Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Interview with Fansided’s Badger of Honor


In advance of Ohio State’s clash with Wisconsin, Scarlet and Game sat down with the team at Badger of Honor.

A big ‘thank you’ to editor Jim Oxley for taking the time to provide us with a view of Saturday’s Big Ten Championship from the opposite sideline.

Scarlet and Game (SnG): After a couple of early-season slip-ups, Wisconsin has been one of the better teams down the stretch. What is the general fan reaction to this season and how far the Badgers have come since the Northwestern loss?

Badger of Honor (BoH): The season-opening loss to LSU left Badgers fans asking questions. Why didn’t Melvin Gordon play in the second half? Is Joel Stave injured, or does he have the yips? Will we be able to survive without the threat of a passing game? The sting of the LSU loss didn’t last long, as it was easy to justify at the time…a ranked SEC team away from Camp Randall, playing a new quarterback who’s still finding his groove, etc. Easy wins over non-conference teams helped soften the loss, those questions took a back seat, and Wisconsin rolled into the Big Ten season.

The loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten opener wasn’t as easy to justify. The Badgers simply couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, and continued to struggle all season throwing the ball.

It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. It’s hard to be upset when Melvin Gordon is setting records left and right. As Gordon continued to pound out the yardage game after game, the passing attack showed up here and there as Wisconsin shifted into a two quarterback system with Joel Stave at the helm and Tanner McEvoy coming in to run the option at times.

And, despite that loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin handed two quality opponents back-to-back losses on their home turf the past two weeks, securing this spot in Saturday’s game. Gordon’s Heisman campaign and the strong finish to the season has MadTown rocking yet again.

SnG: The Badgers open as a 3.5-4 point favorite over the Buckeyes, a margin some Buckeye fans feel discredits the Ohio State defense and ground game, while giving too much credit to Wisconsin’s one-dimensional offense. Would you agree or disagree with that statement?

BoH: I certainly understand why Ohio State fans would feel slighted, but I wasn’t surprised at all to see Wisconsin favored considering J.T. Barrett’s injury. You see it at every level: if you don’t have a quarterback, you won’t succeed. Just look at the NFL bottom feeders – they all have poor quarterback play. Having said that, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly had the hottest showing from its QB’s, either. But there’s one big difference between Joel Stave and Cardale Jones, and that’s experience. Stave has 19 career starts, Jones has mostly played in garbage time. Experience means something; it can’t be replicated in practice, especially not in just one week of first-team reps. To me, the early line was a reaction to the injury, and an unproven backup forced into a starting role just a week before the biggest game of the season, not a discredit to the Ohio State defense or an over-credit to Wisconsin’s rushing attack.

Having said that, I will agree the number was high. Too high. That three-point threshold means something. I would have expected Wisconsin to open as a slight favorite, something in the 1-1.5 point range. By my own argument above, Wisconsin’s passing attack is nothing to be confident in right now. This game feels like it will be a slugfest – two physical teams trying to make the other give first. It has the feel of a game that will come down to the last possession.

SnG: Melvin Gordon is clearly the best running back in the country and the backbone of Wisconsin’s offense. Should Ohio State’s defense manage to contain Gordon, who do the Badgers turn to in order to make plays?

BoH: Wisconsin’s offense has certainly lived and died with Gordon this season, but he’s not the sole threat in the run game. Corey Clement has had himself a nice season as Wisconsin’s change-of-pace back. Last week against Minnesota, the Gophers held Gordon to 5.2 yards per carry, but Clement gave Wisconsin a boost, taking 7 carries for 89 yards (12.9 per carry). He’s rushed for 830 yards this season while playing second fiddle to Gordon. I don’t know if opposing teams just relax when Gordon heads to the sidelines or if the fresh legs are what makes the difference, but Clement has been the perfect compliment to Gordon this season.

And speaking of fresh legs, Clement has ’em. Coming off of an injury a couple of weeks ago, Clement’s practice time has been limited during the week and his snaps and carries are down. Coach Gary Anderson joked after Saturday’s win that Clement’s strong performance was a result of those rested legs … maybe it wasn’t really a joke.

