The two most successful programs in the Big Ten over the past 20 years meet for just the second time in the Big Ten championship this Saturday. Yes, the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes tangle with a Big Ten championship and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff on the line.
Wisconsin’s scenario is easy, win and the No. 4 Badgers are in. The only question would be would they move up and go to the Rose Bowl or not?
Ohio State, well a win over the Badgers helps, but they would also need some help from another expected conference champion to lose and have a better resume on paper than some other teams in front of them.
Even though the scenarios are very different, these two coaches are likely to have their charges laser focused on the task at hand. But, how do u separate teams who got to this point in very different ways? There’s no better way than to dive in to the numbers and see what comes out.
Here are the stats, notes and everything else in between that you need to know ahead of the big matchup on Saturday night.
1: Ohio State, not Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing offense
While all the attention seems to be on Wisconsin’s star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, it is the Buckeyes who have been the more dominant team on the ground this season. Ohio State averages 250.3 yards per game on the ground. It helps when you have two running backs that combined for nearly 1,700 yards and a quarterback who put up another 600-plus yards as well.
Ohio State’s own freshman sensation, J.K. Dobbins was second in the Big Ten to Taylor with 1,190 yards and his 7.2 yards per carry average topped the league. So don’t think the Badgers are the only team that can run the ball heading in to Saturday night.
Now that’s not to say the Badgers are slouches on the ground game front either. UW was second in the league with an average of 243.2 yards per game as well. In fact, the two were the only teams in the Big Ten to average over 200 yards per game on the ground in the Big Ten.
2: That’s the number of times the Badgers have trailed in the second half this season
Wisconsin has trailed in the second half just twice (vs. Northwestern and vs. Michigan) for a total of 8:49. The Badgers have not trailed in the fourth quarter of any game. It’s all part of the narrative of the Badgers as a second half team.
The formula has been simple, try to jump out to a lead early or keep the game close early and then continue to pound away until opponents give up. What will be interesting to see is if the Badgers second half dominance can continue. Ohio State actually has given up more points in the second and third quarters (69 each) than in the first or fourth. Those are the two quarters were the Badgers ramp things up — going from 86 points this season in the 1st quarter to 106 in the 2nd, 108 in the 3rd and 118 in the final stanza.
Combine that with a Badgers defense that clamps down over time and you can see how teams falter against the Badgers. Will that scenario continue to play out in Indy?
3: This will be Ohio State’s 3rd Big Ten championship game appearance
OSU has only been eligible for six of the seven Big Ten title games played, and they’ve been able to make it to three of them so far. It’s been a mixed bag for Urban Meyer’s crew though. Michigan State took them down 34-24 in the first meeting, while the next year was the infamous 59-0 beating of the very same school they’ll see across the field from them on Saturday — Wisconsin.
Both sides have downplayed that 2014 game, and rightfully so given it was four years ago and no one of consequence in this game was of consequence on either side of the field in that 2014 game.
Still, this is Ohio State’s chance to get over the .500 mark in Big Ten title games.
4: OSU is fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin
Turnovers can easily decide big games, and the Buckeyes found that out the hard way in a visit to Kinnick Stadium about a month ago. However, this has been a season of razor-thin margins in terms of turnovers across the Big Ten. Case in point, Ohio State is just +3 on the turnover margin this season and yet they rank 4th in the conference alongside Purdue in that category.
Ohio State has been alright at taking the ball away, forcing 18 turnovers, but they haven’t given up the ball much either, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 15 turnovers given up. With the Badgers defense so prone to pouncing on mistakes and the unknown situation at quarterback for the Buckeyes, look for turnovers to play a key role in this game.
5: That is Ohio State’s rank in sacks coming in to this game
Greg Schiano was supposed to be off for the Tennessee Volunteers head coaching gig by now, but we’ll save that story for another day. His defense has been turning up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long, resulting in 34.0 sacks and a fifth place finish in the Big Ten. Nick Bosa earned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year following the regular season, putting up a team-best 6.0 sacks and amassing 12.5 tackles for loss.
