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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Five Things to Watch

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Five Things to Watch

1: Keeping the mind set

Last season's 31-13 loss in Columbus remains a bittersweet reminder for the Badgers that they have the capability of competing with the No. 1 Buckeyes. Wisconsin out-gained Ohio State in total yardage 368-184, held possession of the ball for 42 minutes and had an incredible 22-8 advantage in first downs. Yet despite the valiant effort, the Badgers offense failed to score a touchdown and made costly errors. Quarterback Scott Tolzien was sacked six times and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. It is imperative that Wisconsin remain focused throughout the game and not slack off in the fourth quarter. The Badgers' conservative play last Saturday enabled Minnesota to creep back in, and if Wisconsin wants to be a contender they need to have an aggressive mentality and play until the final whistle. Perhaps the most pressure falls on Tolzien's shoulders to play smart and remain focused. He has completed 70 consecutive passes without an interception, and UW has not committed a turnover in its last four games. Although it will be a tough test against Ohio State's defense, if UW can play mistake-free football and remain poised, their chances for victory vastly improve

 

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2: Home cooking

The Badgers will have the advantage of playing at Camp Randall Stadium, where they have gone 40-4 since the beginning of the 2004 campaign. The Badgers have won 25 of their last 28 night games, and have the added benefit of playing in front of a student section that has an entire day to get efficiently pumped up. However, those stats can be deceiving because Ohio State is one of the best road teams in all of college football. In its previous 20 Big Ten road games, Ohio State boasts a 19-1 record and has won its last eight road games against ranked Big Ten rivals. One of those wins occurred in 2008 when a budding freshmen quarterback by the name of Terrelle Pryor orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive and scampered for an 11-yard touchdown run in the final minute to deny Wisconsin's upset bid in a 17-10 victory. There is no doubt that playing in front of the home crowd will aid the Badgers, but it remains to be seen how much,  especially against Ohio State. The Badgers have lost four of their last five home games against the Buckeyes, which is tied for the most home losses against any school for UW.

 

3: Containing Pryor

It is no secret that junior quarterback and Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor has played exceptional this season. In the first six games, Pryor has connected on 68% percent of his passes for an average of 224.8 yards per game and 15 touchdowns. In addition, Pryor has thrown for 233 or more yards in six of his past seven games. Pryor will head into Camp Randall with momentum after shredding Indiana's pass defense for a career-high 334 yards and three touchdowns last week. It is also no secret that Pryor sustained a minor injury to his left knee against Illinois several weeks ago and wore a knee brace last Saturday in the 38-10 victory over Indiana. Pryor, a running threat in the open field, did not look to use his legs and appeared to be timid while evading pressure. If Wisconsin can create pressure on Pryor and exploit his limited mobility, it will force Pryor to stand in the pocket and pass the ball quickly. It could be a huge opportunity for the Badgers to face Pryor when he is vulnerable and less than 100 percent; but if last Saturday is any indication, Pryor still has a legitimate passing arm. And if he gets hot, it could be a long night for the Badgers' defense.

 

4: Pound it out on the ground

Defense is a key component to winning championships, and Ohio State features a championship-worthy defense. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in the country in pass defense, holding teams to a combined 53.7 completion percentage and forcing 17 turnovers. The defense is second in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed at 78.7 and has not allowed any running back to reach 100 yards for 29 consecutive games. The run game is a vital component of the Badgers' offense, and they are second in the Big Ten in rushing at 240.8 yards per game. In an attempt to compromise Ohio State's run defense, Wisconsin will look to give a healthy dose of both runners: the quick, athletic James White and the big, bruising, physical John Clay. However, Ohio State held Clay to a mere three yards per carry in Columbus last year, and if the defense is able to blockade the run game, they will force Tolzien to throw into a hornet's nest of defenders. Tolzien has struggled under pressure so if the Buckeys can get consistent pressure on him it could very well be an early Halloween nightmare.

 

5: Chinks in the armor

An intriguing matchup to watch will be the battle between the highly talented offensive line of Wisconsin and the relentless pass rush of the Buckeyes. The spotlight will be on defensive end Cameron Heyward, a versatile pass rusher who can pressure the quarterback on both sides of the line, as well as on the inside on passing situations. Heyward, along with junior Nathan Williams, an even smaller and more illusive pass-rusher, could prove difficult for even an experienced offensive line. Wisconsin needs to protect Tolzien if they want a chance to win the game. In the loss against Michigan State, the Spartans were able to get pressure on Tolzien and he completed only 11 out of 25 passes. Turnovers ruined the Badgers' chances last season, and the Buckeyes hope to do the same Saturday. Another less talked- about issue is that even though Ohio State appears to be solid in every area, there is one glaring weakness: special teams. The Buckeyes rank 111th in the nation in punting at 31.7 yards, and 108th in punt return defense.The Buckeyes have also struggled on long field goals. While kicker Devin Barclay has been consistent on field goals inside 50 yards (11-of-12), he lacks a powerful leg, and kicker Drew Basil is usually called upon. However, both of Basil's attempts have been blocked and it remains to be seen if the pressure and hostility of the game and crowd affects the kicking game, or special teams as a whole.

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