One would hope that the 2010 Buckeyes will not have to worry about contaminated water and water-borne intestinal disorders against the Badgers. Instead, we will definitely have to worry about the on-field product provided by Bret Bielema. They are previewed below.
The Badgers are quarterbacked by 5th year senior Scott Tolzien (#16), who we exposed last year as being unloved by his teammates. His two pick-sixes last year were the difference in a game where our offense mustered only 10 points. Such a performance can only be seen as an unqualified failure in an offensed coordinated by Paul Chryst. Chryst does not expect his quarterbacks to be gamechangers, per se. Rather, they are expected to manage the game and minimize mistakes during the course of the game. So far, he’s been up to the task, benefiting from the experience he gained last year as a debutante at starting quarterback. The big problems last year (sacks and interceptions) have been reduced, but a subpar outing in a loss at East Lansing still stands out. He went 11/27 for 127 yards and 1 TD in the 34-24 loss to Sparty. Contrast that with the 19/25 for 246 yards and a touchdown in the 20-19 nailbiter at home against Arizona State.
The offense is built on power-running, and John Clay (#32) provides that. You may remember John Clay as the 6’1, 248lb bowling ball that gashed us en route to Wisconsin’s go-ahead score against us in 2008. He was only a redshirt freshman then and has since become the conference’s scariest tailback. However, the years have not been too kind to John Clay. Subsequent ankle problems, and their corollary surgeries, have cost him a few dimensions in the ground game. When the offensive line creates running lanes for him (as is often the case), he’s the stuff nightmares are made of. He makes plenty of rumbly and smashy noises en route to first downs and touchdowns and is incredibly difficult to bring down with a defensive back. When defensive lines are able to squeeze the line and collapse it, Clay is forced to bounce outside where he becomes a waiting target for a TFL or otherwise negative play. Clay is not 100 percent (but still very effective this season), prompting the use of other tailbacks in important stretches. James White (#20) is a freshman out of the St. Thomas Aquinas program in Florida and is his main substitute. Montee Ball (#28), a sophomore, will see important snaps as well. The Badgers don’t lose a lot in production from Clay to White. Clay has 692 yards (6.02ypc) and 9 touchdowns. White has 485 yards (7.70ypc) and 8 touchdowns. Stopping them is key.
The key to any successful offense built on power-running is containing backside pursuit, else the numerical advantage shifts to the defense. The Badgers have two such mechanisms for this, both relying on a quality receiver corp: play-action and fly sweeps (end-arounds). Buckeye fans are likely aware of David Gilreath (#85), who is, by far, the most annoying player on this team for the Buckeye fan. The end-arounds with the speedy Gilreath work because Wisconsin’s conventional ground game necessitates defenses like ours to use their base 4-3. We will see more Andrew Sweat on the field than Christian Bryant. It is easier to stretch a 4-3 horizontally, and Sweat will be challenged.
His end-arounds against us in 2008 (and to a lesser extent in 2009) sustained drives and gave an important spark to their offense that had mixed success between the tackles early into the game. Gilreath got concussed against San Jose State, prompting him to miss the San Jose State and Austin Peay games. However, his overall use in the running game (on end-arounds) seems to have diminished over the years (thank God). He nearly broke our back with them in 2008, tallying 285 yards on 25 attempts that entire season. He got only 75 yards on 19 carries in 2009. He only has 3 attempts so far this season. Don’t let that fool you. I’m fully expecting David Gilreath End Around Mania to try to run wild on the Silver Bullets this game. I’m also fully expecting to curse Gilreath’s name a few times as well.
Quality receivers complement Gilreath’s end-arounds, though Gilreath will also be utilized in the vertical passing game. Wisconsin, more than any other Big Ten program, gets a lot of mileage out of their tight ends. Lance Kendricks (#84) was the one you saw turning heads receiving passes downfield and abusing Hurricane defenders in last year’s bowl game. Last year, he shared time with Garrett Graham. Now, it’s his show at the tight end position. Beyond just being a vital part of the offense, he’s the team’s leading receiver. His 25 catches, 391 yards and 3 TDs are all clear team bests. Nick Toon (#1), son of Al Toon, and Isaac Anderson (#6) round out the receiving corp on a team that likes using 3 WR sets. Toon missed some time this season due to injury, but will be back in time for us.
Wisconsin’s offensive line is mammoth and will likely be the biggest we see this season. They may be the most talented as well. A lot of these names will look familiar. Gabe Carimi (#68) is still the left tackle. John Moffitt (#74) still lines up to him at left guard. Sophomore Peter Konz (#66) returns to center and Kevin Zeitler (#70) is still there at right guard. In fact, the only difference in this year’s unit compared to the one we saw last year in Columbus is at right tackle. Josh Oglesby (#67) is still around, but his injuries have limited him. Sophomore Ricky Wagner (#58) will start. This unit has a lot of experience and the left side of the line in particular is strong. Still, like most beefy offensive lines, Badger fans know that overall mass does not necessarily equate to excellence in pass protection. 3rd and long are ideal situations for Ohio State’s defense.
