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DBC 11-16: Big Stakes,High Emotions

Here we go with the Nov. 16 edition of the Daily Battle Cry:

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Wisconsin: A New Rival?

Ohio State won 10 games over the first 10 weeks of the season and now – with no bowl game or Big Ten championship to play for – it all comes to this.

With wins at Wisconsin this Saturday and at home over Michigan next Saturday, Urban Meyer’s first Ohio State team can put itself in the record books alongside some of the best teams in school history. If they can reach 12-0, this team of determined Buckeyes would become just the sixth team in the program’s 123-year history to finish a year unbeaten and untied.

But the task won’t be easy, and it begins with Saturday’s game at Wisconsin.

Ohio State and Wisconsin have separated themselves as the top teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division. Going forward, their games will have a big determination on who represents the division in the Big Ten championship game. (Ironically, that is not the case on Saturday: With OSU ineligible for postseason play, Wisconsin has already wrapped up the division’s berth to the title game in Indy.)

The OSU-Wisconsin rivalry is equal parts respect and contempt. The players know how physical their counterparts on the other side are. They can’t afford to take their opponent lightly, lest they end up on their backside with cleat marks on their chest.

But some bad feelings crept in there in the past year or so. UW coach Bret Bielema was outspoken about Meyer’s recruiting tactics, chafing at the notion – in particular – that Meyer was able to come in and flip offensive lineman Kyle Dodson’s commitment from Wisconsin to Ohio State last February. The coaches say that rift was smoothed over – even as they still wouldn’t be caught swapping recipes.

We know that the Wisconsin rivalry would probably have to be this heated for the next five decades or so to catch up with the OSU-Michigan rivalry, which stands as the best in all of college football.

But OSU receiver Philly Brown probably summed it up the best when he said, "I don't want to go on record saying I hate Wisconsin more than Michigan. But I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan. Every year since I've been here, they've been a nightmare. They ruined our perfect season, and we had a heck of a game last year. This year hopefully it's not as close."

Over the last 11 meetings between OSU and Wisconsin (since 1999), Ohio State holds a 6-5 edge. Twice in this stretch, Wisconsin welcomed in unbeaten Ohio State teams to Camp Randall Stadium and sent them home with a loss. That happened in 2003, when the defending national champions lost 17-10 in a steady rain, and also in 2010, when the Badgers toppled top-ranked OSU 31-18.

Meyer said it was apparent even back to the open week last week just how much his players respect Wisconsin.

“It’s amazing to hear our players talk about it,” Meyer said. “What makes a good rivalry is two good teams that play significant games. Over the past decade and certainly in recent history, these two teams, Wisconsin and Ohio State, have been near the top of the Big Ten. That’s made it an interesting rivalry.

“I don’t know the history before Coach Alvarez got there, but ever since he got there and Coach Bielema got there it’s been tremendous what they’ve done. I was up to visit them last year. It has all the makings of a great college town and a great college program. There is no doubt they will always be up there in contention for the championship.”

Bielema’s Badgers already have their ticket punched for the Big Ten title game. He scoffed at the notion that he would sit key players for this game, even as it is rumored that linebacker Chris Borland may be limited due to a hamstring injury.

“We are going to play this game Saturday and we want to win it in the worst way because Ohio State has set the standard for winning in this league for years,” Bielema said. “The Ohio State game is what it is. It is always a big game on our schedule and nothing is going to change that.

“It’s a big one. We do a lot of recruiting in Ohio. To play Ohio State and Penn State every year is a given and is a big deal. In the last 11 battles with Ohio State, I think it’s 6-5 (for OSU). We lost last year and it was a heartbreaker.

“Ohio State has very good players. It is more of a respect rivalry than anything else.”

Ohio State defensive end John Simon was on the front line two years ago when the Badgers successfully pushed the Buckeyes around in that win in Madison. And he was glad to return the favor last year, when OSU upset the eventual Big Ten champions in Columbus (33-29).

“The most physical team is going to win and that’s usually what it is,” Simon said. “They are going to try and run the ball right down the middle and it’s our job to stop them. Whoever is tougher is going to win that battle.

“It’s a huge game for us. It’s a hostile territory. Their fans are crazy. They play very well at home. We know they will come in with a chip on their shoulder after last year. We have to be ready. It’s just two tough teams going at it. They are a very physical team. When they get things going, they are hard to stop. We will have to stop that run early and try and make them one-dimensional.”

For the record, Ohio State has won four of the last five games with this newfound rival. (But who’s counting and let’s not ruin a good story.)

