I love it when the Wisconsin-Ohio State game rolls around. The Badgers have always been a thorn in the side of the Buckeyes, so this Wolverine fan always has an extra snap in his step when the Badgers are about to play the Buckeyes, because the chances of a Buckeye loss are just a little bit higher. And those are odds we’ll take everytime, right? From huge November upsets in the Earle Bruce era that knocked the Bucks out of Rose Bowl races to fun results in the Cooper tenure like the 42-17 win in 1999 that featured 42 straight Badgers points to the fact that no Big 10 team beat the Vest more often than Wisco, including last year’s win over the last Buckeye team ranked #1 with Jim Tressel as their coach. I dont know if anyone not named Michigan has more than the 11 wins the Badgers have over Ohio State in my lifetime as a fan. The SEC as a conference, maybe, but not any individual team. So, the Bucks historic bugaboo comes calling this weekend, rolling into town smarting with a major attitude after being upset on the final play of the game against MSU a week ago. The Badgers can exact some revenge against Sparty in the Big 10 Title Game in December, but they cant afford anymore losses and certainly not one while heavily favored against a struggling OSU outfit..
This was supposed to a red letter day, circled on the calendar as the de facto division championship. But, with the, uh, “challenges” of OSU this offseason and this fall, they come in with three losses already and are the decided underdog in this one. The Badgers have always been favored in this 2011 matchup. When oddsmakers finally released lines on Ohio State games back in August, they installed the Badgers as short, 3-point favorites. Obviosly, this line spent the first half of the season growing as it became apparent how impotent the Buckeye offense was and how dominant the Badgers looked. The line peaked at -13.5 two weeks ago, but since then Ohio State rallied for a nice looking win over Illinois and Michigan State punctured everybody’s vision of an unbeatable Badger squad. Now that its game week, the line has settled at Wisco -7.5, basically right in between the summer odds and the height Badger chalkiness.
Its been one of the worst seasons in a long time for Ohio State. A loss in this one eliminates anyone who bet the Over on OSU wins this year…….before October ends. I dont know about Columbus, but thats a fireable offense south of the Mason Dixon Line. I’d look out if I were you, Coach Fickell. But it hasnt all been bad. Heck, win this game and you can make a case that they will end up as the Legends East Division Champ. If they win out and Penn State losses one more time in addition to the Bucks at the ‘Shoe next month–and the Nits do have a trip to Madison in November–then Ohio State will make an unlikely appearance in Indianapolis and play in the first league title game. Their November slate is IU, at Purdue, PSU and at Michigan, so its not like they’re going to be totally overmatched in any of those games
Based on their defense, they wont be overmatched at all. I still feel their linebackers arent at the high Buckeye level we’re used to, their secondary is on the young side and they’ve been without pass rushing stud Nathan Williams all season, but look at the production of the stop unit they have put out there. They’re still playing at a high level, or at least high enough to win games in the 2011 Big 10. Their 9th in the country in defensive efficiency, per the Fremeau Efficiency Index. They’re similarly ranekd 9th in two key stats within the index, value drives allowed and available yards gained. Translated, they are a very difficult defense to sustain drives of length against. Or, your typical performing Buckeye defense. However, they are only 5th or 4rth in the Big 10 in most every traditional defensive metric. So, its a good, but maybe not a vintage, dominant Ohio State defense.
And thats what the Buckeyes need to pull this game out, so I dont think its good enough to win this game. I cant shake the recollection of an average Miami team running the ball consistently down the Bucks throats with Lamar Miller. This rushing attack for Wisconsin is so much better and ruthlessly physical compared to the Miami outfit and is paced by Montee Ball, perhaps the best tailback in the Big 10. This is an elite offense, and if OSU’s linebackers continue to show ‘meh’ ability at reading, reacting and pursuing, then its going to be a long day filled with Badger runs of 7-12 yards. Plus, the quarterbacking of Wilson. I just think there will be too much for Ohio State to overcome. The defense can keep this game close, but scoring will happen and can the Buckeye offense respond, especially if they get behind? MSU was able to take Wisco’s opening punch or two because they could pass the ball with Cousins and had playmakers elsewhere on offense. When we last saw OSU, they were winning, but doing so by completing just a single pass. You can do that against the solid middle class of this league, but not against its best teams.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that Michigan had no chance to beat Michigan State because they just werent a complete team. The same goes for the Buckeyes in this match. They’re just the 81st ranked team in officiency efficiency, slotted as the 99th and 103rd “best” team in the nation in those drive/yard charting stats touted above for their defense. Ohio State is just the 89th ranked scoring offense in the nation. Half their points this season came against Akron and Colorado, two of the worst teams in the lan, period. In the rest of their games, the Bucks have managed just 14.8 points per game. I feel confident Wisconsin will pierce the OSU defense enough to exceed 20 points. I dont see the evidence where Ohio State can even hope to get out of the teens against a team of quality. And dont say Nebraska. We’ve been writing and chirping on podcasts all season about the Blackshirts being surprisingly mediocre on defense all season.
Here’s how it goes down. It stays tight, the Bucks might even forge a halftime lead. But the second half is all Badgers, that 1-2 running punch of Ball and White acting as a slow ether on the Buckeyes and their crowd. I think Ohio State can make enough stands against Wilson’s passing to force enough field goals where the spread remains in doubt well into the fourth. Wiscosin will hold a 19-13 lead before a strangling the game to death on a typical 9-play, 80 yard touchdown drive, pushing the game outside the number in the waning minutes. Fickell will have used his timeouts this go around, so Ohio State will get the ball back. But Braxton Miller’s final effort to get Ohio State the back door cover will not end well, or cross midfield. Wisconsin subdues the Bucks, 26-13 and Montee Ball goes Over whatever total prop makers have set for him.