The last time Ohio State saw the ‘motion w’ staring across the field at them in the Big Ten championship game, the result was complete Buckeyes domination en route to a national championship.
The two titans of the Big Ten meet on Saturday for just the second time in the B1G title game, only it is the Badgers with a sure-fire College Football Playoff spot on the line.
Ohio State comes in with two losses, but plenty left to still play for at No. 8 in the country. There’s an outside chance of a playoff spot and certainly a New Years Six bowl game to be played for.
But, none of that happens without a win and how do the Buckeyes get there? Let’s take a look at some of the big keys for the Buckeyes to win.
Get Off to a Fast Start
How do you beat a team that excels in the second half? Crush their dreams early. I know, simple, right?
Sometimes the most obvious answer is also the right answer. In the case of the Buckeyes beating the Badgers, the obvious answer is to get out to a fast start. It’s what OSU does best and takes advantage of a Badgers team that doesn’t score points early and often.
Forcing the Badgers to play from behind by building up a couple score lead in the first quarter would be huge. Now, a 10-point lead or less doesn’t work. Wisconsin has trailed like that in the first half plenty and it mattered none in the end as the Badgers just plugged away and blew away teams in the second half.
Ohio State has to jump on the Badgers with a 14-17 point lead and get them out of the ability to just ball control you to death. Luckily, that is exactly what Ohio State has been good at all season. OSU has scored 24.5 percent of its points in the first quarter this season.
The caveat to all this is that the Badgers defense has been lights out in the first quarter, allowing only 40 points (at least 14 of which came off of pick sixes) to opponents all season.
If the Buckeyes can score points early, it likely means the Badgers recipe for success on both sides of the ball is blown up and that is very much advantage Ohio State.
Make Alex Hornibrook Beat You
Another simple to say, hard to do situation here. Not because Hornibrook is an All-World quarterback, but because many a good defense has tried to take on the Badgers run game and all have really failed to do so. Only three times this season have the Badgers been held under the 200-yard mark as a team on the ground.
So, can the Buckeyes defense do it? If they want to win, they don’t have a choice. Picking between Jonathan Taylor or Alex Hornibrook to beat you should be an easy choice, because Taylor has been the best running back in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation this season, while Hornibrook has been an average or below average quarterback most of the year.
Ironically, one of those games was against Michigan, and in that game it was Hornibrook who helped get Wisconsin over the finish line. But, the devil is in the details as Hornibrook’s raw numbers suggest the formula that should work. He finished the game just 9 of 19 for 143 yards and just one touchdown to one interception.
Ohio State would love to limit Hornibrook to a single touchdown throw and only nine completions. The problem for Michigan in that game is that a lot of his work came when the Badgers needed to move the chains or score points.
The key here is to keep the run game in check, force third down and try to get some pressure on a quarterback who folds like a cheap suit when under said pressure. When you’re making Hornibrook beat you and not the run game, you’re doing it right.
Out-Adjust the Badgers at Halftime
One of the most fascinating and least talked about aspects of this game seems to be the coaching matchup. It’s likely because Ohio State’s Urban Meyer loves a bit of the spotlight and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst isn’t a media darling. But, as far as head coaches go in the Big Ten, you’d be hard-pressed to find two more successful in-game coaches than these two.
All you need to do is look at how the Badgers go in to halftime and dominate opponents out of the break. That isn’t an accident, as Chryst and his coaching staff are masters at making the adjustments needed (however slight) and getting the players to execute well in the second half. UW is outscoring opponents 226 to 58 on the season.
Ohio State isn’t a slouch in that category either though, as the Buckeyes come in to this one scoring a whopping 216 points of their own in the second half of games this season. The only difference comes in Wisconsin’s defense totally dominating the second half on the scoreboard.
Those numbers are a testament to coaches making good moves at the half and putting players in the right spots to be successful. Which coach has the right adjustments and motivations at the half? The answer likely determines the winner on Saturday night.
Winning the Edge on Defense
Wisconsin has perhaps the best left-right tackle tandem in the country in 1st team all-B1G left tackle Michael Dieter and 2nd team selection David Edwards. Ohio State has three of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten though.
Something has to give.
As we’ve talked about already, fast starts and making Hornibrook beat you are keys to Ohio State’s success. Accomplishing those goals means winning the one-on-one battles at the edge of course.
It means setting the edge in the run game so that Taylor doesn’t have an outlet to break away from runs that were supposed to be going inside. It also means getting to and rattling Hornibrook, as that seems to be when he looses confidence and makes the majority of his mistakes.
That’s an easy concept to think of, but given the Badgers offensive line just put four of five starters on the All-Big Ten team it won’t be an easy task on the field. Wisconsin gave up the fewest sacks of any team in the Big Ten this season at 17.0, while Ohio State was just fifth in the Big Ten with 34.0 sacks as a team.
Win the Battle of the Freshmen
While we talked about one of the untold stories in this game already, there’s a second one few are talking about and that is the effect of freshmen on both the Buckeyes and Badgers this season.
If it wasn’t going to be Jonathan Taylor winning all the awards this season, it likely would’ve been Ohio State’s own star freshman running back, J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins has been no slouch himself, putting up the second most yards in the conference at 1,190 and also scoring seven touchdowns.
Dobbins is the home run hitter that the Badgers really haven’t seen at running back so far this season. Can he be the one to finally crack the code of a Badgers defense that has allowed just four teams, let alone players, go for over 100 yards? Or will Taylor win the day? If Dobbins is getting noticed in a good way it bodes well.
Then there’s the other position that will be telling — wide receiver. Wisconsin is without its star sophomore, Quintez Cephus, who was lost for the season earlier in the year after posting a great start. In his place has stepped a pair of freshmen in Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor. Can the Buckeyes shut those guys down, especially on big downs where both have shined late in the season?
Davis and Pryor have combined for just 28 receptions so far this season, but Davis has had 11 of his 18 receptions in the last four games, while Pryor has posted five of his 10 in that same time frame. Ohio State’s secondary has come on well as the season has gone on for the most part. Can they continue that trend and make Wisconsin’s freshmen look like freshmen?
If Dobbins can win vs. Taylor and OSU’s secondary shut down UW’s freshmen wide receivers it would be huge on Saturday night.