Friday, October 3, 2008

Game of the Week: Ohio St. @ Wisconsin

WHEN: 8:00 PM * TV: ABC


THE 73RD MEETING between Ohio State (4-1) and Wisconsin (3-1) will mark the first time the Buckeyes visit Camp Randall Stadium since October, 2003. This promises to be a highly-contested battle between Big Ten powerhouses that both feature run-based offenses. Wisconsin has won its last 16 games at home, the second-longest home winning streak in the nation. This rivalry dates back to 1913 with Ohio State holding a 51-17-5 lead in the series.

When the Buckeyes Have the Ball

FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK TERRELLE PRYOR has a daunting task ahead of him, matching up with a Wisconsin defense that limited Michigan to 268 total yards last week and only 21 in the entire first half. Pryor’s speed and mobility should come in handy versus a defensive unit that only has five sacks in four games. The centerpiece of this offense, however, isn’t the quarterback. All-world running back Chris “Beanie” Wells is the one with the “S” on his chest. He’ll be counted on to carry the Buckeye attack on his back by moving the chains and making the occasional game-breaking run into the open field. Wells returned to the lineup last week after missing three games with a nagging toe injury that may hamper him for the rest of the season. To avoid further compli-cations, the junior phenom has been instructed to wear high-top lineman cleats that may compromise his lateral movement. Wells’ size, vision and tackle-breaking prowess always make him a threat to score--—high cleats and all. The offensive line is a deep group, which features 6’8” senior left tackle Alex Boone. Despite the line’s issues in the early part of the season, Boone remains a ferocious run blocker, who isn’t shy about getting downfield and running over players in the secondary. After a slow start out of the gates, wide receiver Brian Robiskie broke out with eight catches and two touchdowns last week. Son of NFL assistant coach Terry Robiskie, Brian is a big wide out with soft hands, good route-running skills and a fierce competitive spirit, which often comes out in his downfield blocking. At 6’3”, Brian Hartline is a tall receiver with deceptive speed.

WISCONSIN’S FORMIDABLE FRONT seven make this unit one tough nut to crack for opposing offenses, and it all starts with a senior-laden defensive line. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy is a long and lean pass rusher (6’6” 253 lbs.) with excellent hand skills. Though sackless to this point, the disruptive lineman leads the team in quarterback hurries and pass break-ups. Junior O’Brien Schofield is the lone underclassman along the line, which collectively boasts 98 starts. Linebacker DeAndre Levy is a standout whose great range enables him cover tight ends and make plays all over the field. Middle Linebacker Jaevery McFadden is a tackling machine, who ranks among the top defenders in the Big Ten in that category. Impact player Jonathan Casillas mans the weakside. After missing the first two games due to injury, the New Jersey native has come on like gangbusters. In addition to making a game-saving tackle versus Fresno State, Casillas was a Big Ten top performer last week by recording eight tackles and an interception, which was returned for 49 yards. Free safety Shane Carter headlines Wisconsin’s backfield. Carter is a ball hawk, who gets his hands on lots of passes, but can be temperamental and take stupid penalties. A bit more consistency can truly make Carter a special player.

When the Badgers Have the Ball

NEW YORK’S P.J. HILL is the marquee player among a triumvirate of standout running backs. At 5’11 236 lbs., Hill may physically resemble one-time Badger Ron Dayne, but the junior back is blessed with breakaway speed and superb hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Coach Bret Bielema has advised the jumbo halfback to take on less tacklers this season in order to save his body from added wear and tear. Hill leads the team with 449 yards on 92 carries and four touchdowns. John Clay and Zach Brown are his backfield mates. Brown is a much smaller player at 207 lbs., but has proven that he can carry the load with a 250-yard, two-touchdown performance in place of Hill last season versus Minnesota. The 6’2” 237 lb. Clay, on the other hand, is a big-play freshman who has already hit pay dirt four times. All three backs run behind an experienced offensive line made up of five behemoths that average 6’6” 319 lbs. Third-year sophomore Ben Moffitt is the man snapping the ball at center. The athletic and physical Connecticut native is the only member of the line who came into the 2008 season with less than 10 starts. The fact that Wisconsin ranks fourth in the country in both scoring (31.8 ppg) and yardage (413.5 ypg) is a testament to their big uglies up front. Although star tight end Travis Beckum has been fighting a hamstring injury this season, he is undoubtedly the team’s top weapon in their aerial attack. The senior playmaker is part of the new breed of tight ends that are more big slot receiver than traditional in-line blocker—receiving hybrids. At his best, this former linebacker is a match-up nightmare with his combination of speed and athleticism. Due to Beckum’s inability to stay on the field this year, quarterback Allen Evridge has had to spread it around. In fact, twelve different Badgers have caught the ball this season, led by tight end Garrett Graham and wide receiver David Gilreath, who are tied with 11 receptions each. Evridge likes targeting his tight ends off play-action fakes.

OHIO STATE’S DEFENSIVE unit better bring their A game to this battle considering the fact that it has struggled mightily in defending the run, particularly in their games versus Ohio University and USC, who rushed for 145 and 164 yards respectively. Defensive ends Lawrence Wilson and Thaddeus Gibson are both strong and fast. The 6’4” 274 lb. Wilson is a feared pass rusher, who missed most of the 2007 season due to a broken leg. The junior end is one of this unit’s vocal leaders. On the other side, Gibson replaces Cameron Heyward, who’s been moved inside to tackle in order to shore up the team’s aforementioned porous run defense. Gibson is a defensive playmaker with speed that can drop into coverage in the “Leo” position made famous by current Saint Will Smith. Seniors James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman anchor the linebacker corps. Winner of the 2006 Nagurski Trophy and the 2007 Butkus Award given to the top college linebacker, Laurinaitis’ ability to pursue ballcarriers from sideline to sideline is second to none, as are his pass-coverage skills. The future first round pick specializes in reading opposing quarterbacks. Freeman is the other pro-bound linebacker and is a terrific athlete with superior open-field tackling skills from the strong side. Over in the secondary, Malcolm Jenkins has everything you could want from a cover corner. His quick feet, fluid hips and unique anticipatory skills allow him to routinely blanket and nullify receivers. Fellow corner Chimdi Chekwa is also impressive in man-to-man coverage. The sophomore’s athletic prowess was on grand display earlier when making a torso-twisting interception in mid-air off USC’s Mark Sanchez. Free safety Anderson Russell is a high-effort competitor coming off an outstanding showing last week versus Minnesota with seven tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Final analysis

THE BADGERS INABILITY to score touchdowns will force them to kick field goals and prevent them from keeping pace with Ohio State’s offensive arsenal. The Buckeyes will win the time of possession battle, and ultimately the game, in a very physical grudge match.

Final Score: Ohio State 27 Wisconsin 19

Photo Credit: Collegiate Images