Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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At the very least, this year’s Big Ten Championship game is more packed with story lines, than any other match-up in its young history. The Buckeyes have lost a quarterback in JT Barrett, but more seriously, they’ve lost a teammate to an apparent suicide in Kosta Karageorge. Wisconsin has willed their way into this game by busting of a seven game winning streak, but their running back, Melvin Gordon, could be limited or even missing from the game due to an injury suffered in last week’s game. Add to that the fact that other than ruining Ohio State’s chances at the inaugural College Football Playoff, Wisconsin really doesn’t have much to play for. They are too far outside of the top four to have a shot, even with a big win.
One thing is for certain, this game will be interesting. Each team needs specific players and groups to step up. So here are the keys to victory for each team:
Ohio State Buckeyes:
· Cardale Jones – We might as well start with the obvious here, Ohio State’s victory will depend heavily on the play of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Let’s not forget, Cardale Jones was in contention for the second-string job this spring before Braxton Miller went down. Both Jones and Barrett were taking first team snaps before Barrett edged him out just before Miller reinjured his shoulder. Is Cardale Jones identicle to JT Barrett? Of course not. But it’s not like he’s a scrub either. Cardale’s performance will not only impact the outcome of the game, but also the final placement of the Buckeyes in the College Football playoff.
· Offensive Line – This is Cardale Jones’s first career start, so in order to give him the best possible chance for success, the O-Line needs to give him as much time in the pocket as possible. They also need to control the line of scrimmage in order to allow Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall to work their magic and take some of the heat away from Jones. We’ve seen this unit falter in the past, but we’ve also seen them steadily improve into one of the most consistent O-Lines in the country. They need to keep it up.
· Defensive Line – I never thought I’d say this, but the D-Line hasn’t looked very good over the last four games. The OSU run defense has been leaking like a siv lately, and I’m really not sure why. Bottom line, the D-Line has got to step up this week if the Buckeyes have any chance of slowing down Wisconsin’s powerful running attack in Melvin Gordon.
· Running Game – Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall can really be difference makers in this game. As long as the ball is in their hands, the pressure is away from Cardale Jones. In short, Elliott and Marshall give Jones options, and they also give the Wisconsin defense that much more to worry about. Wisconsin’s defense is highly ranked, so keeping them on their toes is essential
· Melvin Gordon – Again, we might as well start with the obvious here. Melvin Gordon represents the biggest strength that this Wisconsin team brings into this match-up. He also represents Ohio State’s biggest weakness right now…defending the running game. Over the last three game, Ohio State has been torched by the run, even against Michigan’s lousy running attack. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon was missing from the fourth quarter of last week’s game with an injury, and nobody seems to know if he’ll be 100% for this game or not. Let’s also take this time to point out the SI Curse. That’s right, Melvin Gordon appeared on the cover of Sport Illustrated, so that could very well spell disaster for the Badgers.
· Defensive Line – Did I mention that this is Cardale Jones’s first career start? For the Badgers to win this game, they absolutely must put pressure on Jones and see if he cracks. They must get to Jones early and often, because as we’ve seen with Ohio State’s other quarterback, if you let them get into a rhythm, it’s game over.
· Offensive Line – Are you seeing a pattern here? O-Lines and D-Lines will be huge in this game. It will be a good, old-fashioned, Big Ten slobber-knocker of a game. That said, Wisconsin’s O-Line must prevent Ohio State’s stud defensive end, Joey Bosa, from having a good game…good luck with that. Bosa has 43 tackles this season, 20 for loss, despite being double-teamed in almost every game this season. If Bosa is somehow negated from this contest, look for Melvin Gordon and company to have a big day.
This is by no means a clear-cut victory for either team. This game will come down to a couple key possessions by both teams. In the end, the team with the most guts will win, and as a Buckeye fan, I think the Buckeyes will come out on top. Let’s be real for a second, it takes a gutsy team to go 11-1 on the back of a second string quarterback. Nobody expected JT Barrett to be as good as he was this season…nobody.
While Wisconsin comes into this game the narrow favorite (by Vegas of course), I still think Ohio State will come away with a close victory. The Buckeyes need a big win to help their playoff chances here, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Ohio State must focus on getting this win.
Scoring prediction: Ohio State 31 – Wisconsin 24
What are your keys to the game? Are you a Buckeye fan or a Badger fan? Let us know in the comments below!