And, besides, none of that will matter on Saturday. Fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said he still harbors resentment from 2010, when the Badgers dealt OSU its only loss and cost the Buckeyes a shot at that season’s national championship.

“We’ve had a big rivalry with them – almost as big as the Team Up North,” Boren said. “My sophomore year (in 2010), we thought we should have been playing in the national championship game. We thought we were the best team. We went up there and it was a different story.”

And There’s More Motivation?

OK, we’ve established the rivalry. Looking bigger picture, Meyer was asked if he ever exhorted his team to go 12-0 during the preseason. (Keep in mind, he was inheriting a 6-7 mess of a team from a year ago.)

“We never talked about that,” Meyer said. “Our goal was to simply win as many games as we could for a senior class that I grew to admire over my six months of getting to know them and knowing they would not be allowed to do something in the postseason. We never talk about undefeated seasons.

“Besides, we’re facing a team that is playing its best football and ran for 500-some yards against a team that gave us a hard time. We don’t have time to reflect or look into the future. We have to do something to stop this run game.”

OSU is among four remaining unbeatens, along with Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame. Meyer was asked if his team would deserve the Associated Press national title if it finishes as the nation’s only unbeaten.

“No disrespect, but I have not given any thought about that,” he said. “We won’t have any discussion with our players. We are who we are. The good thing about our players is they know who we are and we have a lot of holes to fill to become a better team. At some point that might be worth discussion, but that certainly is not now.”

Meyer was asked if he poured on any extra motivation during the open week for the home stretch.

“I was all prepared to do that,” Meyer said. “It all depends what kind of team you have. I had a couple of team meetings getting ready for this game. You do whatever you can to motivate your players. Once they watched the film, they know this team we’re getting ready to play. The respect they have for their players is obvious.

“We don’t have to talk about bowl games or championships. We have to play a tough team in a tough environment. There is no issue for our team getting ready for this game.”

Simon said the Buckeyes are just putting one foot in front of the other.

“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Simon said. “We know every day is going to count if we want to achieve our goals. There is light at the end of the tunnel and you can see it. These will be two of our toughest games and we just have to make sure we are prepared for them and do whatever we can to leave nothing to chance.”

Wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said it would feel hollow to come this far and not finish it off.

“You know 10-0 is great, but if you lose your last two games what’s 10-0 for you?” he said. “We want to end the season without a loss and go 12-0. We have two enormous games, especially this one coming up.”

Stoneburner was asked if the Buckeyes are getting any of the kind of respect the nation’s other unbeatens are getting. (For more of Stoneburner's comments, check out the video above.)

“No, not really,” he said. “They talk about the other teams that are 10-0 and even some of the one-loss teams before the talk about us. I don’t know if that’s because we have a bowl ban and we’re not in the BCS rankings. I think if we could play in a bowl game, we’d be getting talked about more.

“Being 10-0, I think we are getting the short end of the stick from the media. But we really don’t care too much.”

Boren added, “We’re young but we’re a mature team. We take it one game at a time. With the training we went through in the summer and the camp we went through, you kind of put your blinders on. That’s what is good about this team. You put your blinders on, go to work each week and you win games on Saturdays.

“We need to be 12-0. We’re not thinking about injuries or polls. We have two big games coming up. I’m sure after the Michigan game, the seniors will be able to sit down and tell you how we really feel. It would mean a lot to this team just because of everything we’ve been through and how hard we have worked. Going 12-0, it would be nice.”

Meyer knows the Buckeyes will have their hands full on Saturday in Madison. Clear that hurdle and there will be another one waiting for them seven days later in Columbus.

“Your team is either getting better or getting worse,” he said. “We’re facing a team that is getting better. I’d like to think we have gotten better. We’re going to find out how good we are. We’ve been in some tough environments already with Michigan State and Penn State. This will be a good measuring stick for how tough we really are.”

Scouting The Badgers

As always, we have our detailed scouting report of the opponent and its tendencies. The Buckeyes and Badgers will hook it up at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday. ABC has regional coverage to most of the U.S. with ESPN2 showing it to most of the Southeast. (Click here for the ABC/ESPN2 coverage map.)

Here is our look at Wisconsin:

Wiscosnin Offense

58 Ricky Wagner, LT - Three-year starter, has played in 47 games total. Senior (6-6, 317) is Wisconsin's best offensive lineman, and the catalyst for Wisconsin's run game.

