WISCONSIN BADGERS (10-2)
vs. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (11-1)
Big Ten Championship Game
Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis, IN
Kickoff: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Wisconsin -4.5, Total: 52.5
No. 5 Ohio State will look to remain in national playoff contention on Saturday night as it takes on No. 14 Wisconsin for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis.
Rushing will be the biggest key for the Wisconsin offense, as the team has been dominant when averaging at least 5.5 YPC, going 16-5 ATS when this has occurred in the past three seasons. The Badgers have been even better when rushing for at least 300 yards, going 11-1 ATS in the past three seasons, which is significant because they enter Saturday averaging 334 rushing yards per game (3rd in nation). They will be facing an Ohio State (7-5 ATS, 10-2 OVER) team that is looking to clinch a spot in the national playoffs, but suffered a huge injury when starting QB J.T. Barrett was lost for the year last week with a fractured ankle. These two schools tend to play low scoring games against each other, as 11 of the last 16 games in this series have finished Under, including the past two. These two schools did not meet in the regular season this year, but the Buckeyes were able to get a 31-24 victory last year in Columbus. Ohio State did a great job of slowing the rushing attack of the Badgers down that game, holding Wisconsin to only 104 yards (3.9 YPC), including limiting star RB Melvin Gordon to 74 yards.
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The Badgers are one of the top rushing teams in the country every year, and this season was no different with more than 230 rushing yards in 10 straight games. While the team has also been able to score as much as nearly any team in college football (37.5 PPG, 15th in FBS), the air attack has had some major problems, ranking 119th in the nation with a mere 147.8 YPG. QB Joel Stave (1,042 pass yards, 8 TD, 4 INT) has been inaccurate all season long (58.1% completions), and has allowed defenses to put an extra defender in the box. The fact that the rushing game has been so effective is a tribute to the offensive line, as it has done a terrific job of paving the way for the runners. In this game though, Stave will have to at least take some chances deep to try and make the defense respect the passing game. When Stave does throw the ball, his favorite target is Alex Erickson (44 catches, 651 yards, 3 TD). He has nice speed on the outside, and could have an opportunity for the double-move against the Ohio State defense. Last season, the Badgers were able to throw for 295 yards against the Buckeyes, but much of that was because of a big deficit early in the game. If Wisconsin can find early success through the air, then the star of the team, RB Melvin Gordon (283 carries, 2,260 yards, 26 TD), will have some opportunities to break the big run. He is very shifty when carrying the football, allowing his blockers to get in front of him and create the hole. While he gets a lot of the talk, and rightfully so, RB Corey Clement (127 carries, 830 yards, 9 TD) is more than capable of having a big game. The Badgers use the duo similar to how they used James White and Gordon last year, allowing a guy to finish a drive if he is starting to run the ball well. Wisconsin will be looking to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and has the ability to do that on defense. The Badgers allow only 16.8 PPG (4th in the nation), while not allowing a single team to score more than 28 points. S Michael Caputo (93 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 FR) is the leading tackler on the unit, as he does a great job of stopping the run from his safety position. They have a nice pass-rushing duo of LBs Derek Landisch (8 sacks, 70 tackles, 14.5 TFL) and Vince Biegel (7.5 sacks, 54 tackles, 15.5 TFL). They will look to get pressure early against the Buckeyes, as Ohio State is now down to its preseason No. 3 quarterback.
QB J.T. Barrett (2,834 pass yards, 34 TD, 10 INT) had become a star for the Buckeyes this season, but the injury suffered against Michigan has him out for the remainder of the year. The Ohio State offense currently ranks 5th in FBS scoring (44.1 PPG), 12th in rushing (257.4 YPG) and 41st in passing (246 YPG). Filling in for Barrett will be Cardale Jones, who attempted only 17 passes this year. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jones can be very difficult for opponents to tackle, and has nice athleticism, so Ohio State doesn't have to alter its playbook. Luckily for Jones, he has a lot of playmakers on the field, especially in the backfield. RB Ezekiel Elliot (197 carries, 1,182 yards, 10 TD) is a big powerful running back that has the ability to get to the second level and run away from the defense. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of his past four games, and will be looked upon by the offense to help take the pressure of Jones. RB Jalin Marshall (487 total yards, 10 TD) had some fumble problems early in the season, but he is starting to show the potential to be a star. If Jones is forced to throw the ball, he will be looking to WRs Devin Smith (26 catches, 662 yards, 8 TD) and Michael Thomas (40 catches, 639 yards, 8 TD). Smith is the receiver who the Buckeyes will use to attack deep, while Thomas is more of a possession receiver. With a new quarterback, Ohio State will also look for the defense to play well, as the Buckeyes donít want to find themselves down big early. The defense ranks 29th in the nation in points allowed (22.9), but has given up at least 24 points in four consecutive games. Last week, they let a struggling Michigan offense score 28 points and gain 372 yards of offense. The star on the unit is DE Joey Bosa (13.4 sacks, 46 tackles, 20 TFL), who demands a double team on nearly every play. LB Joshua Perry (108 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks) is the leading tackler on the team, and he will play a huge role in stopping Gordon.