For the first time since the 2016 season, when Ohio State won in overtime, 30-23, the Buckeyes are traveling to notoriously difficult Camp Randall Stadium to face their longtime Big Ten rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers. To put this in context, current Ohio State head coach Ryan Day was not on the staff that season, so this will be the first time for several coaches and players to experience one of the most challenging environments to play a football game.
Wisconsin currently has a 5-2 record, with a 3-1 record in The Big Ten. Former Ohio State player and assistant coach Luke Fickell is in his first year, trying to transform the Badgers from a power running team to a more diverse unit offensively, hiring Phil Longo as his offensive coordinator. The move to an “Air Raid” system under Longo has not gone smoothly, as the personnel on hand, as well as an injury to starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai, have forced the Badgers to be more reliant upon their running game, as in seasons past.
After the 15-6 loss to Iowa on Oct. 14, Fickell remarked about the Wisconsin offense,
“I don’t think they’re trying to find what their identity needs to be...I think we’re trying to find how it fits with the people we have as much as anything.”
Below are Three Things To Watch at Wisconsin when the ball kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
- The Ohio State defense against the Wisconsin running game
As written up above, Wisconsin is still heavily reliant upon their big offensive line, and bolstered by RB Braleon Allen. Allen presently sits with 708 yards, averages 4.8 yards per carry, and is coming off an impressive 29 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown at Illinois last week.
Along those lines, Ohio State cannot afford to become complacent defensively. Yes, Ohio State is coming off an impressive performance versus Penn State, limiting the Nittany Lions to a total of 49 yards on the ground. If anything, Wisconsin will probably try to help redshirt freshman quarterback Braedyn Locke, who has been thrust into the starting lineup, due to Mordecai’s injury. Locke completed 21 of 41 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns versus Illinois, and will probably need the Badgers’ running game to keep him from getting into obvious passing situations.
Considering Wisconsin may be so focused on running the ball, I am anxious to see how Ohio State LB Tommy Eichenberg handles the responsibility of shutting down Allen, and making Wisconsin one-dimensional offensively.
2. Will Carnell Tate be more involved offensively against Wisconsin?
Emeka Egbuka did not play in last week’s game versus Penn State, and may be limited at Wisconsin. This may open up more opportunities for freshman wide receiver Carnell Tate, who has 11 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown this season.
Yes, I know that Marvin “don’t call me Maserati in front of Michael Citro” Harrison Jr. is coming off a banner game against Penn State, but it is my belief that Fickell is going to try to double cover Harrison to limit his effectiveness in the Ohio State passing game, thus presenting Kyle McCord with finding Tate in single game coverage situations.
3. Beware the trap game
In 2017, Ohio State had an emotional 39-38 home win against Penn State, and then went on the road to Iowa to get crushed, 55-24. That painful loss helped cement Ohio State’s absence from the College Football Playoff that season.
As noted up above, this is the first time Ohio State has ventured into Camp Randall Stadium since their overtime win in 2016. Throw in the last time Ohio State played a Luke Fickell-coached team, and how the Buckeyes blanked Cincinnati, 42-0. Last year’s Wisconsin team was easily handled by Ohio State, in what was one of the last games coached by Paul Chryst. Getting the picture?
This Wisconsin team, although a substantial underdog, is eagerly looking at this game for a chance at redemption, in front of a nationally televised audience. Ohio State had best be prepared for the best that the Badgers will give them.
If Ohio State can effectively make Wisconsin one-dimensional offensively by shutting down or substantially limiting Braelon Allen’s effectiveness running the ball, then this game will fall upon Braedyn Locke’s shoulders to pull off the upset. While Locke may have a bright future in Madison, the Buckeyes are starting to come into their own defensively, and should be able to get this one under control by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
I have it Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 17.