Sunday, September 22, 2013

Badgers football: Ohio State rivalry takes on added intrigue

University of Wisconsin senior nose guard Beau Allen can be forgiven for not being up to speed on all of the forthcoming changes in the Big Ten Conference.

After all, Allen will be gone - almost certainly playing in the NFL - when the Big Ten unveils the East and West divisions, starting in 2014 with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, with a nine-game conference schedule to follow in 2016.

"This might be bad to admit, but I don't know what's going on with the (divisions) and the Big Ten," Allen said after the Badgers' 41-10 victory over Purdue on Saturday.

The first thing Allen needs to learn is the boiling rivalry with Ohio State is about to be reduced to a simmer.

Starting next season, when UW is in the West and Ohio State is in the East, the Buckeyes will no longer be Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to the Badgers. UW will be more focused on division foes Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska than it will be on Ohio State.

That makes an already intriguing matchup on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, between No. 23 UW (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) and No. 4 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) even more enticing.

It's the end of bitterly contested era for the two teams - who won't play each other again in the regular season until 2016 - but in some ways, the changes have already started. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and UW coach Gary Andersen are close friends who have the utmost respect for each other, which has to leave both fan bases feeling a bit uneasy.

It was easier the previous seven years, when Bret Bielema was the Badgers' coach and he seemed obsessed about everything Scarlet and Gray.

That didn't help Bielema's record against Ohio State (1-5), the only victory coming by a 31-18 margin at Camp Randall Stadium against the nation's top-ranked team in 2010.

Still, the Badgers can boast of winning the past three Big Ten titles, helped by Ohio State's ineligibility for the postseason last year. The Buckeyes won five straight titles from 2005 to 2009, vacating their share of the regular-season title in 2010 due to NCAA sanctions.

Now comes one final meeting as division rivals in what is shaping up to be the most-anticipated game in the Big Ten this season.

"It will be a high-energy game," UW sophomore tailback Melvin Gordon said. "I know Ohio State has a thing for us and we have a thing for them. We have been back and forth and those guys are playing at a high level right now, so it will be a tough game.

"But we will compete with them. Playing on the road is hard, it's not easy to win on the road. With the freshmen being able to play their first road game (at Arizona State), we have some experience. We are ready."

Ohio State backup quarterback Kenny Guiton was certainly ready, making his second straight start in place of injured starter Braxton Miller on Saturday. Guiton threw a school-record six touchdown passes, all of them in the first half in a 76-0 rout of Florida A&M.

Guiton has 13 touchdown passes on the season, including 10 in the past two games. He has thrown for 664 yards, including 491 in the past two games.

Miller suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee early in the win over San Diego State in the Buckeyes' second game. Meyer was hoping to get Miller back for the last game, but it didn't happen.

"I wanted to play him," Meyer said. "Braxton felt like he couldn't go. He tried really hard, we had a good week of pushing him through, but with good athletes, those (knee sprains) are tough injuries."

In case there was any doubt, Meyer said Miller remains the starter, if healthy. But Meyer also indicated Guiton has done enough to deserve a role.

"(Miller) is our starting quarterback," Meyer said. "Our backup quarterback has earned some time. I can't begin tell you how. I've been going through scenarios in my mind, and I don't know what it is. I'm going to see how we practice this week, but Braxton is our starting quarterback."

The Badgers come into the game with the nation's No. 3-ranked rushing offense, averaging 349.8 yards per game.

Gordon leads the Big Ten in rushing by nearly 40 yards per game, averaging 156. Senior James White is fourth at 110.5 and freshman Corey Clement is eighth at 83.5.

"We have a great group, offensive line, tight ends and running backs," senior left guard Ryan Groy said after the Badgers rushed for 388 yards against Purdue. "We prepare really well during the week. I don't think it's much of a surprise when we have those kind of numbers."

The Badgers have some injury concerns of their own, notably senior tight end Jacob Pedersen, who suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee against Purdue, along with center Dallas Lewallen and cornerback Peniel Jean, who both left the game with leg injuries.

Even though the Badgers suffered a heartbreaking 32-30 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 14, they believe being in a tough road environment prepared them for what they will face this week.

Andersen said he hasn't been to Ohio State since a recruiting trip in 1986.

"I know it's all changed since I was there," he said. "(I'm) excited about going in there. I know it's a great stadium.

"But the fact that we've gone on the road once and traveled is big for us. I know that's a tough place to play ... but our kids will still be prepared."

Source: Madison

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