79 Ryan Groy, LG - Junior (6-5, 318) is a first-year starter, but gained valuable experience as a freshman and a sophomore, appearing in 27 games. Has struggled in both pass protection and and in the run game, but has shown flashes throughout the year.

72 Travis Frederick, C - Wisconsin's most consistent and versatile lineman. Junior (6-4, 338) has started 11 games at both center and left guard over the past two seasons, including all nine of Wisconsin's games this season at center.

54 Kyle Costigan, RG - A former defensive lineman. Sophomore (6-4, 313) moved to the offensive side of the ball during fall camp and won the starting job four games into the season. Arguably Wisconsin's strongest player overall.

78 Rob Havenstein RT - Lineman with the most upside. Sophomore (6-8, 342) is also a first-year starter. Did play in 13 games as a freshman and has performed admirably replacing Josh Oglesby.

48 Jacob Pedersen and 85 Brian Wozniak, TE - Pedersen (6-4, 237) is Wisconsin's second best receiving option. Hasn't put up the numbers expected of him this season, but still a reliable target and touchdown threat. Wozniak (6-4, 256) has been a surprise for Wisconsin this season, but has struggled with drops.

28 Montee Ball, RB - Senior (5-11, 215) has had a roller coaster season, but still been able to put up terrific rushing numbers with 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Comes into this game just two touchdowns short of NCAA all-time record for career touchdowns. Ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana last week.

20 James White, RB - Had 161 yards and two touchdowns in reserve duty against Indiana last week. Junior (5-10, 197) has been reliable second option for the Badgers at running back, accumulating 647 yards and eight touchdowns this season. White also returns kicks for the Badgers.

4 Jared Abbrederis, WR - Continues to be a reliable and big play threat for Wisconsin, despite the turmoil at quarterback. Junior (6-2, 188) has nearly 700 yards receiving and five touchdowns, despite working with three different, inexperienced quarterbacks this season. Also returns punts for Wisconsin.

9 Jordan Fredrick, WR - First-year starter won the job as Wisconsin's No. 2 receiver in fall camp. Freshman (6-3, 215) has displayed great hands while being apart of Wisconsin's deep receiving rotation.

3 Kenzel Doe, WR - Sophomore (5-8, 170) is Wisconsin's slot receiver who plays well in space. The speedy receiver has made a few big plays this season as a receiver and on special teams.

10 Curt Phillips, QB - Made his first career start against Indiana last week, going 4-7, 41 yards, and one touchdown. Senior (6-3, 214) has recovered from multiple ACL surgeries and before this season, hadn't played since 2009. Phillips showed good decision-making skills last week, but when forced into long yardage situations, really struggled. Phillips was surprisingly mobile against the Hoosiers, rushing for 66 yards.

Offensive Tendencies - Wisconsin, as always, will pound it on the ground with Ball and White. With starting Quarterback Joel Stave out of the lineup, big plays are limited for the Badgers. Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada will do his best to mix things up offensively and get the two running backs into some open space, finding different ways to get them the ball.

The offensive line has been Wisconsin's MVP of each game, or the biggest let down. When the Badgers have been able to run the ball, they've won, if not, the Badgers lose or struggle severely.

Wisconsin Defense

11 David Gilbert, DE - Two-year starter at defensive end. Junior (6-4, 250) is Wisconsin's speed rusher off the end. Has bounced back nicely after suffering a broken foot, which ended his 2011 campaign.

96 Beau Allen, DT - Junior (6-3, 335) has played in 37 of Wisconsin's games since he's arrived in Madison. Primarily used a run stuffer, Allen still has good ability to get to the quarterback with six career sacks from the defensive tackle position.

87 Ethan Hemer, DT - Former walk-on has developed into one of Wisconsin's best defensive players. The Junior (6-6, 319) is a two-year starter and is excellent at knocking balls down at the line of scrimmage.

97 Brendan Kelly, DE - Senior (6-6 258) has battled injuries and missed some time with a hamstring injury. Kelly struggled against Ohio State last year, particularly controlling Braxton Miller and will be looking to atone from a poor performance in this game a season ago.

51 Tyler Dippel, 45 Warren Herring, 92 Pat Muldoon, DL - These three give Wisconsin some depth along there defensive line. All come in as other pass rushing options for the Badgers.

36 Ethan Armstrong, MLB - Junior (6-2, 232) doesn't get the credit he deserves as he's overshadowed by Borland and Taylor. The former walk-on is Wisconsin's best pass-defending linebacker. Armstrong has been a big part of the Badgers' success in run support.

