- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they hit the road for a physical test at Wisconsin with a chance to lock up an outright division crown. The game will be televised live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday from Camp Randall Stadium.
Buckle up: Both offenses have a bruising, downhill runner. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State will have mobile quarterbacks. And both programs have proven more than capable of shutting down rushing attacks with aggressive defenses that rank among the best in the Big Ten.
Bottom line? This game won't be for the faint of heart, and the bad blood between the division rivals should only add to the intensity on display in a game that still counts plenty for the players involved despite the lack of postseason ramifications. The Buckeyes haven't been the most consistent team this year, but have stepped up and delivered every time when challenged. This will be the biggest measuring stick yet.
On the Ball: The Buckeyes survived without Etienne Sabino, and lately were thriving without the senior linebacker. But that was against teams not nearly as capable of rolling up yardage on the ground, so the return of the veteran at the second level is a welcome sight for Ohio State for a number of reasons.
Most important, the Buckeyes might finally be able to line up in their base defense and feel good about it, with Zach Boren looking better with every additional game under his belt and Ryan Shazier establishing himself as one of the best playmakers in the conference. Now with Boren able to play in the middle and Sabino back in his spot on the outside opposite Shazier, the Buckeyes have extra options and an extra body to throw at Wisconsin star Montee Ball.
Variety show: The Buckeyes won't be changing their offensive identity, though they did have an extra week to game plan for what the Badgers do defensively, find a few weaknesses and perhaps put in a few new looks.
Don't be surprised if Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is ready to reach into his bag of tricks against the Badgers thanks to those extra practice reps during the off date. But even if the approach is straightforward, the Buckeyes are likely going to need Braxton Miller to be efficient through the air against a stingy rush defense. Typically Ohio State has success off its play-action game, and if the Badgers are committing an extra defender to limit Miller's mobility, he'll need to deliver with his arm like he did in his last outing two weeks ago against Illinois.
Just for kicks: Even in the more competitive games of the season, the Buckeyes haven't put much pressure on kicker Drew Basil or called on him to deliver all that much. If the battle with the Badgers is as even as the oddsmakers expect it to be, Ohio State might have a significant test or two in store for its junior.
Basil has attempted just six field goals heading into the final two weeks of the season, and of his four conversions, the longest is just 35 yards. If the score is tight down the stretch, special teams figures to be a difference-maker -- and Basil could wind up with a chance to show that he's ready to chip in when needed.