Wisconsin’s offensive line isn’t going to be easy to crack though, despite a relatively immobile quarterback. The Badgers finished first in the Big Ten for sacks allowed, with just 17.0 on the year. Getting to Hornibrook is going to be vital, but it won’t be easy.
6: That is the number of 10-win seasons in a row for the Buckeyes
All six of those 10-win seasons in a row have come under the tutelage of Urban Meyer not coincidentally. Meanwhile, the Badgers come in to this game riding a big 10-win season streak of their own, owning four of those seasons in a row. That mark is a school record for Wisconsin, while the Buckeyes’ six-straight is also a school record.
We’re getting these two programs at the best they have ever been, will it mean a good game on the field though?
7: Wisconsin is just seventh in the Big Ten in penalty yards this season
In a game where strength is going on strength, sometimes the weaknesses matter too (if you can find them). One area of weakness for the Badgers this season has been penalties. Wisconsin’s 5.5 penalties per game aren’t a terrible number, but when the Badgers are committing said turnovers, they are costly. UW is giving up over 50 yards per game in penalties. It simply can’t afford to do that against the Buckeyes.
Meanwhile, Ohio State is perhaps the worst offender of the bunch. Not only do the Buckeyes commit 7.4 penalties per game, they also rank last in the Big Ten with those penalties costing 72.1 yards per game.
This is clearly an area to watch on the part of both teams.
8: That’s the number of opponents the Badgers have held to under 100 yards rushing this season
Earlier we noted the matchup between two of the bet rushing offenses in the country. Well, something may have to give for the Buckeyes and Badgers, because Wisconsin features the Big Ten’s best run defense. Not only are the Badgers holding opponents to just 80.5 yards per game on the ground, they have held eight of the 12 opponents faced under the 100-yard mark, including in each of the last four games. That 80.5 yards per game average also tops the country.
If Ohio State struggles to run the ball against the stingiest run defense in the land, can the Buckeyes win? That may be one of the biggest questions in this contest.
9: Jonathan Taylor has gone for over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games this season
There’s a reason Taylor is the Big Ten’s leading running back — consistency. He’s been over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games played this season and has only missed the 100-yard mark twice as a starter after rushing fo 82 yards in his debut behind Bradrick Shaw and Chris James. The other two came in Big Ten play, with one only because of an ankle injury keeping him out after the half. He still put up 73 yards on 12 carries in the win over Illinois.
Taylor only needs 120 yards to break Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record, and that would be well below his season average of 150.5. If he breaks it, will it also lead to a Badgers win?
10: Wisconsin has won 10 of 12 games this season by 14 points or more
Plenty of the national narrative surrounding Wisconsin this season has been about the Badgers strength of schedule, or lack there of. Of course there’s some merit to it, as they faced just three teams ranked when or after then played them all season long — Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. However, the hallmark of a really good team is taking on a supposedly bad schedule and dominating it.
That’s what the Badgers did this season, winning all but two games by two touchdowns or more. I’d call that pretty dominating football.
Then again…nothing has been good enough for most in the national media when it comes to the Wisconsin Badgers.
But, I digress. My point is, this team isn’t the 2017 version of the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes. Wisconsin is blowing out teams it should beat and winning large against quality teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan. That 2015 Iowa team snuck a perfect regular season by winning 7 of 10 games by 10 points or less…and 4 of those 7 games were by one score or less as well.
I only bring this point up to note that thinking this will be a razor-thin margin one way or the other seems unlikely considering what these two teams have put on the field most of the year. That’s especially the case should it be Wisconsin taking home the win.
Who wins, and how do we see the game playing out?
Tune in to the talking10 Podcast from this week and find out all that information and our exclusive All-Big Ten 1st and 2nd team reveal too.
Projecting the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 defensive depth chart
Yesterday we took a look at how the Wisconsin Badgers offense may look heading in to spring ball. Today, we turn to the other side of the ball as UW looks to figure out life without its lifebloods the last few years.
UW will face life without two of its biggest stars — inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly — as they head in to 2019 and there’s little question that replacing them will be the key to just about everything in this offseason.
But, that isn’t the only question to be answered and we’ll attempt to answer them all with a look at how we see the potential depth chart set itself up.
