Published September 24, 2013
MADISON, Wis. – It's tough enough for a defense to have to prepare for Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Braxton Miller.
But Kenny Guiton, too?
No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) is up for the challenge. Whoever the quarterback is for Ohio State, it's not going to change how the Badgers' defense prepares for the Buckeyes this weekend at the Horseshoe.
"No, both good players," coach Gary Andersen said. "Doesn't change our approach whatsoever with whichever quarterback is playing."
Miller is recovering from a sprained medial-collateral ligament in his left knee that's forced him to miss most of the previous three games. He's expected to be available for Saturday night's game.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes haven't missed a beat with Guiton, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and just one interception.
"I don't think it matters whoever is in there," Andersen said. "It's still a tough offense regardless."
The Badgers' defense isn't too shabby, either.
Wisconsin held Purdue last week to 180 total yards, and just 76 yards rushing per game overall. The veteran front seven played its best game of the year, and Wisconsin had four sacks after getting just one over its first three games.
There's a big asterisk, though, to the statistics. The Badgers were dented for 352 yards receiving on 29 catches in their only loss of the season, a 32-30 defeat in Week 3 to high-octane Arizona State.
Still, Wisconsin did just enough to hang in there to get a chance to win in the end. And the steady Badgers have beaten up on opponents they're supposed to overwhelm, showing no signs of letdown.
"I think we've been Steady Eddie in games. We've been through emotional moments. We've been through tightly-contested games," Andersen said. "I ask them every week, stay steady, stay right in the middle ... React to adversity and react to the good all in the same. It's a business-like approach to a football game."
It's an approach that seems to suit linebacker Chris Borland just fine. In front of microphones, Borland speaks in calm but confident tones, as if he's making a business presentation to board of directors. The fifth-year senior and Ohio native with a team-high 30 tackles has the sideline-to-sideline range that may help defend Miller.
"He's going to hurt you at some point," Borland said. "He's a great athlete."
Borland points to the stopping the run and keeping Miller contained as the top priorities. It worked last year to an extent, even if the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 21-14 in overtime. Miller was 10 of 18 passing for 97 yards in the game, and had another 48 yards rushing. He also was sacked three times for a loss of 27 yards.
"I'm not the biggest of this, obviously, but we took some lighter, faster guys and put them in to try and keep (Miller) in the pocket, said 6-foot-3 nose guard Beau Allen. He's listed at 325 pounds.
"I thought we kind of rattled him, and then when he did escape the pocket, did a great job of tracking him down."
Borland has noticed a little bit of a difference so far this year, with Ohio State taking more shots downfield and finding success on big plays. The Buckeyes are stretching teams horizontally and vertically.
But Wisconsin has a new wrinkle of its own. Andersen has switched the Badgers to a 3-4 scheme. For the most part, his savvy veterans up front have picked it up quite well.
The 3-4 might also add more quickness on the field to help keep up with Miller. Or Guiton.
"I think we have the personnel more so this year," Borland said. "We've had four guys with their hands in the dirt (last year) and that's a little bit harder to contain option looks, spread looks. Three-4 works to our advantage."
The Buckeyes might have to study up themselves to prepare for the unknown with the Badgers defense, too.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP