The playoffs are on the line for both the Badgers and Buckeyes as they face off in the Big Ten championship game this week. Many storylines are already playing into the game. Will J.T. Barrett play? Who has the edge in this match up? How will outside distractions affect the game? Here are few things to watch for when the Badgers take on the Buckeyes Saturday night.
Ohio State’s running game is the best in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin is even better at stopping it. With J.T. Barrett‘s status up in the air, the Buckeyes could look to test the Badgers’ run defense. Wisconsin hasn’t allowed a single run of 30+ yards, and their starting inside linebackers both have double-digit run stuffs. But Ohio State is 13th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. The Badgers have limited opposing running backs to a stingy 2.65 yards per attempt. Wisconsin has given up 4 touchdowns on the ground this year and hopes to limit Ohio State, who has 31 rushing touchdowns this year. The most important stat though? The Buckeyes average 250.3 rushing yards per game, and the Badgers only allow rushing 80.5 yards per game. The Badgers are built to stop the run thanks to their impressive defensive line, anchored by junior Olive Sagapolu. In order to keep the offense on the field, the Badgers will need to stop J.K. Dobbins and the rest of the Buckeyes’ backfield.
Wisconsin is a more athletic and complete team than Iowa, who had their way with Ohio State. The Buckeyes only loss against a Big Ten opponent came from a one-sided victory for Iowa. The Hawkeyes beat Ohio State 55-24 in early November. The week after, the Hawkeyes visited the Badgers, who showed them who the better team was. The Badgers play very similar to Iowa and they will need to exploit the Buckeyes just as Iowa did. To be fair, that was not the way Ohio State typically plays, but still the Badgers should be able to manipulate the Buckeyes just as the Hawkeyes did.
Hornibrook will need to look to Taylor and Fumagalli due to Ohio State struggling against tight ends and running backs as pass catchers this season. The wide receivers have been impressive thus far, despite not having Jazz Peavy and Quintez Cephus on the field, but for the best opportunities Hornibrook will need to find Fumagalli and Taylor out of the backfield. Ohio State doesn’t have many weaknesses, but their linebackers struggle defending big pass catchers. Fumagalli will need to help his quarterback out and find ways to get open to give Wisconsin the best chance to win. Jonathan Taylor needs just 119 more yards to become the leading rusher in FBS history, topping Adrian Peterson and Ron Dayne. It’s no secret that Wisconsin’s anchors on offense are Jonathan Taylor and Troy Fumagalli, and in order to win the Big Ten they have to find a way to get involved in the game.
Ohio State’s outside distractions could help Wisconsin. Another thing that could help Wisconsin’s offense? Ohio State’s defensive coordinator is facing some intense backlash this week. Greg Schiano was set to be hired as head coach at Tennessee next season, until students began protesting the hire, due to Schiano’s involvement in the Penn State sexual assault scandal involving Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky. Needless to say, Schiano has been a bit distracted this week, which can only benefit Wisconsin.
Watch for these trends as the Badgers hope to claim the Big Ten title in Indianapolis against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday.