The Ohio State Buckeyes open up their Big Ten schedule this week against the defending conference champion Wisconsin Badgers. It will be one of the biggest games of the weekend in college football and made only more exciting by the return of Braxton Miller under center for OSU. But will the Badgers actually benefit from having Miller back in the lineup?
After Miller sprained his left knee against the San Diego State Aztecs, backup Kenny Guiton has stepped in and been lights out for the Buckeyes through the air. In just over two and a half games, the senior has thrown the ball for 643 yards with 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He has opened up the passing game for the Buckeyes possibly better than Miller ever has, even when completely healthy. Miller, however, is a more dynamic runner and is 13-0 as the starter dating back to last season.
When looking at the Wisconsin defense, they appear to be much stronger in their front seven against the run than in the secondary against the pass. Gary Andersen has switched things up this season, putting his cornerbacks into more man-coverage, one-on-one situations where they need to cover a receiver without a lot of help. Not only is the Badgers’ secondary still learning this new philosophy, but they’re trying to implement it without a whole lot of depth.
That puts a lot of strain on the Badgers when they face teams that can spread them out and pass the ball down the field. At first glance, Guiton appears to be the bigger threat in that regard. Miller has shown some excellent improvement in the passing game since becoming the starter for the Buckeyes, but he’s still a work in progress and he’ll be working off two weeks of rust at kickoff. That isn’t to say that Miller will play poorly or that the Buckeyes aren’t still a dynamic offense with him under center, just that Wisconsin might be better suited to contain Miller’s legs than Guiton’s arm.
Don’t expect Andersen or any member of the Badgers’ defense to admit they’re happy to see a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate return to the lineup against them as Miller will still be an enormous challenge to stop. But with rust and his instinct to run working against him, Miller might be the lesser of two huge challenges this weekend.
Join Kris Hughes and Tyler Brett for even more analysis of the Wisconsin/Ohio State matchup live on the Google + College Football Pregame Rant this Saturday at 4 central time live online! We’ll be picking two fans — one from each team — to tell us why their team will win and add to a lively discussion on what we see as each team’s keys to victory. Join us!