MADISON, Wis. - Last week's unfortunate loss to Michigan definitely dampened Wisconsin's chance at winning the Big Ten title. A loss Saturday night, against No.14 Ohio State, would all but officially eliminate any hopes of a new years trip to California.
The following is a breakdown of Saturday's match-up between the Badgers and Buckeyes:
When Wisconsin has the ball:
Last week, the Badger's bugaboo was dropped passes. Reports have indicated throughout the week that there were seven dropped balls at Michigan, including two that were tipped into the air and intercepted. Well, against Ohio State, that just cannot happen.
UW will get a welcome addition that will do nothing but help the Badger offense when Travis Beckum returns from his hamstring injury, so maybe that will lower the dropped pass ratio.
"Travis has practiced the whole week and obviously will be good to go from the first snap forward," head coach Bret Bielema said Thursday night.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, their other stud tight end Garrett Graham, who leads the team in touchdown receptions, will most likely be roaming the sidelines with a borderline bone fracture in his foot.
"The week going into Michigan game, (he) tried to go, but it wasn't still completely healed," Bielema said. "So hopefully, if he can't go this Saturday, if he can't go tomorrow (Friday), he won't go."
Looking at the Badger running game is somewhat mysterious as P.J. Hill has yet to play against the Buckeye's in his career. Last season, Hill was injured with a thigh bruise and sat out the entire contest at Ohio Stadium.
It will be essential for Hill to utilize his bruising rushing attack and pick up consistent yardage and continually move chains. If not him, it will fall onto the shoulders of Zach Brown and John Clay to keep the Buckeye offense on the sideline and eat up time on the clock with drives that end with touchdowns.
However, moving the ball consistently against OSU's front seven is not nearly as easy to do with the talent they have.
"They got some athletic guys on there, very strong guys" Hill said. "But our guys up front got to hold their own. It's not going to be a cakewalk so we really got to take this week of preparation into consideration and then do the things they have to do."
The Badger wide receivers also have to improve upon their miserable performance in Michigan. The Buckeye defenders know all about Beckum and Hill, but so far the Badger receivers have yet to show anything that opposing defenses should be concerned about. Could the receivers relative unknown work into Wisconsin's favor when it is all said and done? If the receivers catch the ball, it very well could.
Advantage: Ohio State. With no proven passing game, especially with the wide receivers, Ohio State can load the box and make it a tough night for UW.
When Ohio State has the ball:
Since taking over Todd Boeckman's starting role as the main quarterback, Terrelle Pryor has been superb. Granted, his two starts have come against Troy and upstart Minnesota at home, but his exceptional talent to either throw or pass will make it difficult for the Badger defense.
"Pryor is one freaky kid," middle linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. "Six-foot-6, 230 (lbs), you don't see too many quarterbacks like that that can run."
Historically, the Badger defense has struggled against the spread offense. A season ago, the Badgers lost to Illinois, a team featuring a quarterback with a similar playing style. They had a talented running back in Rashard Mendenhall, and their option play torched UW all game long.
Come Saturday, going against Pryor and Chris Wells, the Badgers will have a chance to resurrect their season, no matter how difficult it may be. It all starts up front, the UW defensive line has to control Wells. It is basically a given that he will rack up yards, but containing him and limiting him to short yardage gains will realistically give UW a shot.
If not, the passing game will open up and Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie will expose UW's young secondary and have a big day catching the ball.
Wisconsin is very good under their home lights in night contests. Part of the reason for that success is raucous Badger crowds that give UW players an extra boost. Saturday's game will be the first time OSU has come to Madison since 2003. There is no question, the Badger fans will be ready for a great game.
"It's going to be hot in Camp Randall," safety Jay Valai said. "Everybody is going to be jumping around, it's going to be hot."
Advantage: Push. So far, the Badger defense has worn down in the second half of contests and given up big plays. If the game is close Saturday night, that won't happen simply because the home crowd will not allow it. But, if Ohio State takes the crowd out of the game, it could be a long night for the cardinal and white faithful.
Ohio State's specialists are both fifth year players. But, they have never played at Camp Randall Stadium. Should either one get rattled in the night atmosphere, it could play a major role in the outcome of the game.
UW's Brad Nortman and Philip Welch have been pleasant surprises for UW's special teams units so far. Welch needs to continue his consistency, especially from long distances and Nortman has to get plenty of air under his punts to give his teammates an ample opportunity to get to Ray Small.
An early boost from David Gilreath would be well fitting to get the Badgers some early momentum.
Advantage: Wisconsin at home.
Prediction: This game will be tight throughout. On paper, Ohio State holds the advantage at most skill positions, especially on offense. Therefore, the Badgers will attempt to grind the OSU defense by pounding the ball with Hill, Brown and Clay with hopes of keeping Pryor and Wells on the sideline.
There will be points scored in this game and it will come down to late game possessions. Fortunately, for Wisconsin fans, the Badgers will have the ball last and Welch will hit a 48-yard field goal to win the game 27-24 as time expires.
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