Wisconsin’s running game grinds away
With Wisconsin’s offense, there is little mystery.
These Badgers are like their predecessors. There is a little flash, but mostly they are meat and potatoes. They will grind and grind in hopes of pounding opponents into submission.
They’ve done it to all 12 regular-season opponents in going undefeated, and they hope to do the same against Ohio State on Saturday in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
“Their system is what it is,” Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “It works year after year after year. We have a major challenge getting the kids ready to go play.”
Jonathan Taylor is the latest in a long line of star Wisconsin running backs. The true freshman has already gained 1,806 yards, the third-most in the country. Paving the way is an offensive line that features tackle
Michael Deiter and guard Beau Benzschawel, both of whom are first-team all-Big Ten selections.
The average weight of the Badgers’ offensive linemen is more than 322 pounds.
“The thing they do well is they finish their blocks,” Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said. “This is definitely going to be the best offensive line we’ve faced all year.”
The Buckeyes have generally tackled well this season, but they sprung some leaks against Michigan. They know they must shore that up against
Wisconsin. Coombs bemoaned the uncharacteristic tackles by his cornerbacks last week.
“You have to tackle. You have to tackle. You have to tackle,” Coombs said. “We pride ourselves in being a very good tackling unit. I think it’s one of the better tackling units we’ve ever had, and they’re going to have to tackle this week.”
The biggest question mark about the Badgers’ offense is the passing game. Wisconsin ranks 97th in the nation and ninth in the Big Ten in passing yardage. Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 13 interceptions.
But Hornibrook also has a knack for making clutch plays, and although the Badgers don’t rack up passing yardage, they are 14th in the country in passing efficiency.
“I think the quarterback is a special player,” Coombs said. “I think he’s very underrated.”
The Buckeyes must pay special attention to gifted tight end Troy Fumagalli, especially considering their struggles covering that position this year.
But in the end, whether Ohio State can handle Wisconsin revolves around the Badgers’ run game and the fight in the trenches.
“When you’re in this program that teaches nothing but being tough and physical, you instantly get ready and prepared for it,” Buckeyes defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “You think about all the hard training we do to prepare for this moment.”
The Buckeyes have been stout against the run this season, yielding only 3.1 yards per carry.
Saturday will be their ultimate test.
“It’s honestly going to be a battle of who’s more physical and has more toughness,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “That running back, he runs downhill. He’s not going to run around you. He’s going to run through you and bounce off tackles.
“Their offensive line is amazing. Honestly it’s man-on-man, who’sbetter football. It’s going to be fun.”