October 8, 2009

Behind enemy lines: Ohio State

The Wisconsin football team is riding high after an emotional win to open up Minnesota's new stadium to conference play a week ago. Now, boasting a 2-0 record, the Badgers will head to Columbus to take on a 2-0 Ohio State squad.

The meeting will be one of critical importance if either team wants to contend for a league title.

Looking to find out more about the Buckeyes, BadgerBlitz.com went straight to the source, BuckeyeGrove.com team writer Ari Wasserman, who provided some insights from behind enemy lines.

Read Wasserman's thoughts about the Buckeyes here…

1.) John Clay is the league's top rusher and many have compared his style to that of former Buckeye Beanie Wells. Is that a legitimate observation, and how much of the Ohio State game plan is going into slowing Clay down?

Wasserman: You would be hard-pressed to find a better running back in the Big Ten this year, and that has been evident through watching John Clay thus far this season. Just recently, Clay rushed for 184 yards and has really gotten off to a fast start in conference action.

When it comes to comparing him to Beanie Wells, there are certain similarities, especially when you sit back and look at both of their sizes Wells was a bruising back that usually couldn't be slowed down by one person, which is fairly consistent with what we have seen so far with Clay. So yes, it seems as if that is a fair comparison, thought I wouldn't go out and say that Clay has matched what Wells was able to accomplish on a consistent basis.

When it comes to slowing Clay down, that is certainly going to be the No. 1 concern for the Buckeye defense, and Jim Tressel has been speaking about that bruising Wisconsin rushing attack all week. This is one of Ohio State's best run defenses since Tressel has been head coach, so the Buckeyes have responded well to that challenge so far this season.

It is always Ohio State's No. 1 concern, and this week it is magnified that much more with Clay and the Badgers coming into town.

2.) Kind of following up the first question, how much is the injury to Dexter Larimore going to hurt the Buckeyes rush defense?

Wasserman: When you're an interior defensive tackle like Larimore is, it is certainly hard to gain some recognition in terms of making plays. Larimore hasn't been someone that has been talked about too much in Columbus, but his effect on stopping the run has been extremely valuable. His loss will certainly hurt the Buckeyes' run defense and it will be noticeable.

Though the loss to Larimore certainly stings, there is no denying what Ohio State's strength is, and that's the defensive line. Right now, the Buckeyes are probably 11 guys deep on the defensive line and Todd Denlinger (the guy taking Larimore's spot) is more than capable of holding down the fort.

I would expect a difference, but it won't be anything where Wisconsin will be able to bully the Buckeyes up the middle. This will be the toughest defense the Badgers have faced all season.

3.) Is it fair to say that the OSU coaching staff is more trustworthy in terms of letting Terrelle Pryor make plays on his feet? And what have teams done so far this season to effectively slow him down?

Wasserman: If anyone needs to be trustworthy of making plays with his feet, it has to be Terrelle Pryor himself. One of the biggest reasons why Pryor elected to come to Ohio State was because the Buckeyes have had a good track record with developing guys into professional quarterbacks. Pryor saw what Ohio State did with Troy Smith, and that's exactly what he wanted to happen to him.

His No. 1 goal is to be a professional athlete, and he came to Ohio State to become a passer. That's what he wants to do and that's what he is going to do. However, there is a drawback here. While Pryor certainly is way ahead in terms of making plays on the ground with his feet, sometimes he ignores those big rushing lanes to throw the ball because it seems as if he is over-eager to make plays through the air.

The Buckeye coaching staff has urged him to use his legs as a weapon, and he has certainly been making more of a conscious effort to do so in the recent weeks. We all remember what Pryor did in Madison last year, and the Buckeyes will certainly hope to see Pryor move the chains with his legs as well.

4.) After losing so much talent on the defensive side of the ball from a season ago, are you surprised at the way the OSU defense has been able to succeed so far this season?

Wasserman: Whenever a team loses the likes of James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman, there are always going to be question marks when it comes to the defensive unit the following year. There were a ton of questions heading into this year, but there were also a ton of consistent players returning.

Remember, just because they haven't been well known doesn't mean they won't be outstanding the following year. That was precisely the case when it came to the Buckeyes defense this year.

Heading into the year, there was no question that the Buckeye's defensive line was going to be a nasty bunch. With guys like Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Wilson and Dexter Larimore returning, they were going to be beasts. Also, the Buckeyes return one of the best safeties in the country in Kurt Coleman.

There was some real concern when it came to the cornerback and linebacker position, but players have fit in very nicely at those positions. Andre Amos and Devon Torrence have certainly helped ease the pain of the loss of Jenkins, and at linebacker, veteran Austin Spitler was a guy ready to step in after being in the system for five years.

In addition, we also had a big surprise out of Brian Rolle who has proven to be an extremely explosive player for the Buckeyes.

Though there is no denying the success of the Buckeye defense has been a pleasant surprise, there was a feeling around the team that kind of felt as if this year was a fresh start. All the older guys that were here during some painful losses had moved on and it was time for the Buckeyes to turn the page. They have been fantastic this year and I would even venture to say they are a step above last year, particularly because of the dominance in the defensive trenches.

Finally, with both teams at 2-0 in league play, this weekend's tilt will be a big factor in the Big Ten race. How do you anticipate this game going down?

Wasserman: Both the team and the media knows what to expect when Ohio State and Wisconsin meet up, regardless of the location of the game. We know that it is going to be one of the more physical games in the Big Ten and both teams are in for a beating. The score is usually close and the smash-mouth football styles really come back to force when the Badgers and Buckeyes line up against each other.

When it comes to who I think will win, it is kind of tough. Wisconsin has yet to lose, but they have had some close calls. Meanwhile, Ohio State seems to be on a roll after a tough loss to USC at home.

One of the bigger surprises is the emergence of Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, but he will see the best defense he has seen all year and the defensive line for the Buckeyes will do all they can to make him feel uncomfortable.

That, combined with the fact that the Buckeyes are in a good groove right now, I feel as if Ohio State will pull out a close one and win. The score will look something like 28-17.

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