Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Badgers' defense ready for expanded attack
By Adam Rittenberg
MADISON, Wis. -- No team defended Ohio State's offense and star quarterback Braxton Miller better than Wisconsin in 2012.
Don't believe me? Ask Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.
He makes it clear that the Badgers caused the most problems for the Big Ten's top scoring offense and the league's top offensive player. Wisconsin held Miller to a season-low 97 pass yards, only 48 rush yards on 23 carries, zero touchdowns and a QBR of 39.5. Ohio State recorded only 15 first downs, 236 yards and 21 points against the Badgers, well below its season averages (21.4 first downs, 423.8 yards per game, 37.2 points per game).
The Buckeyes survived 21-14 in overtime, thanks mostly to their own defense.
"Obviously," Meyer said Monday, "they shut us down pretty good last year."
The Wisconsin defense made things difficult for Ohio State QB Braxton Miller when the teams met last season.
Wisconsin's defense tries to do it again Saturday night when it faces No. 4 Ohio State and Miller, who has been cleared to play following a sprained knee and likely will start. But the Badgers know they're facing a better and broader Ohio State offense this time. The Wisconsin defense also has been through some significant changes with first-year coach Gary Andersen and his staff.
Despite some glitzy numbers, Ohio State's offense was a one-man show for much of 2012, at least at the skill positions. A physical defense like Wisconsin could zone in on Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, without playing too much attention to the perimeter.
The Badgers have no such luxury this year as Ohio State boasts a much stronger supporting cast. Seven Ohio State players have at least seven receptions in the first four games, and four have multiple touchdown catches. Six different Buckeyes have rushed for touchdowns. The offense not only avoided a hiccup when Miller hurt his knee. It actually performed better with backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who has won back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the week awards.
"It's grown," Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland said of Ohio State's arsenal. "They've got a lot of speed at the skill positions and do a great job of getting them out on the edge. Number 1 [Dontre Wilson] is a player, a true freshman, they like getting the ball in his hands and use him with Number 2 [Jordan Hall]. The line does a good job, and with the weapons they have, they can take the top off, too.
"It's one of the best offenses in the country."
Wilson and Hall, who play the H-back position Meyer loves to feature in the offense, didn't play Wisconsin in 2012 as Wilson was still in high school and Hall was rehabbing a foot injury. Evan Spencer, Jeff Heuerman and Chris Fields played in last year's game at Camp Randall Stadium, but they're much bigger factors now.
Saturday likely will mark the first game Ohio State will have its full complement of weapons, as Miller returns alongside Hyde, who was suspended for the first three games. But Andersen doesn't expect many changes from a unit that is operating in fifth gear.
"They want to run the ball first," Andersen said. "They want to be very effective in the play-action run game. They want to have a run game that forces you to run sideways. …
You'll see some balls go out sideways to get you to run, get the defense tired, and they'll come back at you and start running the ball and trying to be physical with you.
"That's good coaching. It's the way it should be done."
Wisconsin has good coaching, too, especially on defense with Andersen and coordinator Dave Aranda. The Badgers are adjusting well to an aggressive 3-4 set, ranking sixth nationally in both yards allowed (243.3 ypg) and rush yards allowed (76.3 ypg), 10th in points allowed (10.5 ppg) and eighth in pass efficiency (86.1).
Opponents are averaging just 2.5 yards per rush and 4.9 yards per pass attempt against Wisconsin, which has yet to allow a passing touchdown.
"We've faced spread offenses three times this year," nose guard Beau Allen said. "We've done a good job of shutting down the run. Against [Arizona State], we gave up too many passing yards. How comfortable and familiar we've become practicing and defending spread teams goes a long way."
Ohio State's spread offense will test Wisconsin's young secondary, so the Badgers will lean on Allen, Borland and the rest of a veteran front seven.
"They're experienced, they're tough-minded, it means a lot to them and they prepare very well," Andersen said. "You're going to get their best shot every single week."
Although much has changed for both Wisconsin's defense and Ohio State's offense since last year's meeting, Allen and his teammates can draw upon their performance against the Buckeyes.
"That's going to be real helpful tape for us to watch," Allen said. "We have a lot of defensive players back, and being in that situation where we defended them so well is going to be beneficial for us this year, to emulate some of the stuff we did and use it again successfully."
Wisconsin's defense would gladly take a repeat performance Saturday night at Ohio Stadium -- with a different result on the scoreboard.