Badgers blocking out exterior noise as they prepare for battle with Ohio State
After a 31-0 win over Minnesota, Wisconsin hopes to replicate its success against Ohio State.Image By: Brandon Moe
While the Badgers (9-0 Big Ten, 12-0 overall) moved into the No. 4 spot of the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night, there are still differing feelings regarding the team at both the local and national level.
There is the Madison native who is thrilled to see their team finally in the top four, and there’s the diehard who thinks the ranking is long overdue.
There’s the committee who begrudgingly moved the undefeated team up at last, and the analysts who are certain of the Badgers’ place in the playoff with a victory versus Ohio State (8-1, 10-2) in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The collective feeling possessed by UW, however, is none too concerned with the various playoff permutations being touted or the efforts to nitpick Wisconsin’s favorable schedule.
The Badgers are just excited to be back in Indianapolis.
“I think everybody that got in the locker room afterwards couldn’t wait to get back to that locker room again,” redshirt sophomore guard Jon Dietzen said of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game defeat to Penn State. “I think we’ve all been chomping at the bit ever since that game to make sure that we wound up back there.”
A lot has happened since Wisconsin fumbled a 21-point lead against the Nittany Lions in last year’s conference championship.
True freshman running back sensation Jonathan Taylor provided an eye-catching debut campaign, redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook took over the job full-time and redshirt seniors Alec James and Garret Dooley matured into formidable pass rushers.
But a more subtle, if equally important reason for Wisconsin’s success this season has undoubtedly been its ability to consistently win in the offensive trenches.
“We’ve improved so much,” Dietzen said. “We got guys like J.T. and Chris [James] and Bradrick [Shaw], and those guys make us look good. But I think we’ve improved individually a lot.”
That supposed improvement will certainly be tested by a strong Buckeyes defense, which ranks ninth in the country in total yards allowed per game.
“Their defensive line, they’re so deep, they’re so many guys to study and watch,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. “The backers can fly and run on the run. They can step up and play press on you all day.”
Another area of growth for Wisconsin has come in its receiving corps, an already-young unit that became even more inexperienced when its No. 1 wideout, sophomore Quintez Cephus, went down for the season with a leg injury.
Sophomore A.J. Taylor — who has posted over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the three full games since Cephus’ injury — however, has no worries about the fledgling unit’s ability to step up this Saturday.
“Nobody’s really nervous to go out there and maybe run a route or catch a ball in a big-time moment,” Taylor said. “We’re all more comfortable. And we can think now, I feel like the game’s starting to slow down.”
If the Badgers have gotten better since last year, the paradox of that evident growth is that few seem to really recognize it but them.
Wisconsin finished this season as the first-ranked total defense in the country, recorded the school’s first ever undefeated season and even had eight offensive players receive postseason conference honors.
And yet, doubts linger.
The Badgers are given just a 44 percent chance of beating Ohio State by FiveThirtyEight.com, while numerous Vegas casinos have made the Buckeyes 6.5-point favorites ahead of this weekend’s matchup.
But Taylor isn’t too plussed with the bookies’ opinion of the Badgers. He’d rather prove them wrong on Saturday.
“If that’s how they feel it’s gonna be, then so be it,” he said. “But we’re not gonna let that happen.”Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter