The Wisconsin Badgers (4-2) will look to play spoiler when they host the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Badgers fans had this game circled on their calendars coming into the season. With the hiring of new head coach Luke Fickell, offseason excitement for Wisconsin football was higher than ever. As expectations grew, it became plausible that Wisconsin could enter this late October matchup in the midst of a special season, creating a mammoth showdown on Halloween weekend in Madison.
A giant reality check for Wisconsin later, it is safe to say this game has lost some of its luster.
Wisconsin has been unable to live up to their preseason hype, and they enter this game with two giant blemishes on their resume: losses at Washington State and against Iowa at home. Wisconsin will find themselves scratching to pull off an upset as they enter the game as 14.5 point home underdogs.
Still, with Ohio State in town for a rare Madison night game, there will be magic in the Camp Randall air Saturday night. The Badgers have had their share of major home upsets against the Buckeyes in the past, and with Ohio State alum Fickell as coach, maybe the Badgers have what it takes to shock the college football world.
After losing to the Buckeyes 52-21 last year in Columbus, Wisconsin will be ready to avenge their defeat.
The Badgers are coming off a comeback victory at Illinois in which they trailed by 14 points entering the fourth quarter. In quarterback Braedyn Locke’s first collegiate start, Wisconsin’s offense looked mired in yet another slump for much of the contest. However, down 21-7 going into the final quarter, the offense flipped a switch. Led by Locke and running back Braelon Allen, Wisconsin scored 18 unanswered points to steal a victory away from Illinois. After a brutal loss against the Hawkeyes the week before, a win at Illinois was much needed heading into the Ohio State game.
Meanwhile, perennial powerhouse Ohio State looks powerful as ever, fresh off an 18-12 home victory over Penn State, who were previously ranked No. 7 before their loss in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ defense has looked impressive, limiting opponents to just 10 points per game. Along with allowing only 12 points to Penn State last week, Ohio State held No. 14 Notre Dame to 14 points earlier in the season. The undefeated Buckeyes are in familiar territory and will come in with confidence and charisma Wisconsin looks to snatch.
For Wisconsin to be competitive, they will need to focus on defense. The Badgers have been limited offensively, and those struggles are not expected to disappear against a team as high-caliber as Ohio State. So to stay in the game, it will take a ballistic effort from the Badgers’ defense.
While they have been good enough to remain undefeated, Ohio State’s offense isn’t as frightening as it has been in years past. With first-year quarterback Kyle McCord leading the reigns, Ohio State currently ranks 38th in total offense. In statement wins over Notre Dame and Penn State, the Buckeye offense failed to reach 20 points, heavily relying on their defense to win the games.
Ohio State comes in a little banged up, with Emeka Egbuka, Treveyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum all listed on the injury report. Nonetheless, they possess unrivaled depth.
The defense’s biggest challenge will come against the Buckeye passing game. Wisconsin’s shaky secondary will have their hands full with Ohio State’s deep bag of receiving threats, including surefire first-rounder Marvin Harrison Jr. And with Egbuka expected to play, Wisconsin will certainly be faced with a challenge. The Badgers secondary has been susceptible to allowing big plays all season, but that must change if they want a shot on Saturday.
Offensively, the Badgers will likely rely on Allen and the running game. Allen had one of his best games of the season last week, running the ball 35 times for 145 yards and a touchdown, and he seemed to get better as the game went on. With the Badgers trailing in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Phil Longo didn’t hesitate to run the ball, allowing Allen to muster up pickups of 10 and nine yards as well as a 12-yard reception. He has truly stepped up since fellow running back Chez Mellusi’s injury, recording at least 100 yards in three of the last four games.
When playing a team like Ohio State, everything must go right, and that includes Locke and the passing game. With Locke being thrust into such a big-game environment early in his career, Badgers fans will get to see what their young quarterback is made of. He showed he was capable of playing in high-pressure situations last week when he orchestrated the fourth quarter comeback, but he must ride that momentum into a much tougher opponent Saturday night.
Ohio State feasts on inexperienced quarterbacks, but if he is able to play well and keep the Badgers in the game, Locke will go a long way in proving himself as the quarterback of the future.
Ahead of the season, when asked which opponent they were looking forward to playing most by the Athletic article, multiple Badgers said Ohio State.
“Week 8. Ohio State. I just feel like after last year, things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go. Left the game feeling like there were just a lot of things left on the table. I’m excited to get another chance at Camp Randall this year,” center Tanor Bortolini said.
“Ohio State. Due to what happened last year obviously. And then coming here, too. We’re all looking forward to that,” defensive lineman Isaiah Mullens added.
Wisconsin picked out Ohio State as a game they were ready for, and on Saturday night they will finally get an incredible opportunity for a signature win against one of the nation’s premier opponents.