Outside of the run game, Wisconsin has had its ups and downs, but two receivers have separated themselves as legitimate threats. Alex Erickson is the clear No. 1 option in the passing game, and is a decent deep threat as well. Tight end Sam Arneson has stepped up as well, and has become a favorite target on third down. He’s a beast to bring down and is a strong blocker, as well.

SnG: Cardale Jones isn’t the mobile threat J.T. Barrett offers but he has a strong arm and showed a lot of ability against Indiana earlier in the year. What is Wisconsin’s outlook on Jones and what does the Badger defense need to do to shut him down?

BoH: Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of film to work with on Jones, but doesn’t expect Ohio State will completely revamp its offense in just one week. What we have seen from Jones is that he’s big, strong, and has a rocket for an arm. He’s certainly not a Braxton Miller-mold, he’s more a of a stand-up passer who can also run, if needed.

The strength of Wisconsin’s defense is its linebackers. Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter, Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert have been excellent this year, and are a major reason Wisconsin has given up just 260 yards per game, the second-best mark in college football this season. They’ve put pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well, with the foursome accounting for 22 sacks.

Add safety Michael Caputo – who lives near the line of scrimmage – to the mix, and Wisconsin has five players who will be the keys on defense. Whether blitzing to put pressure on a young quarterback or hanging back looking to spy in the passing game, the linebacking group will be the key to stopping Jones and Ohio State.

SnG: What Badgers, not named “Gordon,” should Ohio State fans watch out for during this game?

BoH: I’ll stick to the defensive side of the ball to start, and continue where I left off on the last question. Wisconsin’s linebackers have been a force this season. The foursome of Landisch, Trotter, Biegel and and Schobert do an exceptional job of getting in the backfield and cleaning up around the line of scrimmage. Add tackling-machine safety Caputo into the mix, and the Badgers have a solid core of hard-hitting defensive players.

On offense, as mentioned above, Wisconsin’s best options in the passing game are wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Sam Arneson. But the Buckeyes will need to look out for a few guys who rarely get mentioned by name: Wisconsin’s offensive line. The Badgers feature one of the most talented groups of linemen in the country – Melvin Gordon doesn’t block for himself. Guys like tackle Rob Havenstein, guard Kyle Costigan, and center Dan Voltz will be suiting up on Sundays soon, and they plan to prove why they deserve it Saturday night.

SnG: Which Buckeyes are Wisconsin fans talking about? What players are viewed as the biggest threat?

BoH: With a quarterback shakeup, the most obvious thing to worry about is the run. Wisconsin will expect to see plenty from Ezekiel Elliot Saturday night. Wisconsin will look to run themselves, and one of the biggest threats to the Badgers run game is Buckeye defensive tackle Joey Bosa. Wisconsin will need to neutralize Bosa for the run game to be successful.

Special teams always seem to make a big impact in the biggest games, don’t they? Ohio State’s Jalin Marshall is an electric punt returner, and Wisconsin has struggled punting the ball this season. Keeping punts away from Marshall is a must Saturday night.

And Marshall won’t just be a threat on special teams. The defense can expect to see him in situations similar to the way Wisconsin uses backup quarterback Tanner McEvoy – as a wildcat quarterback. Ohio State will be looking to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers anyway possible, and Marshall as a wildcat QB certainly accomplishes that.

SnG: It’s time to put Badger of Honor on the spot. Who wins the Big Ten Championship and how is the game won?

BoH: Wisconsin has made magic happen in the Big Ten Championship. Whether it was a Russell Wilson fourth down prayer-of-a-Hail Mary in 2011 or Melvin Gordon’s jet sweep dominance in 2012, Wisconsin has made things happen on the Big Ten’s biggest stage.

Teams have struggled to rein in Gordon all season. He hasn’t gotten off to the quickest start in the past two games, but he’s a physical runner who continues to get better as defenses fade. Ohio State may slow Melvin Gordon down, much as Minnesota and Nebraska did in the first quarter of the past two games, but I don’t expect they’ll stop him completely. This is almost certainly Gordon’s last Big Ten game, and I expect him to go out with a bang.

The Badgers defense, as well, is looking to cap the Big Ten season with another strong performance, and I believe Wisconsin’s veteran core will get the best of a young, unproven quarterback, and cause a key turnover that gives Wisconsin the edge.

I’ll take Wisconsin in a close one, 31-27.