I’m at a bit of a loss in trying to summarize Wisconsin’s defense overall. They have good overall numbers, but something seems wrong. Star linebacker Chris Borland‘s season-ending injury is a huge loss. The Badgers lost three of their starting four defensive linemen from 2009, including the uber-talented pass-rusher O’Brien Schofield. Losing both defensive tackles, Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore, hurts. The 300lb Stehle in particular was a huge loss. Replacing Stehle and Moore inside are Patrick Butryum (#95) and Jordan Kohout (#91). Butryum saw important spot duty last year as a sophomore, but is still relatively inexperienced. Kohout is definitely inexperienced; he’s a redshirt freshman. While both are serviceable players at this high level, they lack the ability to collapse a pocket or eat space in the ground game. They have the requisite pride to not be pushed around, but this is not the strength of the defense. This is where Borland is missed. Quality linebacker play neutralizes this deficiency in the defensive line (see: Laurinaitis, James). O’Brien Schofield is a hard guy to replace, though Louis Nzegwu (#93) has been up to the task. He is seventh on the team in tackles (23) and 3rd in TFLs (4.5). Considering him and, of course, JJ Watt (#99, the star of the unit and Central Michigan transfer), we will get a very good test for Adams and Shugarts/Norwell.
Chris Borland is done for the season, putting a greater burden on middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean (#15). There’s been considerable experimentation with the linebacking crew as a result of Borland’s injury, but St. Jean is who we will see inside. Mike Taylor (#53) has held his position at outside linebacker, having to replace the graduated Jaevery McFadden. Senior Blake Sorenson (#9), a longtime special teamer with spot starts at linebacker, has had to step into the void created by Borland’s injury. Here’s the problem for Wisconsin’s linebacking crew: Borland was their do-it-all guy. He was the linebacker that created pressure on blitzes and could be relied to help stuff the run. The Badgers have not been able to replace his ability to blitz with Sorensen and St. Jean has largely been ineffective in this task (only .5 TFL). It’s been a source of consternation for defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who has resorted to using defensive lineman David Gilbert (#11) for that purpose in specific circumstances.
Wisconsin’s secondary has one name we all know: Jay Valai (#2). The diminutive headhunting strong safety is, well, a jerk. In the 2008 encounter, he was the one that concussed Dane Sanzenbacher, leading to his fumble. He was also the one that knocked Dan Herron out cold on what looked to be a cheap shot: you know, just him being a jerk. He is joined at free safety by Aaron Henry (#7), a high school chum of Brian Rolle. Henry’s Facebook status with his ACL is listed as “complicated”, and injuries to that particular ligament have prevented him from reaching his true potential. Wisconsin has tiny cornerbacks, but they, like the safeties, can cover. Antonio Fenelus (#26) is a junior, starting five games last year. Likewise, Niles Brinkley (#29) is a senior, and started six games last year. Both are 5’9/10, 190lbs.
Wisconsin win this game if… John Clay has 100 yards or Clay and White combine for ~150. Michigan State is the only team on the season to hold John Clay under 100 yards. He had 80 yards on 17 carries. James White had 98 yards and 2 TDs on 10 carries. If you presented me with a similar statistic in Sunday’s box score and asked me to guess who won, I would have to say Wisconsin. The Badgers ended up losing that game against Sparty, but a similar performance, at home, against an Ohio State defense that prides itself on stuffing the run would ease the pressure on Tolzien and keep the ball rolling for the Badgers. They would be really, really tough to beat under those circumstances.
Ohio State wins this game if… Pryor runs for 100 yards or throws for 250. Wisconsin’s defense is a tough one to accurately explain. They have talent and they’ve lost talent. They have glaring inexperience, and yet plenty of experience in the secondary (the strength of the defense). Even then, the secondary fails them and struggled against Minnesota. They are 22nd against the rush and 54th against the pass, and they haven’t seen the best of competition1. Their best win was Arizona State, who went to the wire with them and prepared for them by facing two 1-AA teams before the Week 3 matchup. ASU has won only one game since, against lowly Washington.
Getting Herron (or someone, please) to get at least 75 yards rushing against the Badgers defense would really help. Michigan State’s Edwin Baker and Leveon Bell ran for 87 yards and 75 yards against them respectively. 5’10 190lb Arizona State freshman Deantre Lewis had 122 yards against them on 9 carries. They can be run on. If not Herron (or someone, please), then Pryor moving the chains with his feet and arms will get a Wisconsin defense — one that struggles with getting pressure and down their stud linebacker — a little anxious. Pryor getting at or close to 100 yards rushing is no guarantee that he will also throw for 200 or so, but I think he is capable of that this game. I really like our matchups in the secondary and I think Posey will get open. Stoneburner is back and provides a matchup problem for Wisconsin. If Pryor is mobile enough to run, I’m expecting his legs will provide an extra dimension, not compensate for one. Even if we get Pocket Pryor this game, a potential 250 yard (or more) game should come with a few key drive-extending (and sack/TFL-avoiding) runs and put Ohio State’s offense in a position to get points.
Elsewhere, Wisconsin has struggled with kick and punt coverage, taking the banner of putrid special teams play from us. Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry are just itching to house one. You can see it. I really hope to see them get that breakthrough against the Badgers. There are a lot of things I’d love to see against Wisconsin, but Pryor carrying the Buckeyes is ultimately how I see a Buckeye victory coming into fruition (should we get one, please).
- I know, and neither have we. [↩]