Buckeyes brace for Wisky run game
For No. 3 Ohio State, Saturday brings not only the Big Ten opener and potentially a divisional championship game. For a still unproven Buckeye defensive front seven, it finally brings a real test.
No. 24 Wisconsin ranks third nationally in rushing offense at 349.75 yards per game, second at 7.99 yards per carry and third in rushing touchdowns with 15. The Badgers have a new coach and might still have a question mark at quarterback, but their goal remains to run the ball. Through four games, they've run it very well.
Melvin Gordon leads the nation at 156 yards per game and is tied for third with seven touchdowns. Gordon has 53 carries and is averaging 11.77 yards per carry. James White leads the Badgers in attempts (61) and has run for 442 yards and three touchdowns, and freshman Corey Clement has run for 334 yards and four touchdowns.
"I know we've had coverings about this outfit before, because the run game's real," Meyer said. "You get embarrassed real fast like a lot of teams if you're not gap sound and handling your business."
Recent Ohio State teams have had poor tackling habits, and some of those showed up two weeks ago in a wild shootout at Cal. That was against Cal's no-huddle spread offense, though, and the Badgers will have a much different plan of attack with a power game.
"Our front seven has not received a challenge yet like this one," Meyer said. "Cal was a tremendous challenge but that was more we were playing dime defense and it was all about pass rush. We are really hoping to get Adolphus (Washington) back. You have two backs averaging I think 150 each, and this will be the biggest challenge to this point, maybe the rest of the year, for our defensive front seven."
Meyer said Washington is probable for Saturday and defensive tackle Michael Bennett will be back after sitting last week due to a stinger. Meyer said Washington's groin injury has been "lingering" but that Washington is feeling much better. Linebacker Ryan Shazier is Ohio State's only returning front seven starter.
FULLY LOADED: Ohio State can run the ball, too, and with Carlos Hyde back from suspension and Braxton Miller looking likely to return, the Buckeyes will have their top two rushers from 2012 back and in the same backfield for the first time this season.
All Jordan Hall has done in four games is run for eight touchdowns, tied for the national lead, while freshman speedster Dontre Wilson has carved out a role for himself in stretching defenses -- something that could be even more effective if Hyde can get rolling between the tackles.
"The expectation level on offense is real high," Meyer said. "We have some weapons, you know? I kind of like where we're at. It's just a matter of our staff putting them together at the same time and getting them healthy and making sure they're in great shape."
The Buckeyes rank sixth nationally with 311 rushing yards per game and fourth in scoring at 52.5 points per game. Ohio State is one of eight teams nationally that have not trailed in a game through the first four weeks of the season.
LOOKING AHEAD: Saturday's game vs. Wisconsin kicks off at 8 p.m. with a national broadcast, and the Big Ten announced that Ohio State's next game, at No. 16 Northwestern on Oct. 5, will also start at 8 p.m. ET and be broadcast by ABC. Ohio State will also host Penn State in an Oct. 26 night game.
Big Ten teams do not play night games in November. The Dec. 7 Big Ten Championship game is at night but will be played inside in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Northwestern is off this week and will be the first of four Ohio State opponents to play the Buckeyes with an extra week of rest. Ohio State is off the weekend following the Northwestern game.
SITTING OUT: Ohio State emptied the bench last weekend against Florida A&M, and though Meyer is fond of saying he doesn't recruit players with the intent of redshirting them, those who didn't play in that game are likely headed for a redshirt season.
"They're on call," Meyer said of the potential redshirts. "They're ready to go but they won't be used in mop-up time. (If) we lose a couple of players like we did on the defensive line, like Michael Hill did, you're ready to go. We don't really redshirt but there are some guys that could be fine players down the road that I just didn't want to burn a year to get them five or 10 plays, so that's the decision we made."