Wisconsin was 6-0 for the first time under head coach Bret Bielema, and had won nine straight Big Ten games heading into last week's showdown with Michigan State. After falling behind the Spartans, the Badgers managed to fight back and tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but an improbable Hail Mary pass was tipped into the arms of a Michigan State receiver, perhaps dashing the national title hopes of Bielema's group.
"It's a good life lesson," said Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing of the setback. "But it's over with now. We can't let this loss hurt us the rest of the season. We have to bounce back and look forward to Ohio State."
Luke Fickell's first season as head coach at Ohio State has been disappointing when considering the program's lofty standards. The Buckeyes are a modest 4-3 overall, and two of their three Big Ten games to date have ended in defeat. On a positive note, they did halt a two-game slide with a 17-7 triumph over Illinois last time out, and they have had two weeks to prepare for this weekend's battle.
"We've got a long way to go and it's about work," said Fickell. "But this game is a lot more fun when you're winning and this game's a lot more fun when things are going your way a little bit. I know you've got to make those things happen, but that momentum is so huge, that that's what drives you to do this stuff. And those guys maybe haven't had that in a while, so they're excited about it."
Ohio State owns a commanding 53-17-5 advantage in the all-time series with Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes have won the last three meetings.
For six games this season, Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson played nearly flawless football, so that is why his two interceptions against Michigan State last Saturday raised some eyebrows. Sure, Wilson made his fair share of big plays in that contest, passing for a pair of TDs and scoring a third on the ground, but the effort fell just short. Montee Ball ran for 115 yards and a TD on 15 carries in the setback.
The Badgers had been dominant defensively prior to the Michigan State contest, so fans of the team were surprised that the Spartans were able to rack up 399 total yards and score four offensive touchdowns. The Badgers clearly struggled against the pass, yielding 290 yards on 22 completions without a single interception.
"This will sting and they will carry this memory with them for the rest of their lives - and it's going to be difficult," said Bielema. "But as coaches, we have to pick up the pieces and move forward and correct the mistakes we made today."
Through seven games, the Badgers are generating 47.4 ppg and 511.7 total ypg. The fact that they are posting 252.1 ypg on the ground and 259.6 ypg through the air speaks to their tremendous balance. It is extremely impressive that the club is making good on 59 percent of its third-down conversion attempts, and Wilson is largely to thank for those figures. He has completed 73.2 percent of his passes for 1,780 yards and 16 TDs with three INTs. Nick Toon has six TD receptions and 505 yards on 27 catches, and Ball has already run for 17 scores and 768 yards.
Opponents are scoring a paltry 13.6 ppg against Wisconsin, and that average was even lower before last weekend's affair. Running the ball against the Badgers has proven to be difficult, as they are yielding just 3.5 ypc. The pass defense has been solid as well, posting seven INTs to date while surrendering just six passing scores. Chris Borland is a player to watch, as he has posted 71 total tackles thus far, including 10 TFL.
Ohio State tailback Dan "Boom" Herron figures to get his fair of chances to pound away at the Wisconsin defense this weekend. Herron was suspended for the first six games of the season, and he made an immediate impact in his return against Illinois by running for 114 yards and a TD on 23 carries.
"I was definitely happy to be back on the field," said Herron. "Missing my teammates and missing the first six games was definitely hard on me. I was very anxious to get back out there today."
The offense was far from explosive for the Buckeyes, as QB Braxton Miller attempted only four passes in the tilt, though his lone completion did result in a 17-yard TD to Jake Stoneburner.
Give plenty of credit to the OSU defense for the effort against Illinois, as the Illini managed only 285 total yards and turned the ball over three times.
Miller is just a freshman, and he needs time to develop as a passer. The one- dimensional Buckeyes are averaging a modest 23.3 ppg and 302.9 total ypg, with 175.0 ypg coming on the ground. Stoneburner has just 12 catches this season, but six of those have gone for scores. Defensively, Ohio State is yielding only 16.3 ppg and 304.9 total ypg, impressive to say the least.