Well, here we go. This is Ohio State's biggest test of the season (to point), and it comes against a familiar and unwelcome foe. Ohio State-Wisconsin games have been back-and-forth affairs for several years now, and 2012's incarnation promises to be no different. Neither team is completely whole this week. Wisconsin starts third-stringer Curt Phillips at quarterback, a young man who has persevered valiantly through injury after season-ending injury but is a huge concern against the Buckeye defense. The lattest scuttlebutt is too that Badgers defensive star Chris Borland may miss the game with a leg injury. For reasons well chronicled, the Buckeyes can only play for pride despite being so far undefeated, and a MacGyvered linebacking corps starting a supersoph phenom, a senior in his first week back from an extremely painful injury, and a converted fullback will try to stop all-everything running back Montee Ball. Things could get real interestin'. Here's the five things fans should be interested in seeing.
1) Just who is Curt Phillips? Phillips is a young man who has been beset by knee injuries, having suffered through three surgeries in his five-year stint at UW. He only threw the ball seven times against Indiana, because frankly, he only had to throw the ball seven times. The game film from Indiana, as Tom Oates of Madison.com Sports notes, won't tell Urban Meyer anything about Phillips' arm ability. He does, despite the three surgeries, possess the ability to run the ball from the shotgun. Phillips is no Russell Wilson, but he isn't John Stocco or noted high-five artist Scott Tolzien, either. Phillips is not your typical generic immobile Wisconsin quarterback, so keep that in mind as the game unfolds.
2) 'BINO BACK Urban Meyer has indicated that Etienne Sabino will indeed start this Saturday, despite a very painful broken fibula (also known as 'the Michael Vick injury'). It remains to be seen how effectively he can play, as the issue is pain tolerance. Make no mistake, Sabino is still injured. If it shows in his play, we will be seeing quite a bit of Storm Klein. If it doesn't, hopefully Sabino can continue to expound on the effective start he had to the season. Sabino will certainly be tested against a retooled Wisconsin offensive line that since firing their coach has played much better.
3) Is Montee Ball the same guy? Ball ran 17 times for 85 yards and a touchdown in last year's game. On the surface, it looked relatively pedestrian, especially when compared to the rest of his games that year. However, he really hurt the Buckeyes when he made an electric move that allowed him to score in last year's game on an underneath pass reception, making Andrew Sweat look silly in the process. Ball's statistics are there again this year (245 carries, 1226 yards, 5.0 ypc, 16 TDs) but something's missing. He doesn't seem to have the same explosion this year - or maybe his offensive line just isn't opening the holes it did last year. Whatever the case may be, the last thing the Buckeyes want to do is have Ball break out and run all over them. Despite the perceived struggles this year, Ball is still an incredible touchdown machine and is the key to the Wisconsin offense.
4) Trash talking and keeping cool. Early on in the Michigan State game there was an inordinate amount of yapping between the two squads. With all the talk about how this is now a rivalry game from both sides, especially from Corey Brown and Zach Boren, expect to see some players in each other's faces after three-yard gains and a little showmanship from both squads. This is going to be fun and a little bit nasty. The players, however, have got to keep cool under all circumstances and keep the trash talking to a dull roar. I love when players get up and have a little something to say to one another after a big play, but Ohio State's defense (especially Christian Bryant) have got to lock it down. Costly penalties will only help a tough out such as Wisconsin playing at home. It will be interesting to see if there is any leftover animosity between the coaches, too – I wouldn't be shocked if Urban Meyer goes for two early on if a touchdown is scored, or if one team runs up the score on the other in case the game is a blowout.
5) Keeping gap integrity on defense. Generally, Wisconsin is a straight-ahead, one cut and go running team. They either run the ball right at a defense via dive or power or run a counter play – misdirection is kept to a minimum unti it's time to hit the defense with a play-action pass. Ohio State's defense, especially the linebackers, can't get caught up in trying to shoot gaps they aren't supposed to be in. Against Wisconsin, that'll get you beaten. Ohio State must stay disciplined, especially early when emotions and tempers are running hot. The first team to settle down will come away with a win.
What are you looking for this week? Let us know anything you've got your eye on in the comments section.