We continue our summer series with a preview of Ohio State’s Big Ten opener versus the Wisconsin Badgers. Our staff has already gone into great detail about the 2013 Ohio State football team over the past two days so I will focus primarily on Wisconsin.
The Ohio State/Wisconsin game has truly become the most significant rivalry in the Big Ten over the last six or seven years. Between basketball and football it seems as if these two teams are always competing for the Big Ten crown. With Gary Andersen as the new head coach for Wisconsin and Urban Meyer at the helm for Ohio State, this rivalry should continue to improve.
Ohio State 12-0 (8-0 B1G)
Wisconsin 8-6 (4-4 B1G)
Wisconsin fans cannot be proud of the way they fell into the Big Ten Championship Game last season. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for post-season play, Wisconsin snuck into the Big Ten Championship Game, despite having an inferior record and losing to both of those teams during the regular season. Ohio State finished the season a perfect 12-0 but was forced to watch the Big Ten Championship Game from home due to sanctions imposed by the NCAA. Wisconsin went on to beat Nebraska and play in the Rose Bowl against Stanford where they lost for the third straight season.
Although Andersen is a defensive minded coach, it is his offense that has opposing Big Ten coaches putting in extra hours in the film room. Wisconsin has traditionally been a team that prefers a power running game, primarily out of the I-formation. Andersen will implement a spread attack with several different option packages to choose from. Similar to what Urban Meyer has done at Ohio State, Andersen will mold his offense around his power backs while they are still enrolled at Wisconsin but he will begin recruiting smaller, more dynamic running backs as he transitions to a full spread attack.
This season Wisconsin loses Montee Ball at running back but returns James White and Melvin Gordon. White rushed for 1,000 yards during his freshman campaign in 2010 (sore subject for Buckeyes fans) and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He has racked up over 1,500 yards in 2011 and 2012 combined, and is looking to finish his career in Madison with a breakout season in 2013.
Despite White’s tremendous career with the Badgers, fans feel that Melvin Gordon is the diamond in the rough for this Wisconsin offense. Gordon racked up over 600 yards last year as a redshirt freshman while backing up James White and Montee Ball. Gordon’s 621 yards, however, came on only 60 carries! His 10 yards per carry were good enough to lead the entire nation.
Jared Abbrederis returns for his senior season and will look to improve on his 837 receiving yards from 2012. He doubled up as a punt returner last year while being named to the first team All-Big Ten squad as a WR. Abbrederis is the only true threat at wide receiver and his numbers could suffer due to a mediocre group of quarterbacks fighting to earn the starting nod. Wisconsin returns all three (starting) quarterbacks from 2012 but the coaching staff has yet to find one that has blown them away. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips will fight for the starting job with Stave holding the obvious advantage.
Wisconsin consistently has one of the best offensive lines in the nation so it will be interesting to see if this remains the case with the departure of Bret Bielema. They lost two 1st team All-Big Ten offensive linemen to the 2013 NFL draft with Center, Travis Frederick being the only Big Ten player to be taken in the first round. This group will struggle early but should adapt as the season progresses under the leadership of the three returning starters.
Ohio State’s offense should be running on all cylinders by the time Big Ten play opens up. Carlos Hyde will be the primary ball carrier at this point and the freshmen play-makers will be acclimated to Meyer’s offense. Braxton Miller should have minimal difficulty passing on Wisconsin’s inexperienced defensive backfield. Miller and Hyde will force Wisconsin to respect the run and we should see several big passing plays out of Miller. Barring any injuries or legal issues, I fully expect Ohio State to put up 30+ points against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s defensive line should be decent as they return two of their top starters from 2012. Wisconsin is fortunate to have one of the best linebackers in the nation, Chris Borland, backing up their defensive line. Borland was named a first team, All-Big Ten linebacker each of the last two seasons despite being banged up throughout 2012. The Buckeyes dodged a bullet as Borland was injured prior to Ohio State heading into Madison to take on Wisconsin last season.
As mentioned above, Wisconsin will struggle against the Buckeyes due in large part to the Badgers’ weak defensive backfield. They only return one starter in their last line of defense and will have to rely on the linebackers and defensive line to apply pressure early and often.
It will be interesting to see how Ohio State’s young defensive front seven fares against Wisconsin’s power running game. James White and Melvin Gordon will be the two toughest running backs that Ohio State sees all season. If the Buckeyes’ defensive line and linebackers don’t catch their stride during the non-conference schedule, I could easily see Wisconsin rushing for over 200 yards on September 28th.
Ohio State’s defensive backfield should have no trouble shutting down Wisconsin’s passing game. Fickell and Withers will be sure to keep a close eye on Jared Abbrederis, leaving the Badgers with no other threats through the air.
Love him or hate him, Bret Bielema was a phenomenal coach for the Wisconsin Badgers. He was able to provide continuity to the legacy that Barry Alvarez built over his 16 seasons in Madison. Bielema finished his career at Wisconsin with a 37-19 record and was crowned the Big Ten champion in each of the last three seasons.
Gary Andersen was named Bielema’s successor on December 20, 2012. Andersen spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Utah State where he finished his final season, in 2012, with an 11-2 record. Luke Fickell should be grateful that Andersen stayed at Utah State because it has been rumored that Urban Meyer wanted to bring Gary Andersen to Ohio State to serve as the defensive coordinator.
Urban Meyer clearly has the coaching edge but it is always scary when you have to face someone who is familiar with your system. Gary Anderson served as Meyer’s defensive line coach at Utah in 2004 where they finished the season with an unblemished record. This being said, I am not concerned with Meyer’s ability to out-coach Andersen and get the win.
A night game, on the road in Columbus will be too much for Gary Andersen to overcome in his first year with the Badgers. This Ohio State team has too many weapons on offense and shouldn’t have too much difficulty scoring on Wisconsin’s defense. Andersen will be a force to be reckoned with as he continues to implement his system in Wisconsin but it won’t be until year two or three that he becomes a headache for Urban Meyer.
Ohio State 34 – Wisconsin 17