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Ohio State can ill afford to take Luke Fickell and Wisconsin lightly, especially in Madison

Spell it with me, y’all: T-R-A-P *spacebar* G-A-M-E

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State will travel to Madison, Wisconsin this weekend to take on Luke Fickell and his 5-2 Badgers. The former OSU player, coordinator, and coach is in his first season running the show at Wisconsin, and while there have been a few bumps in the road, Fickell’s squad is currently leading the Big Ten West race — which, ya know...

Look, I’ll actually nip this in the bud right now: The B1G West is a piss-poor Power 5 division, alright? Let’s just be honest with each other. If Nebraska controls their own destiny heading into November, that’s pretty telling. But a winner from the West will play in Indianapolis. And Wisconsin is a solid team, with a great head coach. So let’s move on.

Jokes (but not really, because the B1G West is embarrassing) aside, Fickell and his Badgers pose a legitimate threat to not only win their division and book a trip to Indy, but also to upset the Scarlet and Gray on Saturday night. This has all the makings of a classic trap game for Ohio State, especially coming off their big, emotional victory over Penn State. But it’s not just that OSU played a tough, physical game against the Nittany Lions. The inherent danger of this trap goes well beyond any potential Buckeye letdown.

First and foremost, Luke Fickell will be standing on the opposite sideline. Fickell is a damn fine American, a beloved Buckeye, and a hell of a football coach. He owns a .713 winning percentage as a head coach, and that’s if you include his 6-7 record as the interim placeholder in Columbus (2011). Elsewhere, ‘Fick’ went an impressive 57-18 at Cincinnati, guiding the Bearcats to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2021 — the first ever CFP appearance for a non-Power 5 team.

If you were to omit both 2011 and 2017 (Fickell’s first season at UC), then his career winning percentage rises to .830! Simply put: The dude can coach. But Fickell is far from the only accomplished football mind in Madison.

He quickly assembled an impressive staff upon getting the Wisky gig; one that includes offensive coordinator Phil Longo and defensive coordinator Mike Tressel. The former helped turn North Carolina’s Drake Maye into a superstar, while the latter – whose name might sound familiar – was part of Fickell’s CFP staff in Cincinnati and previously helped Michigan State reach impressive heights alongside Mark Dantonio.

Just a couple of dudes with serious ties to Ohio State
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

So that’s the coaching piece. No offense to Ryan Walters, who I think the world of, but this is nothing like Ohio State taking on Purdue and a first-time head coach. Facing Fickell and Co. is and will be an entirely different and unique challenge.

Sticking with the Purdue-Wisconsin comp: Heading into West Lafayette and Ross-Ade Stadium is also nothing like traveling to Madison and playing inside Camp Randall Stadium. The venue itself gives UW some sort of edge or advantage, which adds to the danger or intrigue of this game (RE: the Buckeyes). I mean, sure, OSU has occasionally struggled in Ross-Ade, so ghosts exist there...

But Camp Randall is rowdy. It’s big. It’s loud. It’s nasty. And I mean that in the best way possible! CR Stadium is one of my favorite venues in the entire country for college football.

If the Wisconsin student section is juiced up and going ballistic when ‘Jump Around’ comes on, watch out. Because that likely means we’ve got a game on our hands. The home advantage is real for the Badgers, and while Kyle McCord and other Buckeyes have played and won big road games this season, Camp Randall at night is a different beast.

Lastly, OSU would be doing itself a disservice if they ignore or attempt to minimize the talent on Wisconsin’s roster. Not that I believe Ryan Day and his coaches would intentionally ignore or underestimate this week’s opponent. Or let their players do so... But if such a scenario were to play out, then the Buckeyes could find themselves in trouble.

Because I get that UW is 5-2, with losses to Washington State and Iowa, but the Badgers have ballers on both sides. Running back Braelon Allen is basically a Derrick Henry clone. Left tackle Jack Nelson is a potential first-round NFL Draft pick. And the team brought in a ton of pass catchers via the transfer portal. Despite the passing stats being rather pedestrian, this is not your mom and dad’s Wisconsin. Sure, they have a big, bruising RB, but they also want to throw the ball.

On defense, the Badgers have a bunch of talented guys being coached up by Fick and Tressel. Safety Hunter Wohler is the an absolute maniac who makes plays all over the field. Their lineman stuff the run. Their linebackers are versatile. And the UW secondary is helping to keep opponents under 200 passing yards per game (on average). On top of everything else, Wisconsin’s defense is giving up just 18 points per game.

This game on Saturday night has the potential to be a rock fight. And the ‘trap gaminess’ factor is very real. So my hope is that Day and Co. took note of what happened to North Carolina, Washington, Texas, and Oklahoma just a week ago. The Buckeyes certainly don’t want to F around and find out. Because if they do so in Madison, the consequences could be severe.

But let’s just go win a game, huh? Business trip mentality... Go Bucks!