This week’s column comes from Jim Hendrix, if for no other reason than no song has more versions in my iTunes playlist than Red House.
What we learned last week: Indiana is not ready for prime time. The Hoosiers’ game against Wisconsin started at noon on Saturday, but they left little doubt about that with how they performed. As such, they won’t be in the Big Ten championship game a couple Saturday nights from now.
The final numbers say Wisconsin dominated in every way, but Indiana missed some chances especially early on to put together some drives. The quarterbacks did not execute opportunities with open receivers to keep the chains moving.
Of course, Wisconsin’s success on the ground came as no surprise. Indiana had already shown it can’t stop the run, and Wisconsin had already shown it can run all over bad defenses. What we don’t know yet – even with 10 games down – is if Wisconsin can run on a good defense. Or if Wisconsin can stop good passing offenses. I hoped to learn about the latter this past week, but Indiana seemed to leave a lot of opportunities on the field.
I would say there’s no doubt Indiana still has a lot of work to do from a cultural standpoint, too. Head coach Kevin Wilson seems to have the program moving in the right direction, but there is something to be said for expecting to win, in feeling like you can compete with the teams at the top of the standings. Wisconsin has thoroughly dominated Indiana the past few years, and Indiana looked somewhat intimidated. That probably had something to do with the lack of execution in the hurry-up spread offense. Of course, there is hardly a better example than the Badgers themselves for an example of how things can change over the years (See: Wisconsin football, 1963-92).
Wisconsin (2012 edition) does get credit, though, for turning things around based on all the negative momentum the Badgers seemed to have through the first month of the season. The Big Ten is not all that formidable this year, but you’ve still got to take care of business. Wisconsin has been doing that, at least against the lesser teams in the league. It’s no coincidence to me that they have lost to Michigan State and Nebraska, two teams along with Ohio State and Michigan that are better than the rest, whatever that might mean this year.
Of course, it is fair to wonder about Ohio State’s level of competition. The Buckeyes’ best win would be against Nebraska, followed then I suppose by Penn State and the disappointing Spartans.
I’m not sure Indiana will ever be able to put together a defense that will scare anyone (you can’t hide subpar athletes on that side of the ball), but the other Big Ten school in the Hoosier State already enjoyed a pretty nice decade (including a conference championship, something Indiana hasn’t won since 1967) with a throw-centric, spread offense.
Stranger things have happened – Like Wisconsin winning all or part of five of the last 20 Big Ten titles after winning none of the 31 before that.
What we can expect to learn this week: Which is more “back” – the Wisconsin offense or the Ohio State defense?
OK, that is sort of over simplistic, but the trip to Madison definitely provides some interesting matchups this week as Ohio State’s strength – physically running the football – faces an improved Wisconsin front seven. However, I think Ohio State’s ability to spread the field presents some problems for Wisconsin, whose athleticism I’m still not sold on.
With a much less coherent plan on offense and more raw players in key spots, Ohio State ran all over the Badgers last season. Wisconsin looks better up front this time around – some seasoning on the line has helped – but Ohio State is much, much better on all fronts on offense.
Wisconsin’s pass defense is untested, but Ohio State’s passing offense is still searching for consistency. This could be a week for Braxton Miller to make hay with his arm, but he will have to do a better job of controlling his emotions than when he went to Penn State. There are now proven threats on the outside if the sophomore signal caller can get them the ball.
Miller’s talent eventually showed through in Happy Valley, but he was fortunate some early miscues were not exploited by the Nittany Lions. Recent history has already shown us what happens when an Ohio State team goes to Camp Randall Stadium and lets the Badgers get off to a hot start.
Like the Wisconsin offense, the Ohio State defense has spent a fair amount of this season looking for ways to rekindle past successes. The Buckeyes are trending upward in that area, however, and more of their problems have come against the pass than the run.
What success Wisconsin has had moving the ball through the air this season came with Joel Stave at the helm, and he is out for the season. With Danny O’Brien ineffective in relief of Stave, Bret Bielema turned to Curt Phillips last week but revealed little about what the oft-injured upperclassman can do with his arm. Phillips was considered a guy with enough athleticism to hurt teams outside the pocket before injuries derailed his career, and he flashed a little bit of that in Bloomington despite all that time on the shelf. It will be interesting to see if Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada draws up more things to take advantage of Phillips’ legs this week considering the Buckeyes have had some problems with dual-threat quarterbacks. I thought he did a good job varying his running game against the Hoosiers as he avoided putting much on Phillips, who threw only seven passes in Bloomington.
One also wonders if Ohio State will have any problems preparing for a quarterback for whom there is very little scouting report.
The Buckeye defense will have a definite advantage on the outside, where Wisconsin has not found anyone to complement Jared Abbrederis at wide receiver now that Nick Toon has moved on to the NFL. The Badgers do have a few interesting athletes at tight end/fullback who can provide matchup problems, but can they take advantage with Phillips at quarterback?
Overall, this has to be considered a good matchup for the Ohio State on both sides of the ball, but getting a win in Madison is never a sure thing.