Friday, October 28, 2011

GAME PREVIEW: ANGRY BADGERS MAY BE TOO MUCH FOR BUCKEYES

COLUMBUS — Ohio State looked as if they were going to have an opportunity to ruin Wisconsin's perfect season this Saturday night in Columbus, just the way the Badgers did to the Buckeyes a year ago in Madison.

Well, that plan has been nixed ... thanks to the Michigan State Spartans.

Last Saturday night in East Lansing, Wisconsin saw their perfect season and possible BCS title hopes go down the drain as the Spartans defeated the Badgers on a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired.

Saying that the defeat was heartbreaking for the Badgers would be a major understatement.

"The plane ride home was extremely quiet, and the bus ride back to the stadium to pick up our cars and our scooters (was quiet as well)," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "A lot of times I'll just have my headphones on, and I popped them off a couple different times expecting to hear some noise. I didn't hear anything.

"I think the kids really absorbed the defeat Saturday night."

You would think a part of the Buckeyes would be upset that Wisconsin lost, being that they are unable now to play spoiler to the Badgers' dream season. On the other hand, with the Badgers falling to Michigan State, the Buckeyes' chances of representing the Leaders division in the Big Ten's inaugural title game have been greatly improved.

So which way was OSU head coach Luke Fickell feeling when Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins' Hail Mary pass ended up in the arms of tight end Keith Nichol?

"I was probably about 45 minutes to an hour into sleep by then," Fickell said. "I did not stay up."

Not everyone was copping shut eye, though.

"I was half awake," OSU junior defensive lineman John Simon laughed. "It was late, but it was a great game. I couldn't fall asleep. The way it ended made it a classic game. I was happy I stayed up. Both teams fought hard. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Michigan State came out with the win."

As for the loss giving the Buckeyes a new lease on life?

"I would say it gave a lot of guys motivation," Simon said. We have to take it one week at a time. We can't get ahead of ourselves or anything like that. Really one practice at a time, make sure we're continuing to get better every week. If we do that, we should be all right."

If the Buckeyes have any hopes for a conference title run, they absolutely cannot look past this week.

You can bet the farm the Badgers won't be.

"I wouldn't expect them to be down one bit," Fickell said of the Badgers. "Obviously it's hard. What's harder? I don't know what you could say is harder. Whether you have a 21-point lead, end up getting rolled, or whether you have a last-second play on the last play of the game.

"A loss is a loss and it's hard no matter how they happen. The sign of a good program is getting back up and continuing to battle. I think that's what you'll see (from Wisconsin). Sometimes that's a wake-up call and burns that fire in your belly a little bit more."

It's bad enough facing a team that has fire in their belly. It's even worse when said team has Russell Wilson at quarterback.

The senior signal caller — who transferred in from North Carolina State — has been nothing short of phenomenal this season for the Badgers, racking up nearly 2,000 total yards (second only to Michigan's Denard Robinson in the Big Ten). He has added 1,780 yards passing (73.2 completion percentage) and 16 touchdowns this season with an efficiency rating of 204.9 (second in FBS). Wilson has also totaled 212 yards and three scores on the ground.

"You've seen what he does on the field," Fickell said of Wilson. "His patience, his cool, calm, collective ability to hold the football, scramble when he needs to. That's been obvious.

"He is a good fit for what they do in their system. I think obviously his maturity and things shows not only in their locker room but on the field."

Wilson isn't the only danger to Ohio State's defense ... junior tailback Montee Ball may be just as troubling.

Ball has been a bully in the backfield this season rushing for 768 yards (6.1 avg.) and 17 touchdowns. His 109.7 yards per game average is tops in the Big Ten. Add in sophomore James White (458 yards, 4 TDs) and it's no wonder why the Badgers are rated eighth in the FBS toting the rock.

"Obviously, they're going to be a little bit of a running-focused team," Fickell said of the Badgers. "I think you see the consistency over the years of what they've been. They haven't changed a whole lot, which means they believe in what they do.

"They recruit it and they do one heck of a job at coaching it."

Bottom Line

One team has balance on offense (Wisconsin), the other simply doesn't.

There is no way the Buckeyes can survive the Badgers this Saturday night completing just one pass in the game like they did against Illinois two weeks ago. The Buckeyes' staff must trust that their true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller can deliver throws down field.

The I-formation power game alone will not work against the Badgers' defense, so they must take the leash off of their young quarterback Saturday night — much like they did at Nebraska on Oct. 8. If they do, they may have a chance.

If they don't, they will certainly fall.

Still haven't seen enough evidence to convince me that the staff will have the trust in Miller to turn him loose again.

Prediction: Wisconsin 30-14