Tag Archives: Wisconsin football

Overheard at Ohio State: Wisconsin Week

Cleaning out my reporter’s notebook after week on the Ohio State football beat. This time the Buckeyes were sounding refreshed after a week off prior to a trip to Madison, Wisc., to take on the Badgers. 

URBANISMS

Ohio State’s head football coach said Wisconsin is a much-improved team right now. Teams get better or they get worse through the course of the season, and this one is on the upswing. The blowout of Indiana last week was the Badgers’ best performance on both sides of the ball.

Wisconsin does a nice job with shifts and motions before the snap on offense and it’s hard to maintain gap integrity against the Badgers. When they go to the air, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is a heck of a player.

Program cover from Ohio State-Wisconsin football, circa 1932

Practice was excellent on Monday. The team seemed rejuvenated after having the weekend off, so the coaches have to be careful how they use that energy. It was a very physical practice.

He has had good success in the past after weeks off, so he maintains the same practice schedule.

The Buckeyes’ bowl ban has not really been addressed much so far this season because he likes how the team shows up to work on a regular basis. He has a lot of competitors in the locker room. They want to show up and perform their best against a good team like Wisconsin.

Leadership is an underrated aspect of college football, and Zach Boren brings that to the Buckeyes. He wasn’t doing that in the spring or summer, but he is now. Boren is one of Meyer’s all-time favorites now.

The defense is not the Silver Bullets yet, but it has been playing much better.

He hasn’t thought about the inability to go to a bowl while being undefeated as much as he expected. It comes up from time to time and then he thinks about how good the team might really be. He pauses to reflect then moves on to get ready for the next game.

He hasn’t talked to the team about the potential of an Associated Press national title for the last few weeks. He likes how the team meetings have been going. They know where they are as a team. It’s a no-nonsense group. He really likes coaching them.

Before the weekend off, he told the guys to think about how anything they do will help them get their 11th win. If so, do it a lot. If not, don’t do it.

Asked his impressions of the rivalry with Wisconsin, he said pretty good. He is learning about what it’s been like in recent years. He’s hearing about it from the guys who have been around. It is a rivalry game now.

The cornerbacks are an improved group for Ohio State. Travis Howard wasn’t very good earlier in the season, but he’s developed a lot.

He wasn’t sure what to make of a question about bad blood between the two programs but said the players respect Wisconsin so they are preparing hard for them. Meyer has no issue with Bielema. That was blown out of proportion early in the year and they squashed it.

Wisconsin has a very good front seven, one of several in the Big Ten. Meyer is impressed with how many there are in the league, perhaps more than he expected based on the reputation of the conference before he got here. Wisconsin has a very big front four, and linebacker Chris Borland is one of the best in the league. The Kettering, Ohio, native is very instinctual.

Meyer has talked to the team about winning the conference division outright. That is an important task.

He’s been to Camp Randall Stadium before – including as an assistant here in the ‘80s – and it is a great atmosphere.

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball had a slow start to the season, but a lot of that might have been on others more than him. The coaching staff has come together as the season has progressed, and they’ve gotten creative in the running game. Ball will be a very good NFL running back.

Asked to rate his team’s playmaking ability, Meyer said probably a C or C-. Braxton Miller fits the mold, and Carlos Hyde is joining him along with Philly Brown, but he expects at least four. And Hyde and Brown still have work to do. He wants making plays to be common place, not something that is remarkable every time they make someone miss or break a tackle.

Players added:

Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown noted the Buckeyes and Badgers have been going back and forth with messing up each other’s seasons. Ohio State is trying to get revenge for losing there his freshman year when they were undefeated and ranked No. 1.

The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium is not so much intimidating as much as it is fun. Same with Penn State. Those are two of the loudest stadiums they have played in and they try to use the energy from the crowd to their advantage.

He remembers “Jump Around” at the end of the third quarter last time when he was a freshman. Hopefully won’t be as loud because they’ll be winning, he said.

This group is hungry enough to put in the work to go undefeated. They are all in and he has no doubts they can do it.

Defensive lineman John Simon predicts the most physical team will win in Madison. They know the Badgers are going to try to run up the middle against them, and they have to stop it.

This is a huge game and hostile territory. fans are crazy and Badgers play very well at home. The Buckeyes are doing all they can to be prepared for challenge, but they are taking it one game at a time as far as going undefeated.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but they have two of their toughest tests coming at the end so they have to be prepared for each one of them and leave nothing to chance.

Cornerback Travis Howard says they figure on seeing a big running game from the Badgers and it will come down to which team is the most physical.

They should be able to put the corners on an island and stack the box to stop the run without worrying about how he and Bradly Roby will hold up.

Howard thinks it is “fabulous” to hear Meyer say he and Roby are one of the best cornerback tandems he has coached because he knows Meyer had some tremendous guys at Florida. Howard feels like Meyer’s pushing them to get better every day has been significant in their improvement.

The Buckeyes have a chip on their shoulder but can’t control situation other than to go out and win every game.

That’s what they are trying to do. At the end of the day they can look back and say they accomplished great things but it’s not time for that yet. Wisconsin is most important right now.

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Ohio State Football Week 11 (Part 2): Red House

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.

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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.

Ohio State Football Week 11 (Part 1): Gimme Back My Bullets

This week’s column looks to Lynyrd Skynyrd for inspiration as we examine why the Buckeye defense has looked more like its old self the past couple of weeks. Hint: It’s really not that complicated. With Ohio State off this week, we also take a look at the most interesting Big Ten matchup on tap while also keeping an eye on the Buckeyes’ next opponent.

What we learned this week: It’s amazing what better players can do for a defense.

