One could argue that tonight's primetime matchup against Wisconsin, not the season-ender against Michigan, is the toughest test Ohio State will face all year. An undefeated OSU against undefeated Michigan would, of course, be apocalyptic, but it doesn't look like that's likely. So, pundits and fans alike will be watching this game very closely. Here are a couple of things we're looking for:
Return of Adolphus
Adolphus Washington is back for the game, but how healthy is he, really? He will need to be in top shape in order to be able to contain Melvin Gordon and James White. Washington will need to be disciplined on his pass rush and beat his blocker in one-on-one matchups in order to set the edge and stop Wisconsin's off-tackle power run game. If he can't, look for a ton of Joey Bosa. It's now a position battle worth watching, as Bosa has been hyper-aggressive against the run and pass. The defensive line as a whole has to be disciplined, but Washington is going to need to be a leader along with Michael Bennett and stay strong against the run, especially edge rushes.
Braxton Miller is going to be hyped up for this matchup. He is clearly ready to be back in the lineup after watching Kenny Guiton break school records and sling the ball all over the field. In a night game, at home, with a crazed atmosphere, it is important for Braxton to control his adrenaline, make his reads (he had a tough time with this in last year's Wisconsin game) and not put pressure on himself. Wisconsin plays a 3-4 hybrid defense this year, which makes option plays even tougher to read. If the throw isn't there, he'll need to either tuck and run as necessary or throw the ball away. If the defense is covering the QB on a read option, he needs to feel comfortable to let the running back have the ball. If Braxton is relaxed and not over-hyped, we'll know right away.
Break Up Passes
One of the best ways to frustrate a quarterback is to break up his passes. Joel Stave is not a Jared Goff-type player who will sit back and throw 60 times per game. When Stave does get to pass, he'll want to make a big play downfield to Jared Abbrederis, or dump it off to his fullback or tight end underneath. The Buckeyes should be okay with the latter option if they can get hats to the ball and make sure tackles, but the former is where the secondary needs to shine. A few tipped balls and tight man-to-man coverage could make Stave frustrated and convince him that the only way to make a play through the air is to force something he shouldn't. That's when Bradley Roby and the rest of the secondary will need to pounce, like they did against Nebraska last year. Per SBN's Bill Connelly, 23-of-60 incompletions against the Buckeyes have been either PBUs or INTs. The Buckeye secondary would like to keep that number going.
Positive Return Yardage
We love Dontre Wilson, but it is clear through the first four weeks of the season that Corey (don't call him Philly) Brown should be returning punts every time against Big Ten opponents. Brown has shown a penchant for making big plays in the return game and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Expect at least one, perhaps two big plays on special teams if the Badgers are forced to punt. Drew Meyer is hitting the ball at a remarkably consistent 41 yards per punt this year, but only has four downed inside the 20. Positive kickoff return results are a must as well. If that means taking a knee because the returner can't get to the 25 via a return, so be it. The Buckeyes don't want to have to start in bad field position all night long.
Double Team Abbrederis?
Jared Abbrederis is basically the one threat to the Ohio State secondary from the outside. He has been targeted on 40% of Joel Stave's passes this year (again, per Bill Connelly) and is the deep threat on play-action passes. Expect coverage to be rolled to his side, to see #1 matched up on him all game with deep safety help, and expect him to be jammed at the line on obvious passing downs. The Buckeyes can't let Abbrederis beat them if they want to win. Expect him to get the A.J. Green treatment until someone else proves they are a viable receiving option for the Badgers.