Saturday night, the Wisconsin Badgers head to Indianapolis to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the Big Ten Championship.
To prepare for the big match-up, Badger of Honor sent a few questions to the fine folks over at Scarlet and Game, Fansided’s Ohio State website. Thanks to Scarlet and Game editor JR Follett for taking the time to lend his insight heading into the big game.
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Badger of Honor (BoH): Let’s get the obvious question out of the way. With J.T. Barrett out for the season, what can we expect to see from sophomore Cardale Jones on Saturday? Will the injury upset what has been an extremely balanced offensive attack (246 per game through the air, 257 per game on the ground) for the Buckeyes this season?
Scarlet and Game (SnG): Cardale Jones is a big, strong-armed quarterback with great velocity on his throws. Fans tend to forget it was Jones who was slated as the backup to Braxton Miller during the spring; however, J.T. Barrett ran the offense with more efficiency and eventually moved himself up the depth chart. Keep in mind Jones was recruited to Ohio State just prior to Urban Meyer’s tenure and isn’t particularly the best fit for Tom Herman’s offense.
This week is all about preparing Jones for Saturday.
This week is all about preparing Jones for Saturday. The sophomore has a ton of ability but offers a different dynamic to the Buckeye offense then we’re used to seeing from Miller and Barrett. Tom Herman is going to have to adjust his scheme to better suit Barrett’s style of playing inside the pocket.
BoH: With a young quarterback at the helm, how do you expect Ohio State to attack Wisconsin’s defense Saturday, which is giving up just 16.8 points per game?
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SnG: We’ll see a more conservative approach that features a lot of running from the backs and perhaps less shots downfield. Cardale does have some mobility but there’s not going to be the read-option running and designed quarterback draws we’re used to seeing. Tight end Jeff Heuerman will be heavily relied upon to assist in establishing a short passing game and if all goes well, perhaps Herman allows Jones to open up the playbook more.
Expect to see Jalin Marshall touch to ball plenty this week, to include lining up under center, as Herman tries to replace some of the athleticism lost with Barrett’s injury. Marshall has been used to run Ohio State’s version of the wildcat this season and now lists as the backup quarterback to Jones. We still don’t know why Marshall’s number was hardly called during the Michigan game but the red-shirt freshman scored four touchdowns against Minnesota the week prior.
BoH: The Buckeyes defense has been no slouch, either. Do you think they have what it takes to stop Melvin Gordon?
SnG: Barring a miracle or injury, there’s realistically no stopping Melvin Gordon. Teams haven’t struggled to run the ball against Ohio State and there’s no reason to believe the best running back in the country would be an exception. The Buckeyes gave up 145 yards and three touchdowns to David Cobb and then followed up in allowing Tevin Coleman’s 230 yards and three touchdowns the very next week.
Ohio State’s better run defenses always thrived in bringing the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage in order to contain the run. This is unfortunately a luxury defensive coordinator Luke Fickell cannot afford as the Buckeye cornerbacks have been average-at-best in pass coverage. Ohio State’s tackling has also been poor as of late and what fans attribute to the late season regression on the defensive side of the ball.
BoH: The Badgers have struggled to find consistency at quarterback all season, but were able to throw with success last Saturday against Minnesota. How will the Buckeyes neutralize a passing game that’s on the up-swing without becoming vulnerable to the run game?
SnG: Ohio State’s defense thrives on rushing the passer, something they certainly won’t let up on against Joel Stave. Stave seems to have moved past the mental block that kept him from completing the easiest of throws in recent weeks, but only eight FBS teams have fewer passing yards than the Badgers. Stave had better prepare himself to see a lot of sophomore Joey Bosa. Bosa’s 13.5 sacks and 20-tackles for loss earned him the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honors and a reputation as one of the best defenders in the country.
The Buckeyes will rely heavily on Bosa and All-Big Ten Second Team selection Michael Bennett to set the defensive tempo. If the Buckeyes can pressure Stave and keep Melvin Gordon from getting outside the tackles, then we’re looking at a very winnable game. Ohio State has relied a little too much on the offense to outpace the opposition in recent weeks, so it’ll be on the defense to win this game. Fickell’s unit certainly didn’t disappoint last week, turning up the pressure to take over the game after Barrett’s injury. After allowing Devin Gardner to methodically string together long drives all game, the Buckeye defense completely collapsed Michigan’s pocket late, to include a fumble return for a touchdown that put “The Game” on ice.
BoH: A couple of years ago Gordon had a breakout performance in the Big Ten Championship game that first put him on the national radar. Is there an Ohio State player fans are well aware of that you feel is ready to make a statement on a national stage?
SnG: Running back Ezekiel Elliott is the one guy who can put the game on his back and make such a statement. Fans tend to forget losing H-back Dontre Wilson for the season in early November. Wilson left a void Jalin Marshall hasn’t been consistent with filling, leaving Elliott to pick up the slack. The sophomore Elliott hasn’t disappointed in rushing for 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott is the one guy who can put the game on his back and make such a statement.
Elliott has seen around 15 carries per game but without J.T. Barrett, we can expect to see a significant increase. Tom Herman has confidence in his running back as Elliott proved he can shoulder the offensive load in games against Penn State (26 carries) and Michigan State (23 carries). Elliott’s 44-yard touchdown highlight against Michigan came on a crucial 4th-and-one play where the Buckeyes desperately needed something to keep the crowd in the game following the Barrett injury.
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BoH: Should Ohio State defeat Wisconsin, have the Buckeyes done enough to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff?
SnG: In the eyes of Buckeye Nation, yes, a win over Wisconsin is more than enough to garner the 4th seed in the College Football Playoff. In reality, the Buckeyes need a convincing win this Saturday and a loss by one, if not two, of Oregon, Florida State, Baylor, and TCU. The committee has made it clear their job is to put the four teams in the playoff they feel will be most competitive. That said, an Ohio State team led by a starting quarterback with all of six days experience doesn’t bode well.
At the end of the day, a 12-win season and Big Ten Championship in Urban Meyer’s 3rd season is more than enough for Buckeye Nation to consider this season a huge success.
BoH: What is your prediction for the Big Ten Championship?
SnG: Melvin Gordon will run for at least 150 yards, but Ohio State’s defense brings too much pressure to allow the Badgers any luck through the air. The Buckeye offense will play a clumsy game, as they get adjust to Jones running the show, Tom Herman has plenty dialed up for Elliott and Marshall.
We’re looking at a close game, one I wouldn’t be shocked to go into overtime. I like the Buckeyes to capitalize on a late turnover and bring home the Big Ten trophy, 24-21.
Scarlet and Game had their own questions for us, see our answers here.