1. Garrett Rand, RS Jr.; 2. Aaron Vopal, RS So./Isaiah Mullens, RS Fr.
1. Isaiahh Loudermilk, RS Jr.; 2. Matt Hennignsen RS So.
There was a significant drop-off in pass rush and overall production from the 2018 Badgers and a lot of it can be attributed to a very thin defensive line. UW lost Rand before the season, and Loudermilk couldn’t shake the injury bug after a summer leg injury hampered his start to the season.
In 2019, both should be back and healthy and it will make a big difference. Both Vopal and Henningsen got a ton of experience and should be better off for it, but behind the scenes I’ve heard rave reviews for the game of Mullens and wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump in to the mix quickly in 2019.
1. Bryson Williams, So.
2. Gio Paez, Fr.
Wisconsin is going to need young players to step up and provide depth in 2019, just like it needed Bryson Williams to do so in 2018. The good news is that Williams could be trusted and got plenty of playing time, starting a few games to end the season after Olive Sagapolu’s season was cut short. While we could see walk-on senior Gunnar Roberge as a backup, my money is on 2019 signee Gio Paez helping big time off the bench.
1. Zack Baun, RS Sr.; Tyler Johnson RS Sr.
1. Christian Bell RS Jr.; Noah Burks RS Jr.
The only thing that seems set for the Badgers in 2019 at outside linebacker is that Zack Baun will be one of the starters. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a problem afoot.
Instead, Wisconsin has a chance to find out what they have with about four players who could all easily become the starter opposite of Baun. My money is on former Alabama transfer Christian Bell becoming that player, as he saw more and more of the field as 2018 went on. He’ll get an interesting challenge from former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and the man who backed up Baun last season, Tyler Johnson. Don’t sleep on Izayah Green-May either, as he’s one of the most intriguing pass-rushing prospects on this roster.
1. Chris Orr, Sr. 2. Mike Maskalunas, RS Jr.
1. Jack Sanborn, So. 2. Griffin Grady, RS Jr.
Losing Edwards and Connelly is going to hurt, but we’ve seen a ton of depth at this position over the last few years. Orr would’ve started for most teams in the conference the last few years and will have his final season to impress NFL scouts. The real interesting mix will be how the play of Sanborn, Grady and Maskalunas works itself out in the offseason.
Sanborn playing the snaps he did in 2018 suggests he’s the front runner, but the good news is this position will likely see plenty of rotation and even starters won’t be meaningful given the depth.
1. Rachad Wildgoose, So. 2. Caesar Williams, RS Jr.
1. Faion Hicks, So. 2. Deron Harrell, RS So.
Wisconsin saw a lot of youth work in at cornerback in 2018 and when the dust settled they appeared to have found some pretty good players for the next few years in the likes of Wildgoose, Hicks and Harrell for sure. Expected starter Caesar Williams disappointed in his opportunity and we could easily see Madison Cone get in to the mix here as well. The name to watch this offseason is Travian Blaylock, who played in four games this season as a true freshman and was able to keep his redshirt.
FS: Reggie Pearson, RS So.; Collin Wilder, RS So.
SS: Scott Nelson, RS So.; Seth Currens, RS Jr.
This may surprise some of you, because we all saw Eric Burrell start in the Pinstripe Bowl due to injury to D’Cota Dixon. However, I believe the talent of Pearson and Wilder is so good that they may bypass him this offseason. It’s a nice problem to have to say the least.
Nelson is a lock to play at strong safety after starting all season in 2018. However, it was an up-and-down freshman campaign and more consistency will help this group grow immensely.
Projecting the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 Offensive Depth Chart
January is perhaps the most dead period of action for a college football player and for the Wisconsin Badgers it’s been a period of waiting for answers to NFL futures for a few players.
We’ve gotten those answers and that means we have a much clearer perspective on what the Badgers 2019 depth chart will look like when then head to Tampa Bay to take on USF in the season opener on Aug. 31.
With that in mind, let’s break down the depth chart as we see it playing out heading in to spring ball in a few months time.
