Photo courtesy MCT
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell has been preparing his team for the No. 15 ranked Wisconsin Badgers, but as of last Saturday, he wasn’t losing any sleep over it.
Wisconsin lost to Michigan State on a last second, 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of regulation to hand the Badgers their first loss of the season, 37-31.
But as the excitement unfolded, Fickell was sound asleep.
“I was probably about 45 minutes to an hour into sleep by then,” Fickell said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I did not stay up. I’ve probably seen it five, six, seven times now. Obviously an unbelievable play. Something you work on each and every week.”
Fickell may not have been excited about it, but the Badger’s loss reopens the door for OSU to make the Big Ten Championship. To make the championship game, the Buckeyes would have to win the remainder of their games and hope Penn State loses to another opponent besides the Buckeyes.
The road to the conference championship begins Saturday against Wisconsin, who, until their loss against MSU, was firmly in the national championship picture.
The Badgers feature a high-powered offense that averages 47.3 points per game and is ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Russell Wilson leads the Badgers and is widely considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. The transfer from North Carolina State leads the team and is ranked second nationally in passer efficiency (204.9). He has thrown for 1,780 yards and 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions on the season and with three rushing touchdowns, also poses a threat on the ground.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said Wilson has been impressive from the moment he came to Wisconsin’s program.
“He’s a stand-up guy, great character,” Bielema said on July 28 during Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Ill. “Just a really, really neat kid. Began to evaluate, talk to him. Brought him in on his visit, had him meet with a lot of offensive players, skill and offensive linemen. Everybody after that visit was very encouraging to talk to about the way he handles himself and talks to other players.”
Wilson is protected by a physically imposing offensive line that averages 322 lbs. and 6-foot-5-inches tall per player. But Fickell said OSU has to find a way to get past the line and affect Wilson.
“You have to find ways to get to him,” Fickell said. “Whether it’s picking a ball off, sacking him, getting hits on him, getting guys in front of his face. There’s all different kind of ways, but most importantly you have to be able to affect the quarterback.”
The Badger offense also boasts a ground game led by junior running back Montee Ball that is ranked eighth nationally with 252.1 yards per game.
Ball currently leads the nation in scoring at 16.29 points per game and also averages 109.7 rushing yards per game.
Fickell said the combination of Wisconsin’s running backs and large offensive line provides a tough challenge.
“With them it’s always going to start up front,” Fickell said. “They’re always going to have a couple tailbacks that are very good football players. I think you’ve always noticed them up front, whether they’ve had a first-round draft pick, an Outland Trophy winner.
“Obviously, they’re going to be a little bit of a running-focused team. I think you see the consistency over the years of what they’ve been. They haven’t changed a whole lot, which means they believe in what they do. They recruit to it and they do one heck of a job at coaching it.”
Fickell and the Buckeyes kick off against the Badgers at 8 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio Stadium.