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September 27, 2013

All-Out Blitz: Ohio State

Welcome to BadgerBlitz.com's "All-Out Blitz,", where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) have arrived at what's arguably the crescendo of their season: they'll head out to Columbus for a game with the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0, 0-0). The winner will be heavily favored to head to Indianapolis as the Leader's Division champion, although it's possible for either team to end their season there if they lose this game. The game is set for a 7:00 p.m. CST kickoff, and will air on ABC.

In the meantime, here's what you need to know about Ohio State:

Head coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season @ Ohio State), 16-0
Ohio State All-Time Record: 829-316-53 (.714)
2013 Record: 4-0 (0-0 Big Ten)
Ranking: 4 (AP), 3 (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 55-18-5

Did you read this?

Walking the Beat: Ohio State

Season outlook

Ohio State finished last season at a perfect 12-0, but couldn't participate in the postseason. In the process they missed out on a chance to play in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time, where a win would have sent them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2010. But even though having their season cut short was undeniably disappointing, my guess is that thinking about 2013 helped take the sting off of the wound. The Buckeyes return nine starters from last season's offense, and have one of the easier schedules in college football. The defense was a bit of a question mark, but the buckeyes are always brimming with talent. It all combined in the preseason to where the Buckeyes were picked by many pundits to play in the national title game, or at least win their first outright Big Ten title since 2009.

This year

Offensively, it all starts with Braxton Miller when he's healthy. Miller has missed the last few games with a knee injury, but he's expected to start on Saturday against the Badgers. The problem they run in to is they only have a game and a half's worth of film on Miller from this season. So far this season Miller has completed 17-of-24 passes for 208 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Wisconsin players say that Miller has improved as a passer since last season, when he completed just 58.3 percent of his passes.

Either way, we'll find out on Saturday- my bet is that Ohio State will try and test the Badgers deep, or close to the sidelines with some back-shoulder passes after Wisconsin's defensive backs struggled against that route two weeks ago against Arizona State.

Miller is also dangerous when he breaks out of the pocket. He's a pass-first quarterback, but Miller rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. That hurts a defense in two major ways: he can extend plays long enough to give his receivers enough time to break out of their coverage, or if nothing's there at all he can always tuck the ball and run. Keeping him in the pocket is a big deal- my guess is that the Badgers want to make him throw.

The Buckeyes have a pretty crowded backfield as well, especially now that Carlos Hyde is back from his suspension. Hyde rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and got a few touches against Florida A&M last week in his first game back. Jordan Hall picked up most of the slack while Hyde was unavailable- the redshirt senior has 68 carries for 422 yards so far this season. Former Wisconsin recruit Ezekiel Elliot has gotten some work as a true freshman as well: Elliot has 21 carries for 200 yards so far. I would expect his touches to dip a bit now that Hyde is back in the fold. With Miller rushing the ball every now and then as well, there probably won't be many carries left over after Hyde and Hall have finished with them.

So far this season three Buckeyes have at least 10 catches: Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson. Brown and Smith lead the team with 16 catches apiece, with Smith usually getting more work downfield than Brown. Badgers fans will remember Smith for the game-winning touchdown he caught against the Badgers in 2011, and he's gotten a lot better since then. Smith averages 19.9 yards per catch for his career, and has four touchdowns already this season (he had six all of last season). He's an athletic player, well-known for making some impressive catches. He'll be a handful for whichever cornerback he lines up against.

As for Brown, he averages about 11.7 yards per catch during his four-year career. He's already matched last season's three touchdowns, and gets some work returning punts as well for the Buckeyes. In a sense Brown is what the Badgers are lacking- a solid receiver who can take some of the pressure off of their normal deep threat.

Defensively the Buckeyes are inexperienced but talented. Weakside linebacker Ryan Shazier is the only returning starter from last season's front seven, but he's a big time player. Shazier had 17 tackles for loss last season and five sacks, and already had 4.5 tackles for loss this season.

The rest of Ohio State's starting front seven includes thee former five-star players, three four-star players, and one three-star player. That's why not many people in Columbus were panicking when they lost so many players from last season- it's the definition of reloading, instead of rebuilding. And unless some of the draft-eligible players decide to go pro, each one of their front seven has at least another year of eligibility left. From a defensive standpoint, the Badgers picked a pretty good season to move in to the other division.

Matchup to watch: Wisconsin's rushing attack vs. Ohio State's front seven

This is pretty much the key to any success the Badgers want to have against Ohio State. They need to be able to run the ball, because I don't think their passing game is at a point where they can really trust it to win a game on its own, especially on the road. Both teams really haven't been tested by actually good running games, so I'm thinking that the Badgers will have some success on the ground. But to put themselves in a position to win, Melvin Gordon, James White or both running backs need to have a really good day.

The pick: Ohio State 28 Wisconsin 24

Like I mentioned above, I think the Badgers need to be able to run the ball against the Buckeyes to make this a competitive game. I do think they'll have success- I expect Gordon or White to have a big day for the Badgers, but I just don't think Wisconsin's passing game is good enough to keep the ball moving. Both teams will be able to score, it's just a matter of who comes out ahead when the other team is able to force long third downs. With Braxton Miller's previous success and the additional weapons he has, I think the Buckeyes will be able to stop the Badgers more often than the other way around. Joel Stave needs to hit on some big plays if the Badgers want to win this game, but I haven't seen him do it with enough consistency to predict a win here.

The point after:

Since Wisconsin's upset over No. 1 Ohio State in 2010, the Buckeyes have held the Badgers to just 3.47 yards per carry over two games.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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