Game of the Week: Wisconsin looks to dethrone No. 1 Ohio State
Terrelle Pryor is coming off the best passing day of his Ohio State career
Tailbacks John Clay and James White are Badgers' best chance for upset
Ohio State's defense, Wisconsin's home crowd could be difference-makers
For the third time in the history of the rivalry, Wisconsin will host Ohio State with the Buckeyes sitting atop the AP poll. In 1942, the sixth-ranked Badgers knocked off No. 1 Ohio State, 17-7; in 1973, the top-ranked Buckeyes blanked the Badgers, 24-0. Ohio State ascended to the top spot on Sunday following Alabama's loss at South Carolina, and the Bucks will be tested immediately against the one-loss Badgers. The last three matchups between these two teams have been battles, and this one figures to be no different.
1. Meet Terrelle Pryor, pocket passer. Thanks to a reported bruised thigh, Ohio State's quarterback did not have a rushing attempt during the Buckeyes' 38-10 bludgeoning of Indiana last Saturday. With the bad wheel, Pryor attempted 30 passes and completed 24 of them for 334 yards and three touchdowns, showing that opponents can force him to pass at their own peril. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Pryor's leg will be fine by this weekend, meaning we should see some long gallops mixed in with the passes that have Pryor ranked sixth nationally in passing efficiency. Wisconsin defensive coaches admitted this week that they focused on trying to make Pryor throw the past two seasons, but will have to rethink that strategy this year.
2. Wisconsin's ground attack has added some speed. John Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, is the latest in a long line of power backs at Wisconsin. The 255-pounder is still the Badgers' No. 1 option and is producing at almost the same level as last season, but freshman James White has forced his way onto the field with his breakaway speed. White is averaging 7.7 yards per rush and has scored eight touchdowns while getting the ball just over 10 times a game. White actually outgained Clay in last week's 41-23 win over Minnesota ... and Clay was named the Big Ten Player of the Week. The tandem will be put to the test against one of the top defenses in the nation, and the Badgers' ability to pull the upset will largely depend on how well Clay and White perform against an Ohio State squad ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense. (Ohio State would lead the nation in scoring defense if it had not allowed three special teams touchdowns this season.)
3. How mad will it get in Madison? Camp Randall Stadium can be one of the rowdiest in the Big Ten, and it will be especially festive if Wisconsin is still hanging around at the end of the third quarter for the signature Jump Around routine. The Big Ten plays a majority of its games during the day, so night games take on the feel of a special event, and there is an extra layer of excitement with the Buckeyes carrying the No. 1 ranking and ESPN's GameDay setting up shop on campus. The Badgers are 25-3 in their last 28 night games at home, and players on both sides discussed the wild atmosphere they expect to see on Saturday. Tressel insists his team will feed off the emotion, and Pryor said his teammates are ready to "jump around" along with the fans, but if momentum starts to sway toward the home team, the crowd will make it even more difficult for Ohio State to get things back under control.
Ohio State enters the game as a six-point favorite. The Buckeyes are 21-6 against the spread in their last 27 road games and are 10-3-1 in their last 14 as a road favorite. Wisconsin is 1-5 versus the spread this season and 0-3 against the number in their last three meetings with Ohio State. Betting trends lean toward the Buckeyes.
Pryor is averaging 254.6 passing yards per game in his five home games this season, but threw for just 76 yards in the Buckeyes' lone road game -- a 24-13 win at Illinois.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup. Pauline evaluated Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Chimdi Chekwa earlier this season.
OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin: Carimi draws a variety of opinions in scouting circles. Many love his size and ability to block with proper mechanics. Others feel the 6-foot-8 senior lacks the necessary footwork to stay at left tackle or the nastiness to move to the right side. Scouts will be watching when Carimi matches up against Heyward on Saturday, as it will go a long way in determining each player's final draft grade. Grade: First-round prospect.
DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin: The athletic 6-7, 290-pound junior is one of the fastest rising underclassmen in the nation. He offers the ability to rush the passer or stuff the run. Watt's size and skill-set have scouts drooling, as he offers the potential to line up at a variety of defensive line positions. Grade: First- to second-round prospect.
LB Ross Homan, Ohio State: Homan, the leader of the Buckeyes' defense, is highly considered in scouting circles. Homan lacks classic linebacker size, which limits his upside, but he has a high football IQ and offers starting potential at the next level. Grade: Second- to third-round prospect.
CB Devon Torrence, Ohio State: Chekwa gets most of the headlines in the Buckeyes secondary, but don't be fooled; Torrence is a legitimate prospect. He possesses prototypical size for a starter in the NFL and only needs to improve at the details of the position. Grade: Third-round prospect.
For Wisconsin to pull off the upset, quarterback Scott Tolzien will need to avoid the costly mistakes that doomed the Badgers last year, when he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. The Badgers have gone four games without a turnover, and if they make it five, they have a shot. Ohio State may play conservatively to start, but with Pryor improving as a passer, look for Ohio State to throw the ball more, and for its defense to make the game-changing turnover in the second half. OHIO STATE 30, WISCONSIN 17.