Columbus, OH – The fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes face their first real test of the 2013 campaign, as they open Big Ten Conference play on Saturday night against the 23rd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin is 3-1 on the season, having opened with a pair of shutout wins over Massachusetts (45-0) and FCS foe Tennessee Tech (48-0), before suffering its first loss, in controversial fashion, at Arizona State on Sept. 14 (32-30).
The Badgers rebounded in their conference opener last Saturday, battering the visiting Purdue Boilermakers into submission in what wound up being a 41-10 final. Wisconsin is coached by Gary Andersen, who was a former assistant under Ohio State head Urban Meyer at Utah in 2004.
Ohio State owns the nation's longest active winning streak at 16 games, having never lost a bout under Meyer. The Buckeyes' four wins this season have come over Buffalo (40-20), San Diego State (42-7), California (52-34) and Florida A&M (76-0).
OSU completely dismantled an overmatched FAMU squad at home last Saturday, handing the Rattlers their worst loss ever. It was also the Buckeyes' most lopsided win since an 85-7 triumph over Drake back in 1935.
Ohio State, which has won two straight and four of the last five meetings with Wisconsin, leads the all-time series, 55-18-5. The Buckeyes are 29-7-3 versus the Badgers in Columbus.
Wisconsin rolled up 388 yards on the ground against Purdue last weekend, 546 in all, as they got tremendous individual performances from Melvin Gordon (16 carries, 147 yards, three TDs) and James White (16 carries, 145 yards, one TD). The Badgers are 19-1 when White scores, and he leads all active FBS players with 35 career rushing TDs and 36 total TDs. As for the passing attack, Joel Stave converted 12-of-19 attempts for 158 yards against Purdue, hitting Jared Abbrederis seven times for 94 yards.
Gordon (624 yards, seven TDs), White (442 yards, three TDs) and Corey Clement (334 yards, four TDs) give the Badgers a formidable and fresh running back rotation, the team as a whole churning out an average of 349.8 ypg on the ground, which is the third-best average in country.
Stave is a 63.2 percent passer who averages 190.2 ypg and has thrown six TD passes against only three interceptions, and Abbrederis (23 receptions, 365 yards, three TDs) is clearly his go-to guy down the field as he has more than twice as many catches as his closest teammate.
Defensively, the Badgers notched four sacks, eight TFL and a turnover last week, all while holding the Boilermakers to a meager 45 net rushing yards and only 180 total yards. Chris Borland led the way with six stops, while Sojourn Shelton picked off a pass, giving him two interceptions on the season.
Wisconsin is ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense (10.5 ppg), and the unit has been really strong against the run (76.2 ypg). Its effort defending the pass (167 ypg) has also been rock solid, and in fact, the Badgers have yet to allow an TD pass this season. Borland paces the unit with 30 tackles, but the Badgers have come up with only five sacks and seven turnovers.
Andersen knows this game isn't going to be easy, particularly on the road, but he believes his team will be focused on the task at hand.
"Excited about going in there. I know it's a great stadium. But the fact that we've gone on the road once (Arizona State) and traveled is big for us. I know that's a tough place to play, what have you, but our kids will still be prepared."
Kenny Guiton has certainly made the most of his time as the Buckeyes' starting QB this season, and in last Saturday's shellacking of FCS foe Florida A&M the senior signal caller set a new school record by throwing six TD passes, all in the first half. In what was a truly dominant performance, the Buckeyes had a 34-2 edge in first downs and outgained the Rattlers, 603-80. Ohio State, which scored TDs on 11-of-12 trips to the red zone, also got an outstanding individual effort from Ezekial Elliott, who rushed for a career-high 162 yards and two TDs on only 14 carries. Evan Spencer led all pass catchers with 50 yards and a pair of scores.
Ohio State averages 52.5 points and 529 yards per game -- the former ranking fourth in the country, and the latter 15th. The team sits at No. 6 in rushing offense (311.0 ypg).
Guiton, who continues to excel in the absence of regular starter Braxton Miller, has completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 664 yards, 13 TDs and only two interceptions. Devin Smith, Corey Brown and Dontre Wilson all have double-digit catches, with the former two combining for seven TDs. Jordan Hall serves as the team's primary ball carrier, having amassed 422 yards in averaging 6.2 ypc, and he has found the end zone eight times.
The Buckeyes allowed only 30 passing yards and were credited with six TFL, two sacks and a pair of turnovers against FAMU last weekend. As a result, the defense is now giving up just 15.2 points and 280.2 total yards per contest. Ohio State has been especially tough against the run, yielding a mere 79.8 ypg and only one rushing TD.
Ryan Shazier (28 stops) is the team's leading tackler, and he has 4.5 of the Buckeyes' 23 TFL. As a collective unit, the defense has been credited with nine sacks, nine takeaways, and opponents are converting only 23 percent (13- of-57) of their third-down opportunities.
Meyer was asked if the rather soft non-conference schedule his team has played will have them ready to take on the tougher teams that await in the Big Ten.
"Yeah, so midnight next week we will know. I love my team, I like our coaches and the seriousness that our guys are approaching everything with, and I like the fact that we're relatively healthy," He continued, "Are we prepared? I like to think we are."