Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview
The two teams that hold at least a share of every Big Ten championship since 2005 will meet in Columbus Saturday night, as No. 4 Ohio State is set to host No. 23 Wisconsin.
While the Buckeyes (4-0) are on the shortlist of national-title contenders, Urban Meyer sees the Badgers (3-1), who have made three consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl, as the Big Ten's premier team.
“We have a lot of respect for Wisconsin,” Meyer said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. “In my opinion, they are the king of the Big Ten.”
"We've got the trophy, but I'm sure we are considered the underdog," Borland said, "We're fine with that. We're fine with it either way."
One certainty going into Saturday's clash, though, is that it will be one of the hardest-hitting games for either team all season.
The team that comes up with a victory will have the inside track to win the Leaders Division.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Place: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Spread: The Buckeyes are favored by 7.5 points, according to Vegas Insider.
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Execute on Offense
Wisconsin's defense held Ohio State to a season-low 14 points through four quarters last year, but the Buckeyes got things together in overtime to secure a 21-14 victory.
The Badgers' front seven controlled the game, and Wisconsin outplayed the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball. Ohio State gained just 236 yards of offense, compared to Wisconsin's 360, but a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown from Corey Brown lifted the Buckeyes in regulation.
The passing attack was anemic as Ohio State threw for just 97 yards and no touchdowns. The Badgers also held the Buckeyes to just 3.4 yards per carry.
Ohio State needs things to go smoother this time around.
Solid Quarterback Play
It's still unclear whether Braxton Miller will be at full strength by Saturday night, but whoever starts for the Buckeyes, whether it's Miller or Kenny Guiton, needs to produce for Ohio State.
Miller completed just 10 of 18 passes last year and was held to under 100 yards, and that allowed Wisconsin to load the box and stifle Ohio State's run game. If Wisconsin can make the Buckeyes one-dimensional this year, Ohio State could be in for a long night.
Wisconsin Keys to Victory
Get the Ground Game Going
Wisconsin will need its run game to click in order to pull of the upset.
With quarterback Joel Stave's erratic play, the Badgers are averaging less than 200 passing yards per game. The offensive line and running backs have picked up the slack, though, as Wisconsin boasts the No. 3 rushing attack in the country.
Ohio State's No. 9 rushing defense will be Wisconsin's stiffest test to date.
The Buckeyes have won five of the last six meetings over the Badgers. In those five victories, Ohio State has held Wisconsin to an average of 120 rushing yards and less than three yards per carry.
In Wisconsin's lone win over the Buckeyes during that stretch (2010), the Badgers ran for 184 yards and averaged more than 4.3 yards per carry.
With Stave's struggles, the Badgers will need to get things going on the ground.
Prevent the Quick Start
Ohio State has been explosive on offense and currently ranks No. 4 in the country with an average of 52.5 points per game.
Not only are the Buckeyes scoring a lot of points, they're jumping out to early leads in a big way. Through four games, Ohio State is averaging more than 25 points in the first quarter.
This is the fourth consecutive game that Ohio State has scored three first-quarter touchdowns.— Ryan Ginn (@RyanGinnBSB) September 21, 2013
Digging a hole that deep has buried the Buckeyes' opponents so far. The Badgers will need to keep Ohio State from exploding in the first quarter, because if they get off to a hot start, the crowd and the momentum might be too much to overcome.
Players to Watch for the Buckeyes
During Monday's press conference, Urban Meyer said Braxton Miller was up to 90 percent after spraining his MCL in Ohio State's Week 2 matchup against San Diego State. Meyer also said that if Miller had a good week of practice, he would start against the Badgers.
It's hard to imagine Miller not seeing the field Saturday night. He'll be one to watch, though, because backup Kenny Guiton is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country.
Meyer has already mentioned plans to use both Miller and Guiton, but the coaching staff will have to be careful with its quarterback rotation. The Buckeyes are rolling offensively, and the last thing Meyer wants is uncertainty at the quarterback position to derail that momentum.
The Badgers have three dangerous tailbacks in Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement who have combined to run for 1,395 yards and 15 touchdowns. Each running back has a touchdown run of 70 yards or longer.
The Buckeyes' front seven is facing a huge challenge, and they'll need a big game from middle linebacker Curtis Grant, according to Meyer.
"This is without a doubt a defining moment in his career" - Ohio State's Urban Meyer on middle linebacker Curtis Grant.— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) September 24, 2013
Grant has elevated his play this year after a disappointing sophomore season. Through four games, Grant ranks fourth on the team with 18 total tackles.
Against Wisconsin's run-oriented offense, Grant can change the momentum of the game with a strong performance.
Players to Watch for the Badgers
No running back in the country has been more explosive than Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
The 6'1", 203-pound running back leads the country with 624 rushing yards to complement seven touchdowns.
Gordon has home-run ability as well. The rising sophomore is currently averaging 11.8 yards per carry and has touchdown runs of 65, 70 and 80 yards.
Ohio State's defense is only allowing 80 rushing yards per game, but the Buckeyes haven't seen a running back as talented as Gordon. He can hurt you up the middle with his power or burn you on the edge with his speed.
After piling up 104 tackles a season ago, Chris Borland is without question one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. The senior earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last year and is well on his way to repeating that accomplishment.
Through four games, Borland has been everywhere for the Badgers. He currently leads the team (by a wide margin) with 30 tackles, and his blend of speed and strength is a nightmare for offenses to handle.
If Wisconsin can limit Ohio State's offense like it did last year, Borland will be a big part of that.
What They Are Saying
Ohio State's Curtis Grant is preparing for the challenge of Big Ten play, according to Ohio State's official website.
We have to take our games to a different level. Anybody who gets in that game has to maximize their talent and just go out and play. We're in the Big Ten now and nothing's guaranteed, nothing's promised.
Wisconsin's Gary Anderson isn't preparing for Kenny Guiton or Braxton Miller, but rather Ohio State's offense, according to the team's official website.
I don't think it matters, whoever's in there. One guy might do this a little better than the other. But you don't look in there and say, okay, here comes this guy or that guy or let's expect this offense or that offense. It's still the same offense regardless.
He looked phenomenal. He was throwing the ball; it was whizzing past me. I was like, 'Wow, he's back.' Not that Kenny doesn't do that. I can tell Braxton's back and everybody doesn't see the work he's putting in behind the scenes, but it's definitely going to come out on Saturday.
Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon believes good coaching has allowed him and his teammates to dominate on the ground, according to Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin.
For us to be up that high, three running backs to be ranked within the top 50 is unbelievable. That just shows how much work we've been putting in the offseason and just shows how good our coach is.
Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 31
The Buckeyes will get off to another hot start and score the game's first 14 points, but Melvin Gordon will break off a 30-yard touchdown run to open things up for Wisconsin at the end of the first quarter.
The Badgers will continue to role, scoring two second-quarter touchdowns to build a 21-14 lead with with two minutes left in the half. Dontre Wilson will get a big return on the ensuing kickoff, setting up a field goal to close the half with Wisconsin leading 21-17.
The Badgers will drive 75 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown to open the second half and capture an 11-point lead, but that's when things click for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State will score three unanswered touchdowns, and the Buckeyes defense will find ways to get off the field.
The Badgers will cut Ohio State's lead to seven with a 30-yard field goal midway through the fourth, but the Buckeyes will kill the clock with Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall on the ground.
Both teams will finish the game with more than 400 yards of offense, but in the end the Buckeyes prove to be too much for the Badgers.
All stats via ESPN.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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