Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

Sports Xchange

November 29, 2017 at 11:46 am.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
TV: FOX
SERIES: Ohio State leads 58-18-5. Two games have gone to overtime since 2012. The teams met in the 2014 Big Ten title game, with Ohio State rolling 59-0.
RANKINGS: Wisconsin No. 4; Ohio State No. 8

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Badgers

–QB Alex Hornibrook heads into one of the biggest, if not biggest, game of his career with a 63.9 percent completion rate this season. He has thrown for 2,157 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His average of 8.8 yards per attempt is eighth among Power Five quarterbacks.

–RB Jonathan Taylor, a Heisman Trophy candidate, closed out the regular season with nine 100-yard rushing games. He finished with 1,806 yards and needs just 120 yards to break Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman record of 1,925 yards. Taylor, one of three Doak Walker Award finalists, leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks third nationally with a 150.5 yards per game average.

–WR Kendric Pryor can put to rest any pain from dealing with a moped injury in preseason camp that limited his availability in the first month of the season. The mental side of such a unique injury took some time for Pryor to overcome, but he enters the Ohio State game with 10 receptions for 143 yards and one touchdown. His speed can help stretch the field, opening up running lanes for Jonathan Taylor.

–DE Alec James’ 5.5 sacks this season are the most for a Wisconsin defensive lineman since J.J. Watt’s seven sacks in 2010.

Buckeyes

–QB J.T. Barrett, considered probable to play early in the week, has tied Art Schlichter for most career wins as a Buckeyes QB with 36. He also has become just the second player in FBS history to rush for 40 touchdowns and throw for 100. He has 47 career rushing touchdowns and 102 through the air.

–DE Nick Bosa finished the regular season among the top 10 in the Big Ten in sacks with six and tackles for loss with 12.5. He also has 28 tackles and a team-leading six quarterback hurries. The sophomore is a disruptive force and a constant threat in the pass rush in much the same fashion as his older brother Joey Bosa, who is now one of the NFL’s best pass rushers with the San Diego Chargers. The younger Bosa’s ability to get in the backfield could be a key to slowing down Wisconsin’s offense, led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.

–RB J.K. Dobbins ran for a game-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in Ohio State’s 31-20 victory over Michigan last Saturday. It was the fourth time the freshman has run for more than 100 yards in a game this season. While splitting time at running back with sophomore Mike Weber, Dobbins has piled up a team-leading 1,190 yards rushing on 164 attempts, an impressive 7.3-yards-per-carry average. He ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing behind another freshman, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, and is closing in on the school freshman record for a season set by Maurice Clarett in 2002.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

The parallels between this year’s Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis and 2014 are striking.

No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State are not only playing for the conference title again this Saturday, but both have a chance to make the College Football Playoff.

Each team has a standout running back. This year, both happen to be freshmen.

And Ohio State enters the game with uncertainty at quarterback because of an injury.

Back in 2014, J.T. Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the final regular-season game against Michigan and Cardale Jones came off the bench to famously lead the Buckeyes’ national championship run that began with a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Barrett is a senior now, and he also was hurt in the regular-season finale against Michigan, a 31-20 Ohio State victory. This time around, Barrett has a knee injury and is considered probable against Wisconsin.

There’s a possibility that Ohio State might need to call on redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins if Barrett is unable to go. Haskins came in at Michigan during the third quarter last Saturday and led Ohio State’s fourth-quarter comeback that resulted in its sixth straight win in the rivalry game.

It all sounds familiar. And yet the coaches and the players who are still around insist that past history — which includes Ohio State’s 30-23 victory at Wisconsin a year ago in the teams’ last meeting — has nothing to do with the present.

“It’s a different year and a different team,” said Ohio State center Billy Price, who started the 2014 game.

Paul Chryst was not the head coach in 2014 when Wisconsin endured the beat down by Ohio State in the championship game, but he’s obviously familiar with what happened.

“I think you always draw from all your experiences,” Chryst said. “This game is about these two teams this year. Both teams earned the right to play in this game and obviously to play for a Big Ten championship is a big deal.

“It’s about this year, this moment.”

The Badgers (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) enter the contest (8 p.m. ET on Fox) against the Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1) with an unblemished record and yet there are plenty of skeptics who dismiss Wisconsin’s postseason chances. They say the Big Ten West Division was subpar and the schedule was weak.

“I don’t want us to get caught up in too much of that,” Badgers cornerback Derrick Tindal said. “Just play our game. I feel like that’s why we’ve been able to play so well up to this point. Nobody is worried about what the world thinks about us. We just worry about who is in that locker room. We’ve just got to keep doing that.”

Wisconsin offensive tackle Michael Deiter said, “There’s definitely a lot riding on it. Most importantly is winning the Big Ten. That is something we want to do. All the other stuff you definitely notice it, but there is no reason to put a ton of thought into it. All we want to do is win the Big Ten.”

The Badgers’ best chance to win Saturday night revolves around standout freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who has run behind a massive offensive line for 1,806 yards and leads the Big Ten in rushing, just as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon did in 2014.

Wisconsin also will try to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Its defense leads the Big Ten in fewest rushing yards (80.5), total yards (236.9) and points (12.0) allowed per game.

“They’re — I can’t tell you the exact ranking — but I think they’re No. 1 in everything,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “And very good skilled athletes. … Giant offensive linemen in Wisconsin. And obviously a very good challenge against an elite running back.”

No Big Ten team has made more trips to the championship game than the Badgers’ five, including three of the past four years, but they’re still looking for their first win.

“We’re going to approach it the same way we have all year and just go out there and try to score one more point than the team against us,” Wisconsin safety Joe Ferguson said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do against Ohio State. We don’t need to change our formula. It’s been working all year.”

Ohio State opened the week as a 6.5-point favorite. The Buckeyes are 1-1 in Big Ten title games, winning it in 2014.

The obvious question mark surrounding Ohio State leading up to the game will be the status of Barrett, the four-year starter who last Saturday tied Art Schlichter’s school record for quarterbacks with 36 wins.

The previously undisclosed cartilage damage in Barrett’s right knee, aggravated when it was bumped on the sideline at Michigan while warming up, is apparently something he has dealt with all year.

But up until that point it hadn’t affected him on the field. Barrett leads the Big Ten in touchdown passes with 33 and is second in total offense. Along the way he has broken numerous school and Big Ten records.

If Barrett is unable to play or is limited, Haskins proved at Michigan that he is ready to take the reins.

“Whoever’s out there I feel confident,” Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “I know the competitor J.T. is that he’s going to do whatever it takes to play in this game.”

Barrett is a big part of Ohio State’s offense, which leads the Big Ten in most statistical categories. But it is built around a strong running game led by two capable backs.

Freshman J.K. Dobbins is second in the Big Ten behind Taylor in rushing with 1,190 yards and sophomore Mike Weber has run equally as well late in the season.

Defensively, Ohio State is strong up front with its “rushmen” package that will attempt to get after Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions) and slow down Taylor.

“This is going to be a great challenge for us as a defense,” Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said. “It’s going to be a battle.

“You can’t really worry about the playoffs. Our message has been beat Wisconsin. Our message has been do what you can to win the game that week.”