On Oct. 26, the Wisconsin Badgers posed no more of a threat to the Ohio State Buckeyes than any other team on the Buckeyes’ schedule to that point, and the Badgers got romped to a 38-7 final. So, when the Badgers take the field this Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with a Big Ten Championship on the line, their opponent, the still-undefeated Buckeyes, will have no shortage of confidence.
Now, No. 1 Ohio State (9-0 Big Ten, 12-0 overall) is arguably a stronger opponent than they were last time the teams met. However, from its own failures and others’ successes against the Buckeyes, the No. 8 Wisconsin (7-2 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) offense can better prepare itself to neutralize superstar defensive end Chase Young and the rest of the OSU defense. In a season of outstanding performances, Chase Young’s most dominant game came against Wisconsin.
The 6’5” junior’s absurd stat line consisted of six total tackles, five of which went for a loss, and four sacks. Midway through the first quarter, an unblocked Young blitzed quarterback Jack Coan, who dished a screen pass off to running back Aron Cruickshank. Young instantly decelerated, pivoted, and backtracked seven yards to smother Cruickshank for a loss.
As impressive as his performance was, Young can’t make plays like that every down for four full quarters, even for the high-motor edge rusher. If head coach Paul Chryst emphasizes the screen game throughout Saturday night’s showdown, especially to Jonathan Taylor, who’ll inevitably break a few tackles along the way, Chase Young will eventually grow fatigued and lose that effectiveness.
Luckily enough, a screen-heavy game plan aligns perfectly with Jack Coan’s strengths. Receivers Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor have shown flashes as mid to deep-range threats, as has tight end Jake Ferguson, but even mid-range throws will prove difficult against OSU’s superb secondary, especially considering Taylor’s right leg injury that may keep him from dressing for Saturday’s game.
Coan’s best games of 2019, including those against Michigan, Kent State, and Michigan State, saw him complete over eighty percent of his attempts for modest yardage totals. If Wisconsin is to move the ball against Ohio State, Coan must throw an abundance of these short, high-percentage throws, and do so with great precision.
For proof that Chase Young, a freak athlete, can in fact lose steam during a game, look no further than this past Saturday against Michigan. Wolverine quarterback Shea Patterson attempted forty-three passes, and although he completed only eighteen, his repeated, quick throws prevented Young from commanding the backfield.
Apart from two quarterback hurries, Young posted zeroes across the box score. Granted, Ohio State won the game handily regardless of Young’s quiet afternoon, but minimizing the havoc he wreaks is still a critical step towards defeating the Buckeyes. Michigan moved the ball fairly effectively compared to other Buckeye opponents on Saturday, and did so predominantly through the air, tallying only twenty-six rushing attempts.
Jonathan Taylor is indisputably Wisconsin’s best player, but against OSU in October, he averaged a meager 2.6 yards on 20 rushes, similar to the team’s 2.4 yards-per-carry on 34 total attempts.
Requiring two, if not three blockers and possessing elite quickness, Chase Young will most likely bottle up Taylor and the ground game whether Wisconsin runs towards or away from him.
Despite being one of college football’s great tailbacks, Taylor’s most probable path to success on Saturday comes as a receiver. Taylor has flashed pass-catching potential—take his twenty-eight yard touchdown reception against Minnesota—and would do both himself and Wisconsin a favor by putting those skills to use against Ohio State.
Of course, several factors independent of Chase Young will determine Saturday’s result and the 2019 Big Ten Champion. If the Badger defense doesn’t hold its own against quarterback Justin
Fields and tailback J.K. Dobbins for the Buckeyes, the game could get out of reach for Wisconsin before such fatigue ever even catches Young. An errant Jack Coan pass or a Jonathan Taylor fumble could spell similar doom for the Badgers.
Only if they limit Chase Young’s impact, however, will the Wisconsin Badgers have a fighting chance against the vaunted Buckeyes.