The Ohio State football team begins Big Ten play Saturday night vs. Wisconsin, and head coach Urban Meyer knows his Buckeyes will face a stiff challenge from the Badgers.
Wisconsin, led by new head coach (and former Meyer assistant) Gary Andersen, has won back-to-back Big Ten championship games and made three consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl. Meyer said OSU’s goal is to win the conference, and to do so, his team will have to get past the Badgers.
“In my opinion, they’re the king of the Big Ten right now,” Meyer said.”This is an opportunity to go compete with a team that has competed in the Rose Bowl the last few years.”
As has become the norm for Meyer’s weekly press conference in recent weeks, the head coach gave an update on quarterback Braxton Miller. The junior has missed the better part of three of Ohio State’s four games but is getting closer to a return to the field. Miller did not play last week against Florida A&M because, according to Meyer, Miller’s knee was not ready for game action.
“I had hoped all week that we could get him in there, even if it’s just for a few series,” Meyer said. “But (the knee) just wasn’t stable. It would have been not right. It wasn’t just Braxton (deciding). Myself, the strength coach, the quarterback coach all got together.”
Miller did practice on Sunday, however, and looked good according to Meyer. The head coach added that Miller’s health is at “about 90 (percent) right now.”
“He had a very good day yesterday,” Meyer said, who added that if Miller has a good week of practice, he will start.
Miller’s backup, fifth-year senior Kenny Guiton, has earned two Big Ten offensive player of the week honors in as many weeks as a starter. Still, if Miller’s ready to play, he will play. Meyer had mentioned in previous press conferences that he’d like to get both quarterbacks on the field at the same time, but the head coach backed off that idea on Monday.
“I don’t know if that’s reality,” Meyer said. “I just love both those players. I think they’re good players, but I don’t know. Someone has to come off the field.”
Turning to defense, Wisconsin’s punishing rush-heavy attack will provide a new challenge for the Buckeyes. The Badgers ranked third nationally in rushing with 349.8 yards per game. Melvin Gordon leads the conference with 156.0 yards per game with seven touchdowns.
Ohio State, having replaced its entire defensive line heading into this season, will face a difficult test – even if junior tackle Michael Bennett and sophomore end Adolphus Washington both return from injury. Meyer said Bennett will play, while Meyer is “hoping” to have Washington back.
“This will be the biggest challenge to this point, maybe for the rest of the year, for the defensive front,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes have won five of the last six meetings between the schools dating back to 2007, including two of the last three. But most of those games have been close, including OSU’s 21-14 overtime victory in Madison last season.
Meyer expects another tough battle.
“I think it’s going to be a classic. … You know it’s going to come down to one or two series to win this game,” he said.
- In other news, OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith confirmed that freshman James Clark is out for the season. Clark suffered an ankle injury Saturday vs. Florida A&M and had to be carted off the field.
Clark will take a red shirt, as likely will wide receivers Corey Smith and Michael Thomas. Smith, a junior and JUCO transfer, and Thomas, a sophomore, have been unable to find playing time this season.
OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell did not confirm that the plan was to redshirt freshman Mike Mitchell, though the five-star prospect has yet to play this season.
“Sometimes those young guys, their opportunities are going to arise at a certain time,” Fickell said.
- Meyer credited quarterback coach Tom Herman for Guiton’s emergence.
“Tom Herman is a heck of a quarterback coach,” Meyer said. “It’s easy to identify and see the improvement Kenny Guiton has made. Why didn’t he play two years ago? Because Kenny Guiton wasn’t good enough. Why didn’t he play last year? Because Kenny Guiton wasn’t good enough.
“Why is he playing this year? Because he’s good enough. That’s because Kenny’s worked his tail off with his quarterback coach. It’s a really good mesh between those two people right now. That’s why he’s become a very good quarterback.”
- Meyer said Wisconsin’s defensive scheme is different than last year. The head coach said last year’s UW squad was not as creative and multiple. This year they show more 4-3 and 3-4 looks.
“It’s a much different scheme than it was a year ago,” Meyer said.
Both Meyer and Smith were asked if they miss former head coach Bret Bielema, who had accused Meyer of “illegal” recruiting tactics when Bielema was still at UW.
“No. I’m good with Gary,” Meyer said with a smile.
Responded Smith, after a chuckle: “You always miss great coaches.”