Who: No.5 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0) vs. .No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1)
When: December 6th at 8:17 PM ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
The week leading up to the Big 10 Championship has not gone to script for the Buckeyes, who lost their second Heisman candidate quarterback in three months and are mourning the tragic death of fellow teammate Kosta Karageorge.
Ohio State’s players will be wearing a sticker with Karageorge’s number (53) on their helmets to honor the walk-on defensive lineman, and a moment of silence will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium before the game. In the face of such heightened turmoil, the Buckeyes can come together as a team, or succumb to the excuses already in place for them and crumble.
Awaiting that verdict on the field are the Wisconsin Badgers, who boast the best runner in college football, and a vaunted defensive, which ranks second in the country. Will the Buckeyes be able to rally behind their third-string quarterback and secure the Big10 crown, which eluded them a year ago, or will Melvin Gordon make yet another statement in his pursuit of the Heisman trophy and lead the Badgers to their fourth conference title in the last five years?
Below are the keys for the Buckeyes to ensure the former.
Slow Gordon’s Roll
No one expects Ohio State to shut down Melvin Gordon, but slowing him down can limit his impact on the game. Let’s look at just how dominate Gordon has been this season.
- Leads the nation with 2,260 yards rushing, which is already the fourth-best season mark in NCAA history.
- Has rushed for 26 touchdowns and has caught 3 more.
- Averages 8 yards a rush on 283 carries.
- Has rushed for 200+ yards five times this year, including a then record-breaking performance of 408 yards against Nebraska.
Those numbers are scary, but there is hope for the Buckeyes. Last year, Ohio State was among the only teams in the country to bottle up Gordon when he rushed for just 74 yards, as the Buckeyes beat the Badges 31-24.
A performance similar to the one a year ago will require Ohio State’s rush defense to improve quite a bit in just a week. The Big10 is loaded at running back, and many have already posted big numbers against OSU. Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford gained 145 and three touchdowns, David Cobb of Minnesota racked up 147 yards and three end zone visits, and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman put up a massive 228 yards and three scores. Even TTUN’s Drake Johnson found success rushing for 76 yards and a couple touchdowns before being injured.
So why should Buckeye fans be optimistic? Because Wisconsin is truly a one-trick pony, and that leads to my next point.
Force the Pass
Wisconsin has started two quarterbacks this season after last year’s starter, Joel Stave, came down with a case of the “Yips,” which I don’t know what that means, but everyone else has been saying it, so I figured I should too. (According to Wikipedia, the Yips are an apparent loss of motor skills). The season began with Tanner McEvoy, but the Badgers have come back to Stave. Combined, the two quarterbacks have thrown for just over 1,700 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
Stave seems to have settled in a bit, but has benefited from an effective play-action game thanks to Gordon’s ability to run. The Buckeyes must find a way to force Wisconsin into throwing situations, so their opportunistic secondary, who leads the Big 10 in interceptions, can make plays.
Buckeye fans may remember the performance Jared Abbrederis put up last year when Ohio State was able to slow down Gordon, and think this may not be the best strategy, but Wisconsin lacks a receiver with that kind of talent. The Badgers leading pass-catcher is sophomore Alex Erickson, who has hauled in only 651 yards and three scores this season. Doran Grant has proven his ability against much better talent this season (MSU’s Tony Lippett), and should perform well on an island.
Cardale Jones is attempting to fill two massive pairs of shoes on Saturday, but it is important he not press to make plays. Wisconsin boasts the second-ranked pass defense in the country, but that’s mostly because they have faced teams who can’t pass. Jones simply needs to get the ball in the hands of his play-makers and let them do the work. The Badgers leading tackler is their strong safety Michael Caputo, who is constantly making plays on the opposition’s running back, but he has proven vulnerable to play action. His propensity to get sucked up to the line of scrimmage can open up short, easy passes to the likes of Jeff Heuerman and Ezekiel Elliot.
Jones received valuable time with the first team before the season began, played an entire half against Illinois, which saw him complete a nice touch pass to Dontre Wilson for a score, and has learned behind JT Barrett all season.
He is 6’5”, 250 pounds, which makes him difficult to bring down. He will make plays in the run game, and hopefully find an opportunity or two to unleash his cannon of an arm (potentially on the first play). He simply needs to play within himself, and the much-improved offensive line needs to give him time to throw.
Yes, everyone is excited for the former all-state quarterback to take snaps on Saturday, and even Urban Meyer said he has been working on things in that regard, but his impact on the game goes far beyond that. Marshall’s ability to make plays on the edge, in space, from the backfield, and special teams will have a massive impact on this game. If Marshall is able to secure the football all game, I expect a big play from him to swing the outlook.
Wisconsin has surrendered 24 points in their last three games against lesser offenses than Ohio State, but I will stick with that number, as the Buckeyes find a way to hold Melvin Gordon under 150 yards and capitalize on a costly Joel Stave turnover.
Buckeyes Win 24-20
Cover Photo: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
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