game, the fans will need to fuel the Buckeyes with energy from the stands and keep them up when the Badgers have some momentum. Never underestimate the power of the 12th man.