Title-minded Wisconsin senses must-win against Ohio State
Wisconsin faces an early elimination game against No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
The No. 8 Badgers are rested after a bye week and, after a seven-point loss to Michigan, Wisconsin could be scratched off the contender list for the College Football Playoff at midseason with a second defeat.
Ohio State has become so accustomed to success that a 21-point win for the Buckeyes can be framed as only a moderate success.
Such was the case after second-ranked Ohio State's 38-17 win over Indiana on Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes were good, but not as good as they had been in their first four games of the season.
The Buckeyes will file away the victory and move on to a more formidable challenge on Saturday (8 p.m., ABC) in a Big Ten showdown at No. 8 Wisconsin, which had a bye last week after losing for the first time this season the previous week at No. 4 Michigan in a hard-fought 14-7 decision.
The Hoosiers came ready to play and challenged the Buckeyes for much of the afternoon, but in the end they couldn't match Ohio State's superior talent.
For the first time this season, Ohio State didn't move the ball as efficiently as it had done against the likes of Oklahoma and Rutgers. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was limited to 93 yards passing, completing just 9 of 21 throws, and was forced to run 26 times for 137 yards to help the offense get some traction against Indiana.
The Buckeyes' game plan was to hit some deep balls to loosen up the Hoosiers' defense, but Barrett either misfired, receivers ran bad routes or the coverage blanketed his wideouts, forcing his excessive number of runs. He also faced some pressure from the Indiana pass rush that the offensive line at times found difficult to contain.
“We're going to go to the drawing board and clean it up next week,” Ohio State freshman running back Mike Weber said. “Eliminate (mistakes) and get bigger wins.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, though, isn't going to worry too much about Barrett taking off with the ball considering his dynamic playmaking ability that's reminiscent of Braxton Miller a few years ago.
“I'll tell you, it's part of playing quarterback in this offense. You're one of the best players in the country, we're going to play you and use you and do what you do well,” Meyer said. “We're aware of (the number of rushes) and have to be somewhat intelligent about how we do it, but go win the game.”
Meanwhile, the defense continues to play at a high level. Ohio State forced two turnovers, including safety Malik Hooker's fourth interception of the season, and made some key stops. The biggest was a stop inside the 5-yard line in the second half with Indiana threatening to make it a seven-point game.
The Buckeyes realize they have to play better this week than they did against Indiana.
“Outstanding. The typical Wisconsin,” Meyer said. “I think it goes back to (former) Coach (Barry) Alvarez and what he's built up there. I think Coach (Paul) Chryst … I can push play and see it's one of the best coached teams in the United States of America. Very good players. They have their niche.”
Playing at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison is never easy. The fans are hostile and Wisconsin will be gunning to knock off Ohio State, which lost there as recently as 2010.
Wisconsin is in the midst of the rigorous part of its Big Ten schedule. Coming off a bye week after the tough loss at Michigan and facing the prime-time matchup with Ohio State on Saturday, the Badgers travel to Iowa the following week and then return home to face Nebraska.
“I think we're all excited (to face Ohio State at night),” Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “It's going to be an awesome atmosphere here at night in front of our fans. I can't wait to play.”
Hornibrook, a first-year starter, will have his work cut out for him against the Ohio State defense, which is ranked in the top 10 statistically in every major category. He had trouble against Michigan, completing just 9 of 25 passes for 88 yards and threw three interceptions.
“This will be another new challenge, a new experience for him,” Chryst said. “But I'm very confident that he'll be himself and that's a good thing.”
Wisconsin is known for its smash-mouth style featuring outstanding running backs in recent years such as Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon. But the Badgers are eighth in the Big Ten in rushing at 161.6 yards per game and the Buckeyes are No. 2 in the conference defending the run, which means Wisconsin could have trouble establishing a ground game.
“It is a good scheme, sound,” Chryst said of Ohio State's defense. “And they've got guys that play it well. And I think they are playing with confidence.”
Defensively, the Badgers get after opponents. In the loss to Michigan, their defense neutralized a Wolverines offense that piled up 77 points against Rutgers last week. Wisconsin held Michigan to one touchdown until the fourth quarter when the Wolverines scored the winning points.
“They're outstanding. They're what they've been,” Meyer said. “It's amazing that they've had coach transition. They've changed defensive coordinators and it's a very similar defense. It's Wisconsin's defense. I like that. I like the fact that we change coordinators on offense, it's Ohio State's offense, so Wisconsin you've got to give the leadership a lot of credit. One of the best teams in America.”