On paper, there are decided advantages for both the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes in going into their traditional matchup tomorrow evening. The Wisconsin running game is one of the best in the country, led by the trio of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement. Their 10th-ranked scoring defense (giving up only 10.5 points per game) is led by a senior-laden linebacking corps and defensive line that must perform at a high level to keep the less-experienced secondary from being exploited.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, on the other hand, suffer from one of the best problems possible– having a duo of quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton that both bring first-tier, complimentary talents to the table. Miller should get the start, which, in a way, is a favorable development for the Badgers as long as Ohio State sticks to running the spread and is more run-focused. If Wisconsin can force this hand, then their powerful running game can establish pace as a result. If not, the high-octane Buckeyes offense could open up a lead too much for Wisconsin to fight back from.
Either way this game goes, there are X-Factor guys on both sides of the ball, for both teams, that could well make the difference between winning and losing. Let’s take a look at two of these guys for each team:
Jarred Abbrederis – Senior – WR
On a run-heavy team, Jarred Abbrederis is the shining star among the Badgers wide receiving corps. In four games, the 6’2″, 188 pound senior has hauled in 23 catches for 365 yards and three touchdowns– already almost halfway to his 2012 totals in each category.
To keep the Ohio State defense honest and prevent them from stacking the box with 7-8 defenders in a full-on effort to stop the run, Wisconsin QB Joel Stave will have to find Abbrederis on occasion — even if it’s just in 10-12 targets for the game total between he and the other receivers to keep the Buckeyes on their toes.
If you take a look at the box score late on Saturday nigh and Abbrederis has less than 5-6 catches, I’d be willing to bet that the Badgers took home a loss.
Michael Caputo – Sophomore – DB
The overall depth, strength and ability of the Badgers’ defensive line and linebacking corps is without question. Collectively the two units have propelled the defense to one of the best starts in the country. As strong as those two units are, there’s plenty of collective concern about a young secondary in Madison.
So far in 2013, of the young guys, sophomore safety Michael Caputo has stood out from the pack. The Imperial, Pennsylvania native doesn’t yet have a pick, but has been the best tackler in the unit with a total of 20 so far (13 solo, 7 assisted), covering ground with ease. If the Wisconsin DL and linebackers struggle with the spread or the passing attack, Caputo will become more important than ever as the last line of defense for the Badgers.
Corey Brown – Senior – WR
In his first season as a wide receiver for Urban Meyer’s squad, 5th-year senior athlete Corey Brown has been solid, catching 16 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns so far through 2013. Through his first three seasons in Columbus, Brown was a defensive back and made the move to wideout in the spring with the lack of depth the Buckeyes had there and a need for the unit to be more athletic overall.
If Ohio State is forced to turn to the pass at any point against the Badgers, the Wisconsin defense will more than likely key on junior wideout Devin Smith who leads the team in all receiving categories so far. Smith is the most athletic and technique-driven of the wideouts and attention paid to him could open up some looks for Corey Brown.
Can he take advantage of it?
Noah Spense – Sophomore – DL
The Wisconsin and Ohio State defenses are inverses of one another, almost man-for-man. Where Wisconsin has depth Ohio State really doesn’t and vice versa. The Buckeyes’ defensive line is far less experienced than that at Wisconsin, and one man will need to rise to the occasion to help get pressure into the Badgers’ backfield and disrupt the run game– sophomore lineman Noah Spence.
Spense is the leading tackler among the defensive linemen so far this season, tallying 16 total tackles for an average of four per game. The Buckeyes depend on their linebackers to carry the load, but if Spense can be disruptive and pick up a couple of tackles for a loss it could greatly help the team’s defensive efforts overall.
X-Factors always make a difference in games between traditional rivals and these guys are certainly no exception to the rule. Facts are, someone we haven’t mentioned will more than likely rise to the occasion and make a difference for their team, but it’s always fun to speculate regardless.
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!