1. Does the battle at the line of scrimmage matter?
Wisconsin is 11th in the nation and second in the Big Ten for rushing yards, with a rushing average of 241 yards per game. Its offense revolves around reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and freshman running back James White.
In its last 11 games, Ohio State has rushed for an average of 158 yards, more than its opponents.
However, both team’s defenses are good enough to shut down each other’s run game to the extent that OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien will be forced to make an impact, giving OSU a considerable advantage in the play-making department.
2. Is the OSU defense ready for Clay?
What does matter is Clay’s size. At 6-foot-1-inch, 248 pounds, Clay is a typical plus-sized Wisconsin running back whose strength is bruising between the tackles.
The Ohio State defense has not encountered a back with Clay’s size this season. In two career games against OSU, he’s rushed for 128 yards on 30 carries, 4.3 yards per carry, which is less than his average of 5.7 yards per carry.
OSU defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is looking forward to the challenge of facing Clay.
“He doesn’t even look like a running back, he looks like a linebacker,” Heyward said. But “he’s so explosive. Sometimes the team can be feeling down and he makes one big play and he can turn around the game.”
3. Will Scott Tolzien deliver a repeat “pick-six” performance?
Tolzien had a nightmare of a game in last season’s 31-13 OSU victory. Late in the first quarter, Tolzien threw over the middle of the field and was picked off by Kurt Coleman, who returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.
It was déjà vu early in the third quarter when Jermale Hines tipped a Tolzien pass to himself along the sideline and took it 32 yards to the house.
Although Tolzien has only two interceptions this season, the OSU defense has already forced 17 turnovers through six games. If OSU jumps out to an early lead and renders the Badger running game ineffective, expect defensive coordinator Jim Heacock to dial up the pressure on Tolzien.
4. After weeks of improvement, will the OSU special teams unit collapse in Camp Randall?
Last week against Indiana, the longest kick return OSU gave up was 26 yards. Against Illinois, the long was 29 yards.
The punt return coverage teams have suffocated opposing returners. This is a marked improvement over the beginning of the season, when the Buckeyes were near the bottom of the nation on special teams.
Although the play of the special teams has changed for the better, coach Jim Tressel said there are flaws that still need to be fixed.
“Our kickoff coverage team we thought fundamentally got better and the result was good until we were penalized and we had a couple penalties that killed us on the kickoff cover team,” Tressel said. “We’ve got to eliminate penalties from a special teams’ standpoint.”
5. Will OSU need another winning drive from Pryor?
The crowning moment of Pryor’s first season took place in his third start. In a back-and-forth game, Pryor took the offense on a 12-play, 80-yard that ended with Pryor scoring on an 11-yard option keeper off the left edge with 1:08 on the clock to give OSU a 20-17 win at Wisconsin.
Pryor is not only a dual-threat quarterback, but considered by teammates as one of the unquestioned leaders.