Wis­con­sin’s run­ning game grinds away

The Columbus Dispatch - - Sports - By Bill Rabi­nowitz

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.”

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