Badgers battle Buckeyes in Big Ten title tilt

Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) – The Amos Alonzo Stagg Trophy is up for
grabs, as the 11th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers take on the sixth-ranked Ohio
State Buckeyes in the 2014 Big Ten Conference Championship Game.

Wisconsin earned its way to the title tilt, its third appearance in the four
years the game has been in existence, by winning the Big Ten’s West Division
after knocking off Minnesota last Saturday, 34-24. As a result, the Badgers
finished the regular season at 10-2 overall, which included a 7-1 league
ledger, and they are seeking their first Big Ten crown since winning back-to-
back titles in 2011-12.

The Badgers are currently riding a seven-game win streak, and they earned
their first outright division title in four years.

Ohio State is in the conference championship game for the second straight year
after losing to Michigan State in 2013, 34-24. The Buckeyes have won 10
straight games, finishing the regular season at 11-1, 8-0 in conference. They
have now won three straight division titles, and they have won a Big Ten-
record 24 consecutive conference games during the regular season.

OSU is the first program in Big Ten history to go undefeated and untied over a
three-year period, and the first to go without a conference loss in three
straight seasons since Minnesota turned the trick from 1933-35.

The Badgers and Buckeyes last met on Sept. 28, 2013, with Ohio State earning a
31-24 triumph at home. As a result, OSU’s lead in the all-time series stands
at a commanding 56-18-5.

The Buckeyes suffered two major losses in the last week, one on the field and
one off it as the team will have to finish the campaign without starting
quarterback J.T. Barrett after the Big Ten Freshman of the Year suffered a
broken ankle in the team’s 42-28 win over hated rival Michigan last Saturday.
However, the more tragic loss came on Sunday when it was announced that
missing defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge had died of an apparent self-
inflicted gunshot wound.

Head coach Urban Meyer spoke about the adversity his team is facing, and how
he is confident they will rally around each other, as they’ve done so many
times before.

“Every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win
a game, to lose a game. You have some really good built in excuses. To
overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real
challenge. We’re going to watch it very closely. I can tell you this:
Extremely close team that does a lot of things together and cares about each
other.”

With regard to the game at hand, it will be up to sophomore QB Cardale Jones
to lead the OSU offense, which ranked as one of the top units in the FBS
during the regular season when it averaged 44.1 points and 503.4 yards per
game, something he does quite sparingly in his time in Columbus. At 6-foot-5,
250 pounds, Jones certainly has the build to withstand the punishment the
Badgers are likely to try and dole out, and he is a far cry from Barrett (203-
of-314, 2,834 yards, 34 TDs, 10 INTs), at least in terms of proven ability, as
he has thrown two touchdown passes in going 10-of-17 for 118 yards in seven
appearances this season.

While Barrett (171 carries, 938 yards, 11 TDs) was also a serious weapon in
the ground game, 1,000-yard rusher Ezekiel Elliott (1,182 yards, 10 TDs) will
be back there to hand the ball off to in an attempt to keep the Wisconsin
defense back on its heels. When Jones does get the opportunity to air it out,
it will likely be Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall or Elliott that
will be on the receiving end more often than not, as that group has combined
for 118 receptions, 1,865 yards and 24 TDs this year.

Ohio State’s defense had a solid season, as it allowed 22.9 points and 333.8
yards per contest. There are several standout performers on that side of the
ball as well, among them leading tackler Joshua Perry (108 tackles, three
sacks, INT), sack machine and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa
(20 TFL, 12 sacks) and ball-hawking DB Vonn Bell (71 tackles, four INTs).
Others turning in productive campaigns include Tyvis Powell (62 tackles, three
INTs), Darron Lee (59 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, two INTs) and Doran Grant
(48 tackles, three INTs).

The Buckeyes are certainly going to have their hands full trying to stop the
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, who set a
new single-season conference record and is closing on the all-time FBS single-
season rushing mark (Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, 2,628 yards) as he leads
the nation with 2,260 yards and 26 TDs. He is averaging 188.3 ypg, single-
handedly accounting for roughly 40 percent of the Badgers’ entire offensive
output (481.2 ypg).

When Wisconsin decides that someone else deserves a cut of the action, the
ball more times than not goes to RB Corey Clement (127 carries, 830 yards,
eight TDs) or backup QB Tanner McEvoy (64 carries, 572 yards, six TDs) on the
ground, while starting signal caller Joel Stave (79-of-136, 1,042 yards, eight
TDs, four INTs) usually seeks out WR Alex Ericson (44 receptions, 651 yards,
three TDs) or TE Sam Arneson (25 receptions, 331 yards, four TDs) in the
passing game.

The UW defense has been on point for much of the season, as the unit ranks
first in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in allowing only 16.8 ppg, while
checking in first in the conference and second in the FBS in permitting just
206.3 total ypg. The Badger have been especially impressive against the pass,
yielding a league-low 156.6 ypg, which again has them No. 2 in the country.

Michael Caputo has led the team in tackles almost from the start, logging 93
stops, while also picking off a pass and pouncing on four fumbles. The UW
defense also has three players with double-digit TFL (Marcus Trotter, Derek
Landisch, Vince Biegel), the trio combining for 19 of the team’s 35 sacks
(third-most in the Big Ten). Despite their stellar play in defending the pass,
the Badgers rank 13th in the 14-team conference in interceptions with only
six.

Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, while thrilled his team was able to play
well enough this season to make it back to the Big Ten Championship Game,
knows the task in front of them is immense.

“Ohio State is going to be a tremendous challenge, two very talented football
teams having great years to this point and I know we’re both going to be
excited to play.”

Excited is what anyone associated with these two teams should be, as outside
of perhaps Michigan State, these are the two that seem to rise to the top more
times than not in the Big Ten recently.