1. Jack Coan, Jr.
2. Graham Mertz, Fr.
3. Danny Vanden Boom, So.
4. Chase Wolf, RS Fr.
First, the smart bet is on Alex Hornibrook not returning to football after major issues arose following a concussion later in the 2018 season. That said, a lot of outside pressure will be on naming Mertz the starter. I believe that won’t happen right away and Coan will be the one that gets the nod for the start of 2019. His level of play increased as he got on-field reps and could be enough for a stop-gap until Mertz is either ready to play this season or they try to keep his redshirt available and allow him to start in 2020.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Jr.
2a. Garrett Groshek, RS Jr.
2b. Nakia Watson, RS Fr.
3. Bradrick Shaw, Jr.
4. Julius Davis, Fr.
Get ready for the swan song of Taylor’s career in the Cardinal and White. He’s been a record-setter already and that should continue in 2019 baring injury. With Taiwan Deal and Chris James graduated, someone has to step up in to the role of the true backup option. It could be a returning Bradrick Shaw, but Nakia Watson showed real promise and could be in line for major snaps this season too. Groshek will continue to be a primary pass-catching and extra blocking option, but don’t expect his role to expand as a runner.
1. Mason Stokke, RS Jr.
2. Quan Easterling, Fr.
3. John Chenal, So.
Over at fullback, the Badgers will have to live life without Alec Ingold, who was a stalwart at the position. Converted linebacker Mason Stokke is going to get the first look, but Wisconsin went out and got a scholarship fullback in Quan Easterling for a reason. Don’t be surprised to see him get a serious look in fall camp and maybe take the job from day one.
1. Danny Davis, Jr.
2. AJ Taylor, Sr.
3. Kendric Pryor, Jr.
4. Aron Cruikshank So.
5. Taj Mustapha, RS Fr.
6. Jack Dunn, RS Jr.
There isn’t a position deeper on the Badgers offense than wide receiver. While the production didn’t match the hype coming in to 2018, let’s chalk that up to bad QB play first and foremost. The combination of Davis, Pryor and Taylor is a good one and UW continues to add quality and speed at the position.
No question looms larger at wide receiver in the 2019 offseason than what happens with the cases pending against Quintez Cephus. Will they resolve themselves in 2019 and will he back on campus or in prison? If it’s the first one, the Badgers have a huge playmaker back, if not, they’ll need to find a downfield playmaker more than ever. It was a giant missing piece to the puzzle in 2018.
1. Jake Ferguson, RS So.
2. Luke Benzschawel, RS Jr.
3. Kyle Penniston, RS Sr.
4. Cormac Sampson, RS Fr.
Jake Ferguson’s first season lived up to the hype of his high recruiting ranking, as he became the go-to receiver in big situations. But, the Badgers expect more out of the position in 2019 as they hope to get a healthy Luke Benzschawel back to help in the blocking game. Look for Cormac Sampson to also emerge as his understudy and an intriguing overall prospect for the future too.
Left Tackle: Cole Van Lanen, RS Jr., Logan Brown, Fr.
Left Guard: Jon Dietzen, RS Sr., David Moorman, RS Jr.
Center: Tyler Biadasz, RS Jr., Kayden Lyles, RS So.
Right Guard: Jason Erdmann, RS Sr., Alex Fenton, RS So.
Right Tackle: Logan Bruss, RS So., Tyler Beach, RS So.
Wisconsin went 1-of-2 on getting potential early entrant NFL prospects back for 2019, as Tyler Biadasz turned down a potential 1st round situation to stay in Madison. UW will only have to replace David Edwards, Michael Dieter and Beau Benzschawel instead of all four of the potential draft picks.
The biggest question at offensive line is just where 5-star Logan Brown fits in. Will he work inside first and maybe take on right guard before sliding out or will he compete with the likes of Bruss and Beach at right tackle or will he slot in behind Van Lanen for a year at left tackle?
This group is going to be fun to watch shape out over the next eight months.
Wisconsin brings back a ton of talent at wide receiver and running back, but they do have a lot of questions (both major and minor) to answer at key positions like starting quarterback and along the offensive line.
Those likely aren’t going to be sorted out by the end of spring ball, so expect this depth chart to fluctuate a lot in the coming months. I do feel confident in this is how it will look to start the offseason though.