44 Chris Borland, MLB - Junior (5-11, 242) is Wisconsin's play maker on the defensive side of the ball. Borland has 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three fumbles recovered in 2012. At outside linebacker, Borland is also Wisconsin's best pass rusher.

53 Mike Taylor, OLB - Four-year starter for Wisconsin has been outstanding for the Badgers in 2012, particularly in run support. Senior (6-2, 224) has 95 tackles this season, but has struggled in pass defense.

10 Devin Smith, CB - Three-year starter for Wisconsin at Cornerback. Senior (5-11, 186) lost his 2011 season with a leg injury, and a redshirt year gave him another crack at a senior campaign. Smith has continued to improve has the season wears on, recording two interceptions over his last three games.

24 Shelton Johnson, FS - Broke his arm during the second game of the season, only to return roughly a month later. Senior (6-0, 196) has played in over 40 games. Has a tendency to get beat deep.

12 Dezmen Southward, SS - One of Wisconsin's most improved players this season. Junior (6-2, 2-3) is a first-year starter and Wisconsin's best tackler in the secondary.

14 Marcus Cromartie, CB - Senior (6-1, 192) has been challenged and picked on all year and has responded. Has already matched his tackle total from last season and has eight pass deflections in 2012.

5 Darius Hillary, Nickel - Freshman (5-11, 190) has played very well for the most part as Wisconsin's nickel cornerback. More known for giving up the game-winning touchdown against Michigan State, but Hillary has been very solid all season long for the Badgers.

Defensive Tendencies - Wisconsin's defense has surprisingly been one of the better one's in the Big Ten this season. All season long, the Badgers have been very stout against the run, allowing just five rushing touchdowns this season.

As a whole, the Badgers are allowing just 17.2 points per game, which ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 2 in the Nation. After struggling to get off the field on third down a year ago, Wisconsin's defense is now converting on 44.1 percent of their third down opportunities, good for No. 2 in the nation.

Final Thoughts

Wisconsin is coming off its best game of the season and has had this game circled on their calendars. The Badgers have played well against the Buckeyes at home, particularly when Ohio State comes to Madison undefeated. Still, the Badgers don't have the weapons this season and a consistent enough run game to win this one in my opinion.

For starters, it is hard to imagine a guy making his second career start at quarterback, as Phillips will, making enough plays to defeat the Buckeyes. But Meyer isn’t sure he will be a pushover, either.

“I have a lot of admiration for tough people and everything I’ve read about this guy, he’s a tough guy,” Meyer said of Phillips, who has dealt with past knee injuries that derailed his career. “Our coaches said he is a good thrower, but he is also the best athlete of the quarterbacks they have played this year.”

And then there is Ball, who after a slow start to the season seems to be playing some of his best football.

“I have watched his progress throughout the course of the year and he will be a fine NFL running back,” Meyer said. “He’s got great vision. He’s very durable. He has great acceleration. He is much faster than I originally thought. He is a big time back.”

On the flip side, Bielema said there is plenty to like about OSU’s resurgent offense.

“It starts with No. 5 (Braxton Miller), but he also has a lot of great players around him with the return of (Carlos) Hyde and (Rod) Smith,” the UW coach said. “No. 15 (Devin Smith) makes a lot of big plays, No. 10 (Brown) is very active and they get the tight ends involved. Their O-line is significantly better than they were a year ago. When those big guys up front are playing better, it makes everybody else look better.”

I called this one 27-24 for Ohio State, and I stand by that prediction. Click here for our Game Data page with more on this match-up.

An Improving Defense

In many ways, this game will come down to how well the Ohio State defense will be able to contain Wisconsin’s impressive running game.

A month ago, I’m not sure many people would have given Ohio State much of a chance. In the first seven weeks of the season, the Buckeyes gave up 28 or more points in three of those games. The worst OSU defensive showing in recent memory came Oct. 13 at Indiana, where OSU gave up 481 yards in a way-too-close 52-49 win over the host Hoosiers.

Meyer sent his defensive staff under the hood and the results have been pretty promising since then. In wins over Purdue, Penn State and Illinois since then, OSU has given up eight touchdowns. But when you note how Purdue had one on a kick return, Penn State blocked a punt for a score and Illinois had a defensive fumble recovery for a touchdown, you see that the defense has allowed just five touchdowns in its last three games.

Here’s a stat: In the first seven games, the defense gave up an average of 400 yards per game. In the last three, the opponents netted an average of just 292 yards per game.

