The Ohio State Buckeyes enter Big Ten season unscathed, outscoring their opponents 210-61 in the process. The No. 23-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) head to Columbus Saturday looking to avenge their 21-14 overtime loss to OSU last season.
The Buckeyes are hoping to get their starting quarterback, junior Braxton Miller, back this week. Coach Urban Meyer said he is “around 90” percent back to full strength after spraining the MCL in his left knee against San Diego State week 2. Miller sat out the Buckeyes’ last two games.
Meyer said he wanted to get Miller on the field against Florida A&M despite the reigning success of redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton.
“I hoped all week that we would get him in there, even if it was for just a few series,” Meyer said. “But (Miller’s knee) wasn’t as stable as it could have been.”
Meyer said it will be difficult to fit both quarterbacks into the offense moving forward.
“I don’t know if that’s a reality,” Meyer said. “I keep thinking of a way — I just don’t know. Both (of) those players are good players.”
Much like Miller, starting redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley has been working back from offseason foot surgery early in 2013. No matter the severity of an injury, Linsley said it can be tough to sit on the sideline during games.
“I’m sure Braxton’s feeling a lot of the same emotions that I was feeling,” Linsley said. “It’s not so much you’re worried about yourself, you’re worried about everybody else getting better without you. You don’t want to be the weak link.”
Whether he is snapping the ball to Miller or Guiton, Linsley said he is confident the team will be successful. However, having Miller in the game gives the Buckeyes an extra advantage.
“You can talk about (Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman winner) Johnny Manziel all you want, there’s nobody out there quicker at the quarterback position than Braxton,” Linsley said. “He provides that type of spark and excitement.”
On the opposing side of the ball, Wisconsin is having a new found success due to a change its defensive schemes.
“They’re very active,” Meyer said. “They are very well-coached. They play (multiple defensive fronts)… Throughout college football you’ll see how that does cause problems like our defense (does), we do a little bit of both. It’s a much different scheme than a year ago.”
OSU players have to focus on themselves if they want to win, Linsley said.
“I know it sounds clichéd and corny, but we really are worried about ourselves and our game plan preparation,” Linsley said. “We’re not worried about anything else and that’s what makes us a really good team.”
The Badgers rank third in the NCAA with just under 350 average rushing yards per game. The team is coming off a victory against Purdue in which Wisconsin running backs, redshirt-sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White, ran for 147 and 145 yards respectively. Gordon leads the country with 624 yards rushing, and is tied for second with seven touchdowns trailing OSU redshirt-senior Jordan Hall who has eight..
Junior linebacker Curtis Grant said both players have a different style, but that does not change how OSU’s defense is approaching them.
“One is bigger than the other, one is faster and one is more of a power back and one is more of a speedster,” Grant said. “You just got to play your gap and make some tackles.”
Grant compared Gordon and White’s size and abilities to those of OSU running backs senior Carlos Hyde and Hall, and said that preparation will be the key to success.
“First thing you think of about Wisconsin is a powerhouse team,” Grant said. “Big lineman and they’re going to pound the ball. They’re going to run it at least 40-50 times a game. You have to prepare for that.”
Stopping the high-powered rushing offense of Wisconsin is accomplished in the trenches, according to defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell.
“The game is won up front, and I don’t care what kind of game it is,” Fickell said. “It will be evident this week. Whether it’s their offensive line or our defensive line, or our offensive line or their defensive line, that’s where the game is going to be won.”
Getting back to playing physical football is something Linsley is looking forward to.
“The intensity has never left, whether a spread team or a power I,” Linsley said. “They type of mentality, the power and physical mentality has never left us. It’s definitely nice to get back into that going against Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin enters Big Ten play having won the last three conference title games. Meyer credited their success to their physical play, calling them the “King of the Big Ten right now.”
“(I) have a lot of respect for Wisconsin,” Meyer said, who coached with first-year Badger coach Gary Andersen at Utah. “They have great backs and we have our hands full. They have an excellent coach and in my opinion, they’re the King of the Big Ten right now. This is an opportunity to go compete with a team that played in the Rose Bowl the last few years.”
The Buckeyes are set to face off with Wisconsin Saturday at 8 p.m. in Ohio Stadium.