It’s not going to be easy. Heck, it may not even be possible. Wisconsin stands a very small chance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday.
The Badgers know firsthand how difficult Saturday will be, as they already were blown out once by the Buckeyes, 38-7 on Oct. 26 in Columbus.
Here are three things that could help them pull off the upset, or at the very least, keep the game close:
1. Be less predictable
Wisconsin wants to run the ball with Jonathan Taylor. That isn’t exactly breaking news. But you absolutely cannot beat Ohio State by being one-dimensional. The Buckeyes are the second-most talented team in the country, according to 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite, with 13 5-star athletes and 47 4-star athletes. Wisconsin is 33rd in the country, with one 5-star and eight 4-star athletes.
Why does that matter? Well, if you just line up and play, a team with that much more talent is going to win almost every time. Maybe even every time.
Wisconsin needs a few surprises, a few tricks up its sleeve.
Here’s a stat that probably doesn’t surprise you: Wisconsin is eighth in the country in rushing attempts on first down, and it is 113th in the country with 107 pass attempts on first down.
The Badgers need to be a bit more unpredictable and try to catch the Buckeyes off guard. Even in a 31-point loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin somehow still had double the rushing attempts (34) to passing attempts (17).
That needs to change, and maybe it can. Minnesota did a great job bottling up Taylor last week and forcing Jack Coan to make throws. Well, Coan did make some great throws in a blizzard. The tough part is that Ohio State has three potentional first-round picks in its secondary. It’s not ideal, but the Badgers have to mix it up.
2. Control Chase Young
Chase Young was an absolute monster in the first game, not that the Badgers will soon forget. The star defensive end tallied four sacks and put himself on the Heisman radar. He was quiet last week against Michigan, though, as he didn’t even finish with a tackle. The bad news for Ohio State opponents is that the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat. After a bit of a slow start, Ohio State locked up Michigan’s offense in the second half — a unit that came in firing on all cylinders, too.
Wisconsin will have to play its most complete game offensively to win, and that includes being able to move the ball through the air. And that means blocking Young. The Badgers are 35th in sack rate, according to Football Outsiders.
3. Make Justin Fields throw from the pocket
Justin Fields is a very good quarterback, and he’s a very good pocket passer. You can’t have 37 TD passes and one interception without being a very good pocket passer. He is a much more complete quarterback than most thought he would be at this stage of his career. Georgia primarily used him as a runner last season, after all.
That said, Wisconsin has to make Fields and Ohio State beat them through the air, simply by process of elimination. The Badgers can’t afford J.K. Dobbins to go off. And if Fields, who by the way is the highest-rated recruit ever to play at Ohio State, gets in the open field, look out. So make Fields be as precise as possible. It’s not likely to work, but what other option is there?
Even with a loss, Ohio State is still in the CFP, so maybe it will come out a little flat. If that’s the case, Wisconsin needs to pounce right away. The Badgers can win, but they need to play a near-perfect game to do so.