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November 17, 2012

All-Out Blitz: Ohio State



Welcome to this week's "All-Out Blitz," where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers will wrap up their home slate this weekend with a high-profile game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, who will enter Camp Randall Stadium undefeated for the second time in as many trips.

The a win for the Badgers will keep them alive for a share of the Leaders Division championship, even though they've already secured their bid to the Big Ten Championship Game in early December. The game is scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. CST, and will be broadcast on ABC.

All Out Blitz: Ohio State

What you need to know about Ohio State

Head coach: Urban Meyer (1nd season @ Ohio State), 10-0 (6-0 Big Ten)
Ohio State All-Time Record: 835-316-53 (.716)
2012 Record: 10-0 (6-0 Big Ten)
Ranking: 6 (AP), Ineligible (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 54-18-5

Did you read this?

Know Thy Foe: Ohio State

Last year

Saying 2011 didn't go as planned for the Buckeyes is probably an understatement. They had to fire their long-time head coach Jim Tressel in the offseason following the Tattoo-gate scandal, and had defensive coordinator Luke Fickell coach the team on an interim basis. The NCAA also hit the Buckeyes with a one-year bowl ban and other penalties, and the Buckeyes decided to delay the ban for a year and play out their season. In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best idea. The Buckeyes finished the season at 6-7 following a 24-17 loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl. The Buckeyes were due for a down season, but hardly anyone expected them to fall so far after the 2010 season.

Season outlook

Even as the Buckeyes were finishing up what was their worst season in years, they started building for the future. Urban Meyer was hired as the program's new head coach in late November of last year, and the Buckeyes played true freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback for most of the season. So even though they couldn't play for a Big Ten title, there were still reasons for optimism. Five other starters on offense returned this season, as well as nine starters on defense. The Buckeyes had the 23rd-hardest schedule this year, but Meyer took over a program with an abundance of talent left in the cupboard, and it seemed like Ohio State wouldn't be down for very long.

This year

As it turns out, Ohio State wasn't down for very long at all. The Buckeyes got off to a 4-0 start in the non-conference season and will enter Camp Randall Stadium with an undefeated record for the second time in two trips. But Ohio State has had its fair share of bumps in the road as well. The Buckeyes had to fend off Cal with a late go-ahead score in the third week of the season, and allowed UAB to actually out-gain the Buckeyes, even though Ohio State still won 29-15.

The Buckeyes annihilated Nebraska 63-38, but their perfect record was in serious danger against both Indiana and Purdue. The Buckeyes hung on to beat the Hoosiers 52-49 on the road, and needed a dramatic last-minute touchdown from backup quarterback Kenny Guiton to force overtime against the Boilermakers, in a game they would eventually win 29-22. The Buckeyes took care of Penn State and Illinois before their bye week, but they've definitely shown some cracks during the regular season. Their record is perfect, but the team certainly isn't.

That's not for a lack of trying on Braxton Miller's part, though. Miller has been just about as good as advertised this season, after he showed a lot of promise during the 2011 season. Miller is completing 56.9 percent of his passes this season, and has thrown for 1,753 yards through ten games. He has 14 touchdown passes to just six interceptions, and is an imposing force in the ground game as well. Miller's 232-pound frame has allowed him to run over defenders this season, and he has 1,166 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns to show for it. He's not great on short to intermediate throws, but his other abilities are usually more than enough to make up for it.

Apart from Miller, running back Carlos Hyde is the next-best option on the ground. Hyde has missed two games this season, but has 13 touchdowns and 737 rushing yards. He averages 5.12 yards per carry, but highly ranked defenses like Michigan State and Penn State have been able to slow him down. Hyde totaled just 104 yards and one touchdown in those two games, and the Badgers will look to duplicate their success on Saturday.

The Buckeyes seem to have two major receiving options for Miller: junior receiver Corey Brown and sophomore receiver Devin Smith, whom Badgers fans are already familiar with. But let's start with Brown, who leads the team with 48 receptions this season. Brown has 526 receiving yards this season, and gets about five catches per game. He has just two scores this season, but ended an eight-game scoring drought two weeks ago against Illinois.

As for Smith, the Badgers will remember him for the game-winning touchdown he caught last season to upset the Badgers just after they rallied behind Russell Wilson to re-take the lead. Smith is having a good season so far, and seems to be the bigger big play threat. Smith has caught just 24 passes this season, but he leads the team with six receiving touchdowns, and has 514 yards to go with them. Miller is a lot better on deep passes, and the Badgers will have to remain fundamentally sound if they want to keep Smith and Miller in check. Tight end Jake Stoneburner also has 15 catches for 260 yards, and has four touchdowns this season.

On defense, the Buckeyes rank seventh in the Big Ten in scoring defense, and allow just under 24 points per game this season, but that number has ticked up a bit in Big Ten play to 28 points per game. Senior defensive lineman John Simon leads the team with five sacks through 10 games, and as a whole the Buckeyes have brought down opposing quarterbacks 22 times this season. That's thanks in large part to a defensive line that returned all of last year's starters, including Nathan Williams and Johnathan Hankins.

Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier has made an impact in his first year as a starter, and leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss this season. Shazier is also running away with his lead as the team's top tackler- he has 97 total tackles this season, and defensive back Christian Bryant is the next closest at 61. Senior cornerback Travis Howard leads the team with four interceptions, but the Buckeyes are breaking even in their turnover margin this season.

Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's cornerbacks vs. Ohio State's wide receivers

If the Badgers are going to beat the Buckeyes, they'll have to keep Ohio State's passing game in check. Wisconsin's defense has been great against the run this season, and I think they'd prefer to make Miller break the pocket and scramble for yards if they aren't giving the ball to Hyde. It's a lesser of two evils scenario, but the Badgers can't afford to let the Buckeyes beat them deep. Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie have been playing well recently, and they'll need to stay on the top of their game this week.

The pick: Wisconsin 30 Ohio State 27

I've said it before, but this game was a hard one for me to pick. Ohio State's offense went through its fair share of bumps in the road to start the season, but they've gotten back on the right track recently. On the other hand, Wisconsin's defense has been very underrated this season, and they just might have what it takes to slow down the Buckeyes and limit Miller's effectiveness. It won't be easy, but I think if Smith and Cromartie play well it can be done.

But we also don't really know what to expect from Curt Phillips and the passing game. The Badgers threw the ball less than ten times against the Hoosiers, but Phillips' arm was suspect in fall camp and I have a hard time believing it's substantially better now. But that being said, it might now have to be. The Badgers will probably start off by giving Montee Ball plenty of touches, and will be sure to mix in a bit of James White as well. The buckeyes have had success against pro-style backs like Le'Veon Bell this season, but they've had their fair share of bad defensive games too.

All in all, I'm picking the Badgers to win because I think they'll be motivated to head to Indianapolis on their terms, and I think their improved defense will be able to contain Ohio State's offense more than the Buckeyes will be able to stop Wisconsin's ground attack. I don't like Wisconsin's chances as much if they're forced to throw early and often, but we'll find out for sure how much progress Phillips has made with his arm strength one way or another on Saturday.

The point after:

Bret Bielema is 6-0 in his career as a head coach on senior day. The Badgers will send off nine seniors Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, as well as several other players who have decided to give up football in the last year.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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