1. How will the return game factor into the outcome?
On paper, the Buckeyes had a huge advantage in kickoff returns, but on the field the Badgers scored the big blow.
David Gilreath sprinted through the Ohio State coverage unit 97 yards for a touchdown to open the game, a tone-setter that seemed to shake the Buckeyes.
“What can I say about it happening on the first play?” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “Obviously, I would rather it didn’t. I’m sure someone did not execute what they needed to do. I’m not exactly sure what lane or exactly what occurred. When you’re on the road, if you don’t at least match their special teams, if you let the home team win the special teams part, it’s going to be difficult to win."
The play did not decide the game, but it certainly energized the home team and its fans while perhaps contributing to Ohio State’s first-quarter malaise.
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin kickoff unit that has struggled all year kept the Buckeyes inside the 30 on all but one of six kickoffs. Ohio State’s best starting field position after a kickoff was its own 32.
2. Will the Ohio State offensive line have any communication problems?
The recurring problem with untouched defenders in the Buckeye backfield did not rear its ugly head. Instead it looked like Ohio State’s problem was physical. Specifically, they could not handle star Badger end J.J. Watt.
Watt bumped his season tackles-for-loss total to 11 1/2 with a trio of stops in the Buckeye backfield, including two sacks. Neither OSU tackle contained him with any regularity, and he was especially noticeable late when the Buckeyes were in scramble mode.
3. Can Scott Tolzien redeem himself for 2009?
Wisconsin’s early start let it protect its senior quarterback from brain lapses such as the ones that led to a pair of crippling interceptions in Ohio State’s 31-13 victory last season.
As he showed with an interception that hit OSU linebacker Andrew Sweat in the numbers, Tolzien is still prone to throwing some inexplicable passes, but he rarely had that option this time around.
Almost all of his 16 throws were of the safe variety, and he took advantage by completing 13 of them for 152 yards.
Tolzien’s biggest throws came in the fourth quarter against an OSU defense tilting heavily toward the run, including a 33-yarder to Jacob Peterson to open the Badgers’ final scoring drive.
4. Will a backup running back have an effect on the game?
Both running games were surprisingly effective, but there was no comparison in this area.
Badger backup James White carried 17 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a pair of passes for 9 yards. White is the change-of-pace runner behind bullish John Clay, but White ran hard and broke tackles himself.
White’s 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter pushed Wisconsin’s lead back to 10 points after the Buckeyes had controlled much of the second half. It exhibited his shiftiness, too.
“They saw me trying to get to the outside a little bit before, so I figured if I set them up outside and just put my foot down, they wouldn’t be able to tackle me,” White said. “So once I made that one cut, they both tripped up a bit and I ran through the seam.”?
Ohio State starter Dan Herron continued a strong string of games with 91 yards on 19 carries, but his backups were afterthoughts. Brandon Saine did not get a carry for the second straight game, and Jordan Hall was called upon twice for 8 yards.
5. How will Andrew Sweat hold up?
This morning fans are looking at Sweat as a bright spot on an otherwise dismal weekend, and that is with good reason.
The junior finished second on the team with eight tackles and came up with an interception that looked like it could be a turning point in the second quarter until the offense sputtered.
An injury to Ross Homan may have helped Sweat, who moved back to his more natural Will linebacker spot from the Sam, where he started the game.
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