1. What kind of start will Ohio State have?
In a 31-18 loss at Wisconsin last season, the Buckeyes fell into a 21-0 hole from which they never fully recovered. With a much lower-powered offense this season, Ohio State cannot afford a repeat lest the Badgers will be able to put it on autopilot with their powerful running game.
Last week was actually only the third time in seven games Wisconsin scored on its opening drive, but the Badgers have yet to allow an opponent to score any points on its first drive of the first or second half.
Overall, the Badgers have been fast starters as they average 28.0 points per first half, a better mark than Ohio State’s 23.3 average for the entire game.
Ohio State has been outscored 39-37 in first quarters this season, but the Buckeyes took early leads in their four wins.
2. Will Ohio State get anything from its passing game?
The Buckeyes won at Illinois two weeks ago despite completing only one pass at Illinois, but they don’t figure to get away with that this weekend against a Wisconsin team averaging more than 47 points per game.
Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller looked shaky in the pocket at windy Memorial Stadium in Champaign his last time out, but he has shown a few flashes of his five-star talent during four starts. His teammates like what they have seen from him in practice lately.
“I just see a different guy than I saw against Michigan State or Miami,” senior center Mike Brewster said. “He has so much more confidence. I’m sure he understands and feels way more comfortable in the offense and controlling the huddle. I really think he’s been going out there and playing like he knows how to play, being calm and being natural.”
3. Which team will tackle better?
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash lamented the role missed tackles played in several of Michigan State’s scores en route to 37 Spartan points last Saturday night, and Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell pointed to the same thing in an early season loss to Miami (Fla.) that saw the Hurricanes piled up 240 yards rushing.
Some of those issues resurfaced in a loss to Nebraska on Oct. 8, but the Buckeyes tackled better at Illinois.
The Badgers are deadly efficient to begin with. Giving them extra yards after having a shot to get them on the ground can make them nearly unstoppable.
4. Can Wisconsin protect Russell Wilson?
As Fickell pointed out earlier this week, Michigan State was the first team to consistently harass Wisconsin’s star senior quarterback this season. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns but threw two interceptions and was charged with a safety after he committed intentional grounding in the end zone.
“You have to find ways to get to him, whether it's picking a ball off, sacking him, getting hits on him, getting guys in front of his face,” Fickell said. “There’s all different kind of ways, but most importantly you have to be able to affect the quarterback.”
Ohio State’s pass rush has been so-so this season but is coming off a strong performance against mobile Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
5. Can the Buckeyes somehow find 24 points, and will that be enough?
As evidenced by their per game average, 24 points is a fairly lofty mark for Ohio State to reach.
Even if it requires assists from field position, a defensive score or a big return, that figures to be a minimum total for the Buckeyes to be able to win because the Badgers are going to do some damage with Wilson, their powerful offensive line and talented running backs.
On the flip side, holding the Badgers under 30 will be no easy task, either. They have scored at least 31 in every contest this season and their last 14 regular season games overall.