There is something different about conference play. A familiarity that breeds not only contempt but respect as well. While the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers don’t play every year, when they do, more often than not they are marquee games that are hotly contested.
However, the Buckeyes haven’t lost to the Badgers in Columbus in 18 years and haven’t suffered a defeat to UW since 2010. So, to get a little bit of insight into whether or not Ohio State will be able to continue those streams tonight, we chatted with our friend Tyler Hunt, one of the managers of SB Nation Wisconsin blog Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
He provided some insight into Paul Chryst’s team and I returned the favor, answering some questions about the Buckeyes as well. B5Q is one of our favorite SBN sibling sites, so make sure you follow them for all of your Badger news and analysis.
B5Q: Ahh, that game. It was a mess. There were a whole host of issues that cost Wisconsin that football game. Firstly, the offensive line for Wisconsin got absolutely dominated by Washington State’s front. The Badgers struggled to control the line of scrimmage and couldn’t get a thing open for these running backs. Looking back, that Wazzou front might be better than we thought but Wisconsin fronts of old would not get pushed around like that. The other problem was that when Wisconsin did hit big plays they got called back due to penalties. The Badgers had over 100 yards in penalties which really hampered the offense.
Lastly, Wisconsin special teams stunk as it has for years. A terrible kick return allowed Wazzou to get some serious momentum to start the second half and the Badgers missed (badly missed) two field goals that would have greatly helped.
LGHL: Wisconsin is currently eighth in the country in terms of scoring defense and is only giving up eight points per game. What does Jim Leonhard’s unit do best, and how are they likely to attack the Buckeyes’ multi-faceted offense?
B5Q: Jim Leonhard does a great job of getting his system in place with recruits from the day they step on campus. Up front, the defensive line eats blocks and has to move the line of scrimmage on opponents. If they do that, it’s then up to the backers to mix their looks and bring pressure while also eating up tackles against the run. Leonhard does a good job of mixing his blitzes to come from all over the place. That pressure helps the secondary not have to cover for long periods of time. Overall, they work as a very cohesive offense.
However, I am fascinated to see how Wisconsin attacks in this game. Leonhard loves to blitz and the defense runs on pressure, but that creates A LOT of one on one matchups in the secondary and, frankly, Wisconsin’s defensive backs can’t handle that wideout core all game long. I’ll be interested if Leonhard lays off the blitz a little bit and tries to keep things in front of the secondary. Last year, Nebraska did that against Ohio State and had some success but that just isn’t how Leonhard works so we’ll have to wait and see.
LGHL: We are all incredibly familiar with the long line of incredible Badger running backs. How does Braelon Allen differentiate himself from previous Wisconsin RBs and how does this year’s offensive highlight his talents?
B5Q: Braelon Allen is interesting because he’s bigger than most of the backs to come through Wisconsin, but he’s still got really good speed. He isn’t quite as fast as Jonathan Taylor or Melvin Gordon III but Allen is a bit more physical in his running style. Frankly, he can run right through someone’s face and when he does and gets to space it can be game over. Oh, and he’s barely 18. The offense works well because when he gets a hole, he can either burst through it and when he gets to the second level with that momentum it's hard to bring him down. If he and this line get going downhill a defense can feel helpless against it.
However, with the line struggles this year thus far Allen has looked a little hesitant in his cuts. It was better last week, but New Mexico State is so bad. They’ll have to have that same burst against a much better opponent this week.
LGHL: Even when Ohio State’s defense isn’t performing as desired, Buckeye fans are often reassured knowing that very few offenses can keep up with OSU’s ability to score. How will Graham Mertz and company try to put up enough points to keep pace with C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes?
B5Q: Great question! I am not sure if I know. That offense is hard to keep up with. That said, I am very interested to see how Wisconsin will attack on this side of the ball too. In years past, Wisconsin has played the “control pace shorten the game” style of game. That might have worked and kept you in the game against Urban Meyer’s J.T. Barrett QB run offense but this offense is different. Sure, Wisconsin could try it again but it likely just results in a slower death like we’ve seen so many times before.
I think the Badgers need to take shots down the field with the passing game. So far this season that phase of the game has looked really good and if they want to hang around in this game they have to try and make some plays in the passing game. This wideout core is young but good. Better than what Wisconsin has had in years. I think, if Wisconsin wants to keep pace, they’ve gotta make Ohio State respect the pass. Use it to set up the run. Could it work? Maybe. Could it blow up in your face and you lose 59-0? For sure. Taking to the air to win the game is a high risk, high reward. That said, this is Paul Chryst we are talking about. He isn’t really a high-risk, high-reward gentleman.
LGHL: If the game is a one-score contest mid-way through the fourth quarter, how do you think the two teams got there? What will have had to go well for Wisconsin, and what will have had to go poorly for Ohio State?
B5Q: I think if it’s a one-score game late Wisconsin will have had to slow this offense down and hold Ohio State to some field goals rather than touchdowns. If Wisconsin can get off the field in the red zone on defense and hold it to 3 instead of 7 then it’s a huge win for the Badgers. Additionally, they’ll likely need to really confuse CJ Stroud by mixing up looks consistently.
On offense, I think the Badgers will have had to hit some big plays in the passing game to put Ohio State on their heels and respect the pass. After that, maybe you really try and use the run game to take some time off the clock. It truly needs to be a perfectly played Chess game by Wisconsin to keep pace with the athletes of Ohio State.
Lastly, if Wisconsin is hanging around, they need to play clean. No turnovers, no dumb penalties, and no big plays on special teams. As a realist, that is asking a lot.
LGHL: You can give a score prediction if you like, but in general, how do you think the game plays out?
B5Q: I think Wisconsin will hang around early but eventually the talent of Ohio State will get away from them. I feel like it’ll be a lot like the 2019 Big Ten Championship game where Wisconsin was in it and winning in the first half, but in the second half Ohio State hit big plays and flipped the momentum and couldn’t be stopped from there. This feels like that same game. I’ve seen this movie so many times before. It feels to me like a 38-20 type of game.