“Our kids in the back seven are starting to understand that when we see this formation, these are the two or three things that can happen,” said co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. “Everybody is recognizing what they need to see. I think guys are just getting more comfortable in their positions and they’re getting better.”

OSU has also cut down on the number of big plays allowed as well.

“It’s just recognition of what was happening to us in those plays as they develop,” Withers said. “Our entire defense is showing they can understand what’s coming. We had some injuries early in the year. We’ve gotten healthy and the guys are starting to play.”

As OSU preps for Wisconsin’s awesome running game, the Buckeyes have slammed the door on their last three opponents. Those three teams averaged 74.3 yards per game on the ground. Those three teams averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per carry.

And the good news for OSU is that outside linebacker Etienne Sabino will be back for this game after missing the last month after suffering a fracture in his leg against Nebraska on Oct. 6.

“We’re excited to have him back,” said Boren, who helped bridge the gap in Sabino’s absence. “We’re trying to build on what we’ve established. Sabino is coming in and we’re trying to get into the flow with one another. I think Ryan’s play and my play is elevated because what Etienne brings to the table.”

Cornerback Bradley Roby has been playing at an All-Big Ten level in recent weeks. He discussed the obvious improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

“We simplified the schemes a little bit and we’ve just been playing hard,” Roby said. “The Indiana game was kind of a wake-up for the whole defense. We were like, ‘We are way better than this.’ Ever since then, we’ve been practicing harder and playing harder.”

Simon said the job isn’t done yet, though.

“We definitely need to improve each week,” he said. “We can only control what we do on the field each Saturday. That will take hard work and dedication throughout the week in practice. We have done that throughout the year and haven’t faltered. We just need to keep doing that for a couple more weeks and see where it ends up.

“We have some guys who have settled into some positions and some guys who have been banged up. It will be great to get ‘Bino back. We’re playing well as a unit right now. That’s what defense is all about and we just have to keep it going.”

Another part of OSU’s improvement involved leveraging the football on side-to-side plays and keeping ball carriers from turning the corner – something OSU opponents were able to exploit repeatedly early in the year.

“The biggest thing is the fundamentals,” said safety C.J. Barnett. “We have worked on tackling more than we ever have. We’ve worked on leveraging the ball. You have to know your assignment and do your job and not try to do too much.”

All of it has added up to improved results as the Buckeyes have started to live up to their longtime nickmane on the defensive side of the ball.

“We want to show teams we can play Silver Bullet football,” said corner Travis Howard, who leads the team with four interceptions. “After Michigan State, we kind of slacked off for a couple of games. The coaches want us to go out there and compete and showcase what we can do.”

Hoop Dreams

After last week’s false start, the OSU men’s basketball season will move into high gear this weekend with two games at the College Basketball Hall Of Fame Tip-Off event at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

The Buckeyes, 1-0 after last Sunday’s 82-60 win over Albany, will play Rhode Island (0-2) at 5 p.m. Saturday. (We know, that’s the same time the OSU-Wisconsin game should be headed to the second half.) That game will be available for free online at ESPN3.com. (It may require a dish or cable subscription to access, however.)

Then, OSU will play either Seton Hall (2-0) or Washington (1-1) at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. That game will be televised by ESPN2.

Click [link url=" http://ohiostate.247sports.com/Article/OSU-headed-to-Connecticut-for-two-games-this-weekend-101655"]here[/link] to check out our preview of the weekend’s games.

OSU returns home Friday to host Missouri-Kansas City (6 p.m.) for its final tune-up before it visits No. 9 Duke on Nov. 28. We will have more on OSU basketball in the days, weeks and months to come.

Also Check Out

Here are more stories and columns to check out:

Bax: Urban Never Forgets

Viewers Guide, Picks: Week 12

Big Ten Blast: Showdown In Madtown

Friday Boarding House

Front Row Radio: Football Smorgasbord

The Greatest Game Ever Played

The 2012 season will mark the 10-year anniversary of Ohio State’s national championship victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. We have been celebrating that anniversary with lookbacks at each game that season, including this look at the win over Illinois from 10 years ago today.

You can still purchase my book on the 2003 Ohio State-Miami (Fla.) Fiesta Bowl, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," directly on eBay with a credit card.

You can click here for more details on the book, including sample pages of the cover, table of contents, my introduction and the chapter on the pivotal second overtime.

To order directly online, click this link for eBay.

Or you may send a check or money order for $20 ($17 for the book, $3 for shipping) to:

Steve Helwagen
P.O. Box 34
Pataskala, OH 43062
Allow 2 weeks for shipping.

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