Previewin’: Wisconsin

Posted by Vico in Buckeye Football |

Not playing.  Thank God.
Not playing. Thank God.
Rewind back to early August, before the college football season started.  Would you have pegged this game as the one that determines who is the leader of the Big Ten conference? It technically will.  Both Wisconsin and Ohio State are 2-0 in conference, though Wisconsin has the tiebreaker of not having to play USC with a very silly gameplan.  Winner goes on top of the Big Ten while Iowa temporarily remains a conference game behind.  For a program that more than a few fans had dead to rights before the season, and after their first two games against Northern Illinois and Fresno State, the Badgers are 5-0 and may establish themselves as the team to beat if all goes well (for them) in Columbus on Saturday.  Below, I take a look at things that I think are relevant for a game that, should Ohio State win, would give Jim Tressel a winning record over every team in the Big Ten.

When Wisconsin blogger Duff of On Wisconsin! and I did a swap of team previews in June, he had pit the QB battle as one between Dustin Sherer, a fifth year senior, and Curt Philips, a redshirt freshman.  The winner? Scott Tolzien.  The darkhorse won that race1 and so far has been instrumental in improving Wisconsin’s lot on offense this season.  He had a quality opener against Northern Illinois, and has followed that with equally quality showings against all opponents, sans an ineffficient game against the Gophers last week.  The aggregate numbers for Tolzien don’t look too impressive; he is only 7th in the Big Ten in yards per game.  However, he — not Juice Williams, Terrelle Pryor or Daryll Clark — is leading the conference in passing efficiency… and leading it comfortably over Michigan toothpick Tate Forcier.  So, no, Scott Tolzien isn’t Peyton Manning for Wisconsin, but he doesn’t need to be.  Since Wisconsin has been able to run the ball effectively, Tolzien’s ability to get the ball downfield on constraint plays has served the Badgers well this young season.

Wisconsin football can mean only one thing: punishing tailbacks that make you want to cry.  The Badgers two backs are John Clay and Zach Brown and both are listed as co-starters.  John Clay is the scarier of the two and gets most of the carries.  He already has 582 yards 5 games into the season at an impressive clip of 5.2 yards per carry.  That translates to 116 yards per game — tops in the conference.  That’s 3 games for 100 yards or more, tops in the conference.  His 7 touchdowns are… yep… tops in the conference.  Brown is no slouch either, averaging 4.2 yards a game (about 40 a game) with 3 touchdowns on the season.  Scary, right?  It’s not all power either.  Wisconsin utilizes a lot of pre-snap motion by the wide receivers to take undisciplined defensive backs out of the box, clearing room for John Clay to rumble forward.

A quality offensive line for Wisconsin makes this all the scarier.  Their offensive line is built for mauling people to much success for the tailback tandem of Clay and Brown.  John Moffitt, the left guard, is the median for both height (6’5) and weight (320lbs) of the unit.  He is joined with bookends Gabe Carimi and Josh Oglesby, center Peter Konz and right guard Kevin Zeitler.   With the exception of the Connecticuter John Moffitt, that’s some good ol’ fashioned Wisconsin beef up front (or should I say Wisconsin brat?).  It’d be a mistake to assume that such enormity up front means they’d be a liability in pass protection.  They’ve proven capable so far, as Tolzien has not been sacked much this year.  It’s always the most important battle of any football game, but watching our defensive line matchup with their offensive line should be fun.  It’d be more fun if we weren’t without the services of Dexter Larimore for this game.  Fortunately, we are deep.  Buckeye fans should hope that either Todd Denlinger2 or John Simon rises to the occasion.  If the defensive line can be their usual dominant selves this game, it should put pressure on Wisconsin’s offensive line for more than the obvious reasons.  That is to say, I know Wisconsin’s front five are capable… but I don’t know how deep they are.

Appropriate recognition must be afforded to Wisconsin’s receiving options.  Wisconsin should use two tight end sets a lot in this game, giving Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham — arguably the best tight end tandem in the Big Ten — chances to shine.  How our linebackers adjust to those two will also be worth watching.  Wisconsin’s wideouts don’t get a lot of pub.  They’re not flashy and they won’t win any Biletnikoff Awards anytime soon, but it’s not because they’re subpar.  Rather, Wisconsin’s offense doesn’t feature Tolzien racking up too many passing yards when they can move the ball effectively on the ground.  Nick Toon, son of former Badger great Al Toon, is the team’s featured wideout.  He’s a big target, joined by Isaac Anderson in the slot.  The 3rd wideout in the Wisconsin offense is David Gilreath, who, if you remember, ran more end-arounds last year against the Buckeyes than I care to ever see again.

