For the last time until 2016, the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes will square off in a Big Ten Conference match-up in the regular season. Starting with 2014, the divisional alignment in the Big Ten switches from the current Legends and Leaders format which has the Badgers and Buckeyes in the same division, to an East and West Division format that will separate the two traditional rivals.
Wisconsin enters Saturday evening’s contest a 7.5 point underdog according to most of the Vegas sportsbooks and has plenty to prove following a heart-breaking 32-30 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils two weeks ago in Tempe, and then bouncing back for a convincing 41-10 win over conference foe Purdue last weekend.
For the Badgers to tip the balance of play and put Ohio State’s explosive offense in some tough situations, they must control the run game from the get-go, grind down the clock and make this battle a “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” war rather than an aerial battle in which they just flat can’t compete.
Surprisingly, the Badgers’ running game has been centered around sophomore Melvin Gordon, who has rushed for 624 yards and seven touchdowns on 53 total carries, and has even entered the fringes of the Heisman Trophy conversation as a dark horse candidate in some circles. Gordon will see the lion-share of the carries for Gary Andersen’s squad. At 6’1″, 203 pounds the Kenosha native packs a punch, but also has proven elusive enough to turn carries that would appear to be ground down at the line of scrimmage into big gains.
The impetus is on Gordon, no doubt, to set the tone, but he will see plenty of help from senior RB James White, who is no slouch and resided in the background while Montee Ball gashed opposing defenses the past few seasons. White has run for 442 yards and three touchdowns himself so far in 2013 and is a nice compliment to Gordon where he needs a breather.
And, let’s not forget true freshman Corey Clement, either, who has run for 443 yards and four touchdowns himself on 44 carries. In short, this Wisconsin trio is a battering ram, that when able to set the tone can be a handful for opposing defenses– ranked 3rd as a unit nationally in rushing yards.
If Wisconsin can set the tone with the run game, grind down the clock and keep the potent Ohio State offense off the field — current ranked 4th in scoring (52.5 points per game) and 6th in rushing yards (311 yards per game) — the 10th ranked Wisconsin defense will be rested and should have plenty of pop to do what they can to force either Kenny Guiton or Braxton Miller to operate through the air, and go against the strength of the Buckeyes’ attack.
If the Wisconsin ground game isn’t able to establish pace early on and allows Ohio State to establish the run on the flipside it could be a long afternoon in Madison. It’s really not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s cut and dried.
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!