As the Ohio State football team prepares for its Saturday game against No. 12-ranked Wisconsin, head coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday that the game will be won or lost in the trenches.
“Let’s not make any mistakes, the game is won up front,” Fickell said. “It always with (Wisconsin) is going to start up front.”
Wisconsin boasts a starting offensive line that averages 322 lbs. and 6-foot-5-inches tall.
“I think (the offensive line is) where you’ve always noticed them, whether they’ve had a first-round draft pick up there or somebody that’s an Outland Trophy winner,” Fickell said.
Behind that offensive line, the Badgers average 252.1 rushing yards and 511.7 yards of total offense per game. The Badgers are ranked eighth nationally in both of those categories.
Running behind that line, junior running back Montee Ball ranks second in the Big Ten, averaging 109.7 yards per contest.
“They’re always going to have a couple of tailbacks that are going to be very good football players,” Fickell said. “But it begins up front.”
Against Illinois, the OSU defensive line had one of its best games of the season, tallying seven tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins led the team in tackles with nine and junior linebacker John Simon picked up two sacks.
Simon’s four total tackles for loss earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“I think we executed well,” Simon said after the Illinois game. “I think everyone did their job.”
Simon said the defensive line will need more of the same this week against the Badgers.
“We know they are very physical and they protect the running backs well,” Simon said “We’re just gonna have to play physical as well and have a great week of practice.”
The Buckeyes can’t just focus on the Badgers’ running backs as fifth-year senior quarterback Russell Wilson ranks second nationally in passing efficiency.
Fickell said the defense has to force Wilson to make mistakes.
“They do a good job of play-action and protecting their quarterback,” he said. “You’ve gotta be able to find ways to get to him.”
Wilson has only thrown three interceptions on the season, with two of them coming in Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State Saturday.
Fickell said Wilson likely had not seen that type of pressure all season.
“It’s about changing up some looks and getting a chance to get to him,” Fickell said. “I think that’s probably what he had not had happen to him all year.”
Simon said the defensive line’s athleticism will be its best asset in pressuring Wilson.
“We have a lot of guys up front who are very versatile,” Simon said. “I mean, (Hankins), you could see him play outside, inside at nose tackle, he’s effective everywhere.
“Garrett (Goebel) can play multiple positions and so can Adam Bellamy, Michael Bennett and everyone. I think we are just very athletic up front.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said after the Illinois game that Simon is tenacious as an inside force for the Buckeyes.
“When you get John in there you have a little bit quicker guy,” Heacock said. “He just goes as hard as he can go; he’s just unbelievable.”
The Buckeyes (4-3, 1-2) will kickoff their game against the Badgers (6-1, 2-1) Saturday at 8 p.m. in Ohio Stadium.