What? Dont look at me that way... I love this picture.
What? Dont look at me that way... I love this picture.
When Bert Bielema came to Wisconsin when Alvarez was still coach of the team, he took with him a resume of elite defensive units as defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats.  Somewhere, that went horribly wrong.  It hasn’t gotten that much better this season.  While Paul Chryst’s offense has found a good balance between run and pass, issues on defense still linger.  The Badgers are 5-0 and have scored more points than anyone in the conference (175, 5 more than Michigan).  They’re also tied with Michigan State and Minnesota for third in most points surrendered (123, behind Purdue and the Nerds).  So what’s happening?  Part of it is that they’re struggling with closing the door in the 4th quarter.  In the last two weeks, the Badgers had Michigan State and Minnesota dead to rights before surrendering 2 TDs in 2 minutes to the Spartans and gave up another TD with 2 minutes left against the Gophers.  The other part of it is that the Badgers are incredibly opportunistic.  Their defense has 8 INTs, 7 recovered fumbles and 14 sacks.  They’ll give up the yards (363 a game), but will strike at unfortunate times for their opposition.

When Duff contributed his pre-season preview to this blog in June, he addressed the general mold of the defense.  Alvarez is 4 years removed from the helm of the football team, but the Wisconsin defense still bears his mark.

On defense, the stereotype [of Wisconsin as a large, slow-moving death] doesn’t fit very well. In the late 90s, Barry Alvarez began recruiting smaller faster players on the front seven. Our defensive ends rarely run much bigger than 250, our tackles are generally well shy of 300, and our linebackers tend to run around 220, including in the middle.

This still essentially holds for the 2009 front 7.  J.J. Watt (6’6, 287lbs) — a transfer from Central Michigan — had an aura of excitement around him entering the season, but has not been overpowering.  New Yorker Jeff Stehle is the mammoth defensive tackle at 6’6 310lbs, but he’s joined with the lighter Dan Moore (6’2, 283lbs).  The right end is O’Brien Schofield, all of 6’3 248lbs.  He’s certainly lighter (and a former linebacker), but he’ll command attention from Ohio State’s offensive line.  He already has 26 tackles, 11 TFLs and 4 and a half sacks.  How Ohio State adjusts to Wisconsin’s front four will be made all the more interesting by the possible absences of Jake Ballard, Justin Boren and the guaranteed absence of Andy Miller from the game on Saturday.

I admit I don’t know much about the linebackers, other than that all 3 are sure tacklers and that the starting strongside backer, Mike Taylor, is but a redshirt freshman built like a safety.  He may be the best linebacker of the three (M: Floridian Culmer St. Jean, W: Jaevery McFadden, another Floridian) from what little I’ve seen, though I’ll leave that discussion to a ‘Sconsin fan who may know more about the matter than I do.  His five TFLs, sack, INT and fumble recovery at least serve as corroborating evidence.  Wisconsin’s defense will at times look like a 4-4, because they’ll bring headhunting strong safety Jay Valai with the linebackers.  This will leave open the play-action pass, but Chris Maragos — another directional Michigan school transfer (Western Michigan) — has 3 INTs this year.  There’s the possibility of error for Terrelle Pryor accordingly.  Sophomores Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith — of Florida and Texas respectively — will serve as corners for this game.  Aaron Henryhigh school chum of Brian Rolle — was probably the most promising of the cornerbacks, but he’s never really rebounded from his 2007 ACL injury.

It’s unfortunate that Shane Carter has been indefinitely suspended by Wisconsin because, entering this season, there was the distinct possibility that Duron Carter would have to rock his own uncle.

That’s not exactly the best thought to conclude this post, but really, I got nothing else to add.  Sooo.. umm… yeah.

  1. To be fair to Duff, I did think the linebacker corp would go Homan, Sabino, Moeller, weak to strong. []
  2. …whose last name is always fun to say… []

 

Written by: Vico | full bio

Vico is the nom de guerre of the founder and current website chair of Our Honor Defend. He is currently living in exile in Alabama.

 

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