That Ohio State is playing better when the other team has the ball is no coincidence when you look at the players in the lineup.

There is no doubt they were missing Nathan Williams, who was not there for Indiana, and they needed players like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington to step up.

Perhaps the unit would have rounded into form sooner with the improving play of Etienne Sabino against Michigan State and (a very good) Nebraska offense, but his injury set them back yet again before that debacle in Indiana on Oct. 13.

Zach Boren’s move to linebacker from fullback was necessitated by the broken bone in Sabino’s leg, and the Boren of the 52-22 win over Illinois is a better player than the one of the 52-49 win over the Hooisers three weeks earlier.

Don’t forget CJ Barnett was out of the lineup for a few games and needed a little time to get re-acclimated with the rest of his teammates in the speed of the game, too. That was key as it allowed Orhian Johnson to return to Star, where he has been the most productive player at the position this season.

I hate to sound like an excuse machine for the coaching staff, but sometimes people go a little overboard in looking to blame people when something goes wrong. Often there really are reasonable explanations for why things don’t turn out exactly how they’re expected to.

On top of all that, you’ve got a new staff learning what each member knows, what the players can do within that knowledge and how to put it all together.

I like the potential of the quarters coverage that they went into the season wanting to play, but I can see where it could be a dicey situation, with a variety of people learning it all at once. I like the different options it gives you, and I think it’s just about the best coverage out there – when played correctly – but then I’m a little old school in defensive philosophy. I grew up in an old-fashioned 5-2 set that involved hitting, reading and shedding blocks at every position up front rather than all of mostly anchoring one spot. I get the ups and downs involved. I see that it puts a lot of responsibility on each individual player, and that it leaves the door open for one guy’s mistake to make more of a negative impact on a play, but done right it’s pretty dang hard to beat because when you have so many guys playing two gaps, you’ve got multiple outs all over the field. It can work out to be the equivalent of having extra defenders out there, a reverse of what the offense is trying to do with the zone read and option stuff that hs become so prevalent in the past decade.

To their credit, the coaching staff never seem to panic. They’ve all been through transitions like this before, and surely they had seen some of the similar struggles. They knew it wouldn’t happen overnight no matter how badly everyone wanted it to.

Urban Meyer’s greatest strength as a coach is undoubtedly his passion, but sometimes I think that gets him in a little trouble. And I’m not just talking about his famous bout with burnout, I’m talking about even just with the things he says.

As a member of the media I certainly appreciate his bluntness and honesty with us in terms of a lot of different things he says, but I think sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself. Sometimes we hear him talking about what he wants to see in an ideal situation, but I am pretty confident he’s realistic enough to know he’s going to have to settle for less than perfect on a regular basis, particularly in Year One, whether he likes it or not. That usually comes out through the course of a 30-minute press conference, but sometimes it gets lost in our little soundbite world that we now live because the first thing is often what gets highlighted even if the next sentence hollows it out a little bit and brings it back to the center.

Slowing down that Illinois offense is no great feat in and of itself, but holding any team under 200 total yards is to be commended. It’s more than we probably would have expected to see from this Ohio State unit even against a bad offense prior to this week, so in a world where average is somewhat understandably surprising to see, we should know when the defense turns in a dominant performance.

Meanwhile, the offense putting 50 points on the board without Braxton Miller going absolutely crazy is noteworthy as well. It speaks to the development of a lot of guys around him. The offensive line obviously did a lot of work to make holes for Carlos Hyde, and the junior running back did his best to take advantage.

Meyer sounded a little bit sour after the game, but when you can nitpick a specific part of the passing game after quarterback throws for 220 yards and a touchdown, you must be living okay. Don’t overlook the fact he was complaining about only the drop-back passing game, not the play-action part that was just fine, and quite productive as a matter of fact.

Bottom line: Players are developing and/or getting healthier on both sides of the ball, and that usually makes coaching a lot easier to do.

What we can expect to learn this week: How good is Wisconsin’s defense in space?

The Badgers have stopped a two-year slide in effectiveness of their stop unit this season, but I’m not sure how tested they truly are yet.

Nebraska spent half its win over the Badgers in late September running into itself and shooting itself in the foot and still gained 340 yards and scored 30 points in the conference opener.

Since then, Wisconsin’s defense has played somewhere between well and okay, but the competition still hasn’t been much to be scared of, particularly as far as passing goes.

Purdue has good threats on the outside, but hapless Danny Hope played around with his quarterbacks that afternoon and probably hurt the chances of his team getting into any type of rhythm. As against Ohio State, the Boilermakers picked up almost all of their yards on a handful of big plays. Wisconsin picked off two Minnesota passes, but that was against a true freshman in his first start. Andrew Maxwell, the league’s No. 10-most efficient passer at the moment, threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns without an interception as Michigan State beat the Badgers in overtime two weeks ago. The Badgers slowed down Le’Veon Bell, but most good defenses do because of the poor quality of the MSU offensive line.

And why does this matter? Because Indiana has the best passing game in the Big Ten and plays host to Wisconsin this weekend in what could turn out to be a de facto Big Ten Leaders division title game.

Not only are there high stakes, the noon game is of added interest because the Buckeyes are idle and Wisconsin is their next obstacle to a perfect start under Urban Meyer.

If Indiana can stretch the Badgers out from sideline to sideline, and execute consistently, there should be plenty of opportunities to make things happens. Running back Stephen Houston is a weapon as well on the inside for head coach Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes have to like their chances against that Wisconsin defense if it has problems dealing with improving Indiana. Although what they want to accomplish with their formations is different, the Buckeyes will be able to provide some of the same problems in space in two weeks in Camp Randall Stadium when they look to improve to 11-0.

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