Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema looks to remain undefeated in Senior Day games as the Badger head coach while senior running back Montee Ball is looking to move into first place on the all-time touchdowns list Saturday against the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0 Big Ten, 10-0 overall).
However, Ball and the Badgers (4-2 , 7-3) will have their hands full with the second-best rush defense in the Big Ten just a week after playing the conference’s worst.
Only the Badgers (103.4) rank ahead of the Ohio State Buckeyes in rushing yards given up per game in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 107.9 yards on the ground per game.
“Their entire defense is top- notch,” offensive line coach Bart Miller said. “Their D-line across the board is very talented.”
6-foot-2, 263-pound senior lineman John Simon, who was a third-team All-American last year for the Buckeyes as well as a first-team All-Big Ten selection, anchors the unit.
The Youngstown, Ohio native is only two sacks away from matching last year’s total (seven) and has 11 tackles for loss.
“There’s a lot of really good D-tackles in the league this year,” Bielema said in his press conference Monday. “We might be facing the best this week.”
After successfully neutralizing senior defensive tackles Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. last weekend, considered the strength of the Indiana defense, the Badgers will look to take the same approach Saturday.
“They’ve got really good interior linemen as well,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Costigan said. “So we’re going to try to do the same thing.”
Redshirt senior left tackle Rick Wagner kept it simple when asked what the key was to beat a team like Ohio State.
“Just no penalties and getting a big push right away,” he said. “We’ve got to stay ahead of the chains.”
Bielema said a strong start on the other side of the ball could be the difference maker.
“The defense, the way they started the way they did [last Saturday], dictated the flow the rest of the day. So I thought that’s important and I think our guys are locked into it.”
Although Buckeye sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller has rushed for 1,166 yards on only 184 carries (6.3 yards per rush) this season, Bielema has taken note of something else in the second-year starter.
“Live arm last year,” Bielema said. “Didn’t know how accurate it was, but this year that’s probably the thing, his accuracy.”
He also added Thursday that redshirt junior Chris Borland, who said his hamstring cramped up on him last weekend, would be a game time decision.
“He’s very adamant about how everyday it feels better,” Bielema said.
While Ohio State has squeaked out a pair of victories against teams the Badgers have rolled over—the Buckeye’s needed overtime to beat Purdue 29-22 and barely beat Indiana 52-49—the Badgers may have to get involved in the passing game to find success Saturday.
Despite ranking second in the Big Ten in rush defense, the Buckeyes rank 11th in pass defense, surrendering 259.7 yards per game.
After admitting that he had a plan of using redshirt senior quarterback Curt Phillips sparingly last weekend—largely because of Indiana’s weak run defense and because it was his first live action since 2009—Bielema hinted at seeing a little more from the third Wisconsin starter of the year this weekend.
“It’s just people that read the stats and draw bad decisions or make bad conclusions don’t understand he really played a pretty good game running and throwing, and my guess is Saturday is going to be even better.”