Ohio State’s trip to Wisconsin on Saturday has many of the makings of a classic Big Ten battle.
Both teams are at their best on offense when running the ball while stopping the run happens to be what each defense does best as well.
“As good a front seven as we faced, and we've faced a couple of good ones,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said.
He singled out linebacker Chris Borland – who is reportedly fighting a hamstring injury and could miss the game – as one of the best players in the Big Ten and highlighted the size of Wisconsin defensive tackles Beau Allen (335) and Ethan Hemer (319) in his remarks on Monday in Columbus.
“Very sound,” Meyer said. “They're not a blitz team. They're a team that is extremely well coached.”
Seeing another formidable front has been common place in the Big Ten this season, too.
“One thing about this conference, you can take shots all you want, but there's some very good defense lines this conference, very good front sevens – probably better than I thought,” Meyer said.
Meyer’s counterpart in Madison, Bret Bielema, also had high praise for the Ohio State front, but he wondered if the Buckeyes’ change in offensive styles from the pro-style attack of former head coach Jim Tressel to Meyer’s spread option could affect the Buckeyes’ readiness for the Badgers’ well-known power attack.
“The part that I'm excited to see is we play a certain style of offense, and when Tress was there, they ran a little bit more kind of like what we run, and now they're really totally away from that,” Bielema said. “So it’s going to be interesting because we play a certain style of offense, they play a certain style, and to compete against that defensively throughout the year is something that you always look at from a program perspective.”
Since the start of Big Ten play, Ohio State’s two worst defensive performances came against Indiana’s spread offense and a Nebraska attack that includes many spread and option elements.
The Buckeyes had one of their best days of the season against Michigan State’s power offense and befuddled Penn State’s pro-style attack until backing off to protect a big lead late against the Nittany Lions. The Spartans and Nittany Lions, both playing at home, ran for 34 and 32 yards, respectively, against the Buckeyes.
His Kingdom For Some Playmakers
Ohio State has enjoyed significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball this season, but Meyer is not satisfied with all aspects of the attack yet.
He repeated something this week he has been saying since at least National Signing Day in February: The Buckeyes need more playmakers than quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde has stepped up after a slow start to the season because of a knee injury to join Miller as bona-fide game-changers. That is important given the loss of Jordan Hall, a senior running back who was expected to play in the slot but has missed most of the season with foot and knee injuries.
Ohio State has produced 51 plays from scrimmage that gained 20 yards or more, and Miller has accounted for 38. That includes 13 runs and 25 passes. Hyde has nine runs o 20 yards or more, while the top threat through the air have been Devin Smith (nine such catches) and Corey “Philly” Brown (six).
While most of Smith’s big plays have come as a result of his field-stretching speed, Meyer acknowledged Brown has shown some glimpses of being able to break a tackle and create big plays out of short gains.
“Now I still would grade us not very good. I mean, Ohio State, we should be better than we are,” Meyer said. “(Philly has developed), but we should have four guys like that. We should have four players that can take a curl, make a guy miss and accelerate away from people. We don't have that right now.”
Bielema on Braxton
Bielema has made a habit of recruiting Ohio during his seven-year stint as head coach of the Badgers, so he was well aware of Miller’s gifts even before the OSU signal caller accounted for 187 total yards and two touchdowns in a 33-29 victory over the Badgers last season.
“I’ve been a huge fan of Braxton's,” Bielema said. “I saw him as a junior in high school. We recruited (linebacker) Josh Harrison from his high school, so we had a chance to be around him and his high school coaches, see what kind of person he is. He just exudes everything you would like in the world of college football. I think he's just a tremendous talent, too.”
Bielema compared Miller to All-Big Ten quarterback Russell Wilson, who led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl last season.
“I’m not saying he's Russell Wilson, but he carries a lot of those same things,” Bielema said. “I think that’s why Russell last year after the game and everything that happened there, Russell sought him out. He’d kind of been hearing about him and who he is and what he is. I just wish we didn't have to play him every year because he truly is special.”
Looking Ahead To April
As far as talented defensive linemen go, at least one NFL draft rating service can provide some data to back up assertions the Big Ten goes deep up front.
NFLDraftScout.com rates four Big Ten defensive ends among the top 25 eligible for the 2013 draft (including underclassmen) – Ohio State’s John Simon (No. 10), Michigan State’s William Gholston (12), Illinois’ Michael Buchanan (16) and Michigan’s Craig Roh (23). The four ends in the top 25 put the Big Ten one behind the SEC and ACC while the Pac-12 accounts for two and the Big 12 only one.
Five Big Ten tackles made the top 25 – more than any league aside from the 14-team SEC, which had nine.
Ohio State junior Johnathan Hankins tops the list as the No. 1 tackle and No. 2 overall player on the board. He is followed by Kawann Short of Penn State (No. 10 DT, No. 39 overall), Jordan Hill of Penn State (10/105), Akeem Spence of Illinois (12/123) and Anthony Rashad White of Michigan State (17/191).