Saturday, October 29, 2011
It's game day at Ohio Stadium
By Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greetings from The Shoe.
Ohio State hosts No. 15 on Homecoming night in a game that can't be understated for both teams. The weather is cool and the winds are calm. It should stay dry tonight.
Wisconsin must avoid a hangover after its heart-wrenching loss to Michigan State and prevent a second defeat that could knock the Big Ten preseason favorite out of the Leaders division race. Ohio State momentarily stopped the doom and gloom enveloping Luke Fickell and a beleaguered program with an Oct. 15 win at Illinois. Following a bye week, the Buckeyes can put themselves in the thick of the division race with a victory tonight.
Wisconsin beat Ohio State 31-18 last year in Madison en route to earning the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth. The Badgers won the game at the line of scrimmage, bullying Ohio State like few teams in recent memory. Once again, Wisconsin must win the battle up front, especially in the run game, which sizzled with junior Montee Ball last week against Michigan State but faces a formidable challenge up the middle with Buckeyes defensive tackles John Simon and Johnathan Hankins.
Ohio State's defense carried the team against Illinois and will need an even better performance tonight against Russell Wilson and the Big Ten's top scoring offense (47.4 ppg). But the big question for the Buckeyes is whether the offense can show greater variety after attempting just four passes and completing only one at Illinois. Coordinator Jim Bollman has had two weeks to work with quarterback Braxton Miller, and you should expect to see some wrinkles with the Buckeyes' offensive scheme. This is also a big opportunity for Wisconsin's defense, which struggled to contain Michigan State's perimeter speed last week.
Special teams loomed large in last year's game, as David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a lead it never relinquished. The Badgers must rebound in the kicking game after enduring several breakdowns against Michigan State.
This is a big moment for both head coaches. Ohio State's Luke Fickell is fairly or unfairly coaching for his future and needs a strong finish and some signature wins to impress his bosses. While I believe Fickell has handled an extremely difficult situation well, the bottom line always is wins and losses, especially at a program like Ohio State.
Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, meanwhile, must show he can get his team recharged after the most deflating loss of his head-coaching career. Bielema's record at Camp Randall Stadium speaks for itself, but a second consecutive road loss with an extremely talented team will raise some doubts.
Bottom line: We'll know a lot more about the Leaders division race after tonight's game.
Don't even think about going anywhere. This is the place to be for coverage throughout the night.