The Badgers played the Boilermakers last weekend and it was Wisconsin that looked like an untouchable freight train.
Wisconsin racked up 388 yards rushing and 8.1 yards a rush as they destroyed Purdue in the Big Ten opener as a primer for Ohio State on Saturday. The winner has an inside track at winning the Leaders Division and reserving a spot in Indianapolis.
The Badgers haven’t beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since 2004 are 3-5 against Ohio State since 2003 and are 4-15-2 against Buckeyes teams that are ranked in the top five of the AP poll. And wouldn’t you know it, Ohio State is ranked No. 4.
So why do I think Badgers have a legit chance to end the Buckeyes’ national title hopes? You’re probably thinking I’m crazy right? It’s because No. 23 Wisconsin can control the clock and because its defense is much better than people think.
Melvin Gordon and James White are the best 1-2 tailback punch in the nation. Only five FBS teams have more rushing yards than the 1,066 yards that Gordon and White have tallied through four games. Think about that for a second. This offensive line, which many thought would have to endure a lot of growing pains in order to be successful in the Big Ten, has settled in and looks amazing.
All the while, Gordon looks like a thoroughbred. Obviously it is very hard to compare Gordon to past Badgers great backs because you’re talking about the Mount Rushmore of NCAA running backs with the all-time rushing leader in Ron Dayne and Barry Sanders’ touchdown record that Montee Ball tied.
But Gordon doesn’t just hit the hole, he attacks it. If he was a muscle car, his tachometer would be in the red every time he approached the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t dance, yet he isn’t in a hurry either which is why Gordon leads the nation in yardage (624) and yards per carry (11.8).
Couple that with a defense that is sixth in the nation by allowing just 76 rushing yards a game. So everyone that thought coach Gary Andersen was nuts for bringing the 3-4 to Madison should be ready to eat some fried crow. Against Purdue, the Badgers allowed just 45 rushing yards.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has said that Braxton Miller will start on Saturday. He has missed the last two games with a knee injury even though backup Kenny Guiton has been out-of-this-world by throwing 13 touchdowns and two interceptions including a school-record six vs. the less heralded Florida A&M.
Expect Miller to be rusty. Wisconsin star linebacker and Ohio boy can smell blood in the water by leading a pass rush that registered a season-high four sacks last week. The Badgers will make Braxton prove he is healthy by coming at him with a myriad of blitzes thanks to a secondary that has played better — particularly true freshman Sojourn Shelton.
But the running game and defense are why the Badgers will win the game. Joel Stave is why Wisconsin won’t. Stave’s line didn’t look terrible at all last week. He completed 63 percent of his passes, threw for 158 yards and had a pick. But the glaring things that everyone is going to remember from that game was how badly he missed Jared Abbrederis. The Badgers wideout had exemplary separation on more than one occasion and Stave couldn’t complete the pass. The one that stands out the most is late in the third quarter with Abbrederis streaking down the center of the field. Stave missed him by at least five yards as it wobbled on the Camp Randall Stadium FieldTurf.
The Badgers need at least two of those plays from Stave. He has to make the secondary work and if Abbrederis can get behind everybody, Stave has to make them pay by airing out the touchdown pass.
Wisconsin is set up to snap Ohio State’s two-game winning streak against the Badgers with its brand of the retro style power running with a twist of the new speed and shake employed by Gordon and White.
But Stave must prove why Andersen chose him to be the starter in the first place — because he can make all the throws.