Oct. 29, 2011

By Chris Britt

After pulling an upset victory against then-undefeated Illinois Oct. 15 in Champaign, Ill., the Buckeyes are ready for a resurgence. The 17-7 triumph was a surprise to most outside of Buckeye Nation, but not the men suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray. Even amidst the adversity surrounding the Ohio State program this season, the Buckeyes have not let the pessimism get inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Instead, they have continuously fought hard for the fans, the coaches and themselves to prove the naysayers wrong. Now with a swing of momentum after upending the unbeaten Illini, Ohio State will look to carry its winning ways into what should be a rocking `Shoe tonight vs. No. 15 Wisconsin.

The Badgers on the other hand will be coming to Columbus off of an upset loss to Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., this past Saturday. The Spartans defeated the Badgers on a miraculous Hail Mary throw with no time left on the clock to avoid overtime and secure the upset over then -fourth-ranked Wisconsin.

Entering tonight’s game vs. the Badgers, Ohio State sits at 4-3 overall with a 1-2 mark in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is 6-1, including a 2-1 record in conference play. Penn State is atop the Leaders Division with a 4-0 mark vs. conference competition. With Wisconsin falling last weekend at Spartan Stadium, the Scarlet and Gray control their own destiny – albeit with a little help. With another Penn State loss, the Buckeyes will be in prime position to represent the Leaders Division in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Ind., on Dec. 3. But first things first: as Coach Fickell noted, none of that matters unless Ohio State focuses on one game at a time and focused solely on Wisconsin.

“This game is a game of emotions and momentum,” Fickell said. “Being at home, being a night game, I don’t think we’ll lose any of that. The most important thing is we have to maintain it and keep it.  Our guys have the right attitude. They have the right focus. Now it’s time to just do it.”

“The mentality coming into this game is the same regardless if Wisconsin won or lost last week,” safety C.J. Barnett said. “We still came in and practiced as hard as we could this week. We’re going to give them our best shot and hopefully we do well against them. I don’t think anyone on the team was thinking this game didn’t matter before Wisconsin lost. We want to represent Ohio State to the best of our abilities no matter what.”

Wisconsin brings a lot to the table. They lead the Big Ten is scoring and are second in fewest points allowed. They have a Heisman-contender at quarterback in Russell Wilson who is second in the nation in pass efficiency and first in yards per attempt, yards per completion, yards per play and consecutive games with a passing touchdown (31). He is in the Top 5 of 10 NCAA statistical categories, so stopping him will be no easy task for the Silver Bullet defense. Another key facet to their potent offensive attack is junior running back Montee Ball, who leads the nation in multiple statistical categories, including touchdowns (19) and scoring per game (16.29). He is tied with Ohio State running back Boom Herron with 13 consecutive games with at least one touchdown.

“Wisconsin does a good job with play-action and protecting Wilson. Ultimately it comes down to that with the quarterback,” Fickell said. “You have to find ways to get to him, whether it’s picking a ball off, sacking him, getting hits on him and getting guys in front of his face.  There’s different kind of ways, but most importantly you have to be able to affect the quarterback.”

Junior John Simon is coming off one of the best single-game performances in a long time for a defensive lineman at Ohio State. The Youngstown, Ohio, native recorded two sacks and four tackles-for-loss in Champaign. The four tackles-for-loss were the most since 2007 and tied for the second best on Ohio State’s all-time single game list. But Simon preaches what Coach Fickell says. The team must take one game at a time. He knows the kind of offensive star power the Badgers bring, including the man behind center, Wilson.

“Wilson is a veteran,” Simon said. “He brings composure to their offense. While they’re a heavy run team, he brings versatility, can throw the ball effectively as well.  It’s going to be a big challenge for us to stop them.”

But that challenge Simon alludes to is why student-athletes come to Ohio State to play football. They want the chance to compete week in and week out for a Big Ten championship. They want to achieve the opportunity of a lifetime to play in a Rose Bowl or national championship. The team knows what is at stake on Saturday night under the lights at Ohio Stadium, with the winner of this Big Ten showdown more than likely being the frontrunner to represent the Leaders Division in the championship game.

Most of the guys on the team have been in big games like this before. The team has previously been in two night games earlier in the season, but both on the road at Miami and Nebraska. Simon says the fans will be ready.

“It should be pretty crazy,” Simon said. “I know our fans will get up for it with a power-ranked team coming into Columbus.  We’re looking forward to the challenge.  It’s going to be a fun night.  We’re going to have to play well.”

 For some like Barnett, this will be his first night game in the `Shoe and he says the team builds off the fans at home and expects them to have their support Saturday.

“I think it’s real important that our fans support us,” he said. “The louder it gets, the harder it is for the opponent to concentrate. I really want to stress to our fans to stick with us through thick and thin. Everything may not go our way and we may face some adversity but we need them. We can feel when they aren’t with us and when they are, it takes us to another level. No matter what happens we need our fans support.”

The Buckeyes have had close calls against Michigan State and Nebraska earlier in the season, but by no means did they let the losses hinder their progression. Even though this is an abnormal year for the program, the team has not caved. They have stuck together and built off of their losses. The results started to show with the upset vs. Illinois and now with the climatic showdown with Wisconsin on the horizon, the Buckeyes hope to show that they aren’t done yet and their improvement culminates in a victory vs. the Badgers.

Barnett is right. The team needs the Buckeye faithful to come out in droves wearing their scarlet on Saturday in support of the team. The Horseshoe is sure to be as loud as ever and with a new hope surrounding this team and program, Ohio State is hoping it all comes together once again to prove that they are back and this season is far from over.

“We’ve been through so much and it is refreshing and reviving that we, in a way, control our own destiny,” senior center Michael Brewster said. “There’s a whole new outlook for us. We have grown so much since the start of the season and it’s up to us to take advantage.”