Mertz has record-setting day at The All-American Bowl
There was plenty of hype and hope for incoming freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. The newest Wisconsin Badgers quarterback did little to slow down the hype with his performance in the annual All-American Bowl.
All Mertz did was was stand up and make everyone take notice on the biggest stage in high school football.
Against some of the best players and with some of the best players in the country, Mertz rose above them all. He completed seven passes in the game, five of them going for touchdowns and racked up 188 yards.
Both his five touchdowns and 188 yards were The All-American game records. All of it added up to him winning the MVP award for the game.
Mertz’s ability to throw big passes all over the field was on full display. He threw with touch and even most of the incomplete passes he had were put in positions for his receivers to make plays on the ball.
It’s that touch and big-play ability that has been missing for a few years now in the Badgers offense.
Of course there are things he’ll need to work on at the next level, but he showcased an ability to make the basics look easy and plenty of promise as well.
Mertz’s big day caught the eye of some big names around the world of football.
It wasn’t just those in attendance or the hopeful Badgers faithful that were excited by what Mertz did on the day. Names like Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs took to Twitter to mention him.
His fellow Badgers commits Dean Engram and Julius Davis also had comments.
Oh, and the Badgers football Twitter account couldn’t miss a chance to hype the early-entrant quarterback either.
Obviously we won’t know if his play at the high school level will translate right away to the college game, but it’s hard not to see his passing skills and wonder what could be for the Badgers offense in the near future.
Ultimately, it will be his ability to take on the offense and make the needed plays in the spring that will dictate his ability to make a quick or slower impact at Wisconsin.
However, if playing with and against the best players in his incoming class is any indication, there’s no reason to suggest he won’t be a player who ends up starting at Wisconsin and likely in relatively short order.
Badgers 2019 signees in All-American games
The Wisconsin Badgers capped off a disappointing season with a second butt-kicking in a row of the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. With that the offseason officially started.
So, next up on the calendar are the high school All-American bowl games.
While the Badgers success wasn’t great on the field, off the field it was arguably the best class in UW recruiting history and officially the greatest in the recruiting rankings era (since 2000).
Certainly that means the Badgers will be represented in the All-American games and you would be right.
So, let’s take a look at the players that are in the various games over the next week.
The Under Armour All-American bowl game started things off on Thursday night and Wisconsin walk-on kicker Blake Wilcox (Kettle Moraine High School) was the lone UW representative in Orlando.
He is a punter and kicker and could take on both duties for the Badgers in the coming years, but is also still coming in to his own in the football kicking game after being a top soccer player at Kettle Moraine up until his junior season.
There wasn’t much reporting done on Wilcox or the specialists as a whole at this game, but the crew from Kohl’s Kicking Camps are in love with what Wilcox brings to the table so early in his career as a kicker and punter.
Meanwhile, at the All-American game in San Antonio (the former U.S. Army All-American game) the Badgers have their two highest profile signees in quarterback Graham Mertz and 5-star offensive lineman Logan Brown participating.
By all accounts, Mertz is having himself his usual high-end showing around scouts and in competition.
He was ranked as the No. 2 player in the first day of practices according to 247Sports and the No. 3 QB of the day in day 3 of drills.
Mertz continued to showcase his clean mechanics and smooth feel in the passing game. The Wisconsin pledge is at home operating from the pocket and looks to be a strong fit for the Badgers’ offense under Paul Chryst. On Thursday, Mertz had one of the better throws on the day, hitting a tight-window touchdown to Virginia Tech signee Jaden Payoute, who was running a crossing route in the back of the endzone.
Rivals believed he was the best looking QB on the East squad after the first day of drills.
Brown has lived up to advanced billing for those who haven’t seen him already, stoning multiple pass rushers in one-on-one drills. He was ranked as one of the Top 10 overall players at Day 3 of practice by 247Sports.
We’ll see how he holds up in team scenarios on Saturday, but it appears he could be a plug-and-play player for a Badgers offense seeking to replace a pair of guards in 2019.
Overall, it appears the biggest names are performing at or near the very top of their groups while going up against elite talent.
Given the pressure that is likely to be on this group with the high ranking they received, these types of performances are good signs indeed.
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