The No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers are in position to recapture the Big Ten Championship mostly due to running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon and their third-ranked rushing attack. But a key injury to the Badgers offensive line could hinder their hopes of thwarting No. 6 Ohio State Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Gordon’s gained a whopping 2,260 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Badgers (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 13 CFP), behind a stacked and experienced offensive line of junior left tackle Tyler Marz, senior left guard Dallas Lewallen, senior right guard Kyle Costigan, senior right tackle and Rob Havenstein and sophomore center Dan Voltz.
But Voltz suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota in last week’s 34-24 victory over Minnesota to clinch the East division and a date with the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen could go with freshman Michael Deiter instead.
"It's either that or walk off the field and not finish the championship game,” Andersen said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "Ideally that is not what we want, or we would have played him a long time ago. But Michael is on board. His family is completely on board and excited about the opportunity for him to play, quite frankly.
"His dad was pretty fired up when I talked to him today and said his kid might have a chance to play."
As the Journal-Sentinel indicated, the Badgers do have some options like switching Lewallen to center and putting redshirt junior Ray Ball at left tackle, like they did against the Gophers last week, but there’s no question Voltz gives them the best chance to keep up with Ohio State’s high-octane offense.
The rushing attack is the one advantage Wisconsin clearly holds over Ohio State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 5 CFP). The Buckeyes are fifth in the conference, allowing 145.6 rushing yards per game, but have given up 21 rushing scores this season.
Turning to junior quarterback Joel Stave is an option, but he’s completed less than 60 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and four interceptions this season, off a low 136 attempts.
Ohio State has concerns on offense to fret over as well. After breaking the Big Ten record with 45 total touchdowns from scrimmage, quarterback J.T. Barrett was lost for the rest of this season with a broken right ankle against Michigan last week and now the Buckeyes turn to sophomore Cardale Jones.
Jones has attempted 19 passes in his career and makes his first start under center for Ohio State against a Wisconsin defense ranked fourth in the nation in points allowed with 16.8 per game.
Jones’s strengths lay more in his ability to rush out of the pocket, and according to Cleveland.com, the Buckeyes could ask freshman running back Jalin Marshall to pass the ball more than versus the Badgers.
There is of course the chance Ohio State simply utilizes top running back Ezekiel Elliot more. The sophomore’s gained 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in six games, including the last two victories. Elliot’s also been given 20 or more snaps in four games this season, all resulting in 100-plus yards.
Start Time: 8:17 P.M. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Point Spread: Wisconsin -4
Over/Under: 53 points
Prediction: Wisconsin over Ohio State, 37-30