Against Ohio State, Wisconsin was physical on the ground, efficient through the air and complete in all phases of the game. John Clay and James White combined for 179 yards and three touchdowns, Scott Tolzien connected on 13 of his 16 passes, was never sacked and the offense turned the ball over only once.
Need a uniting factor? Try the offensive line.
Not only did Tolzien remain upright for the duration of the game, he was also barely even pressured. The running game thrived because of the giant holes created up front, allowing Clay and White to find success on the ground.
“The running game was pretty impressive,” UW running backs coach John Settle said. “It was something that we needed as an offense. It was something that we hadn’t done consistently in the past, and it was great to be able to come out and establish the run early, to get John started early and to give him an opportunity to be physical. Then to bring James in as a changeup and make some people miss, it excited the crowd.”
Indeed, the crowd was amped, pumped and electrified. So many different words have been used since Saturday night’s upset of the No. 1 Buckeyes to describe the Camp Randall atmosphere, but truth be told, the offensive line was the biggest reason for the Badgers’ success.
OSU’s best defensive player, defensive end Cameron Heyward, was limited to four tackles. His only tackle for loss resulted in UW losing just a single yard, and his name was barely heard all game. Heading into this weekend’s showdown with the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin will face yet another stalwart in defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
“Everyone knows he’s a great player and top draft pick for next year and he’s really strong,” left tackle Gabe Carimi, who will matchup against Clayborn, said. “I’m getting my gameplan to go attack Adrian Clayborn. It’s going to be a lot like defending Heyward for O-State. They’re a lot of the same, maybe Clayborn’s a little stronger.”
Against Clayborn last year, Carimi had anything but an enjoyable time. Nursing an injured left shoulder, the Badgers’ standout left tackle was limited to essentially one arm. Consequently, Clayborn recorded six tackles – two for loss – and one four-yard sack. Wisconsin managed only 87 rushing yards, and lost its homecoming game 20-10.
“Oh it was real bad,” Carimi said. “I got shot up before the game and we didn’t shoot it up early enough, so I was still feeling shoulder pain and I landed on my shoulder right away on the first play on the first series. That was pretty painful, and I’m looking forward to getting another [chance] this year.”
With the Badgers now back in the Big Ten title picture heading into Iowa City, the Ohio State game almost becomes an afterthought. Beat the Hawkeyes, hope for some Michigan State losses and Wisconsin could find itself atop the conference. Yet, it’s 1-0 as always for Bret Bielema’s squad, and that starts with the weekly preparation.
“I think it’s important to let Iowa be Iowa and let that game be itself and prepare for it the way that you would prepare every week,” left guard John Moffitt said. “We didn’t do anything supernatural to prepare for Ohio State. We weren’t throwing out any trick plays or trying to trick anybody, so we just prepared the way we prepared.
“Then, on the field, we played the football that we play. I think that was clear for everyone to see, and that’s how you win. So we just need to repeat that, which we do every week, and I think that’s a formula to success.”
Schematically, the Hawkeyes present almost a mirror image of the Badgers. Both teams do what they do, do it well and don’t do much else. For Wisconsin, of course, that’s running the ball. The Badgers are the Big Ten’s second best rushing offense, behind only Michigan, with 232.7 yards per game. Iowa, meanwhile, is the Big Ten’s top rushing defense, allowing only 83.8 yards per game.
“They don’t do a lot of stuff,” center Peter Konz said of Iowa. “They don’t over-blitz you, they don’t do too many complicated things as far as shifting guys and stuff. They really just come at you and just use the guys they have.”
Knowing pretty much exactly what they’re going up against at Kinnick Stadium Saturday afternoon either plays into Wisconsin’s favor, or it increases the possibility of a letdown game after Saturday night’s physically, mentally and emotionally taxing performance. The key for the Badgers will be replicating the powerful, efficient and careful approach they took against Ohio State, something that wasn’t lost in the post-victory mayhem.
“I think you have to recognize the situation for what it is,” Carimi said. “A lot of people will think of a letdown week, and [we] just know that the same way you attacked the last week, you attack this week. There’s not going to be any difference. You’re going to come in and practice hard. Tuesday, we had a great Tuesday practice and we’re going to come hard Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and prepare to win.”