MADISON, Wis. — For a couple of teams known for conservative offenses for a long time before Urban Meyer’s arrival, Ohio State and Wisconsin have played quite a few games decided by big plays.
Last year, of course, the Buckeyes stunned the Badgers when Braxton Miller scrambled and found Devin Smith with a game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds to play in a 33-29 OSU win at Ohio Stadium.
That was the third touchdown play of 40 yards or more in the final 4 minutes, 39 seconds of the game — a 44-yard run by Miller, a 49-yard pass from Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson to Jared Abbrederis and the game-winner.
Two years ago, it was Wisconsin with the big play when David Gilreath’s 97-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff put No. 1 OSU in a hole it never got out of in a 31-18 win by the Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.
Back In 2003, Ohio State went to Wisconsin on a 19-game winning streak and backup quarterback Matt Schabert hit Lee Evans with a 79-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to beat the Buckeyes 17-10.
So, while everyone expects a close, grind it out, who wants it more type game, don’t rule out the possibility of a quick strike or two being the deciding factor when OSU plays at Wisconsin tonight.
No. 6 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) will be trying to extend an unbeaten season and prove that it is the best team in the Big Ten.
With NCAA sanctions keeping the Buckeyes out of the postseason, that and climbing as high as they can in The Associated Press poll — the only poll ranking them this season — is their ultimate goal.
Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) has already clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game since OSU is ineligible for that game.
The Badgers are probably also out to prove a point. Their three losses have all been by three points and their one-time Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball (1,226 yards rushing) might want to remind Heisman voters that he’s still around.
And a win over Ohio State would make them look like a more worthy Big Ten championship game participant, not just someone who got there because the best team couldn’t be invited.
Motivations aren’t the only things that are similar in this game, though. Both teams will go into it with the same overall strategy — making the other guy beat them passing the ball.
OSU’s Miller (1,753 yards passing and 1,166 yards rushing) can move the ball in the air as well as run, but having Miller or Carlos Hyde (737 yards rushing) run it has been the much more consistent option in the Buckeyes’ offense.
Wisconsin QB Curt Phillips made his first career start in a 62-14 win over Indiana last week and threw the ball only seven times.
At one time, Phillips was a big-time recruit, who was a dual-threat quarterback. But three knee surgeries kept him from getting onto the field.
Wisconsin’s running game, with Ball and James White (647 yards), can be formidable, like it was when it gained 564 yards against Indiana or 467 yards against Purdue. But it also can be absent, like it was when it gained 56 yards in a loss to Nebraska, 35 yards in a loss to Oregon State and 19 yards in an overtime loss to Michigan State.
So, the possibility of Ohio State’s defense controlling the Badgers’ ground game is there.
Ohio State is rested after a bye week. Meyer is 32-2 in his career when he has had more than one week to prepare for a team. Wisconsin’s offense is one-dimensional. The Buckeyes have a huge advantage at quarterback and are probably better on both lines.
And even Wisconsin’s home field advantage might not be as scary as it might appear. Yes, there were those big losses in 2010 and 2003 in Camp Randall Stadium. But OSU has won four of the last six times it has played at Wisconsin.
Look for Ohio State to take Wisconsin’s running game and its fans out of this game and go to 11-0.
The prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 21.