As the Wisconsin football team prepares to square off against a familiar and unbeaten foe, head coach Bret Bielema will see a new face on the opposing sideline.
Ohio State officially hired Urban Meyer as head coach Nov. 28, 2011. Meyer has guided the Buckeyes to a 10-0 mark in the 2012 campaign.
In his weekly press conference Monday, Bielema complimented OSU’s talent and execution under Meyer.
“Each year is a different year,” Bielema said. “This year, they’ve obviously done a very nice job to get to where they are today, and you would expect more of the same.”
Upon arrival, Meyer installed a new offense that differed from the philosophy of his predecessor, Jim Tressel. Bielema said Tressel’s offense was similar to Wisconsin’s, but Meyer has gone “totally away from that.”
When asked about the coaching matchup between himself and Meyer, Bielema deferred, saying the game would be decided on the field. Bielema sat down with Meyer during Meyer’s working stint as an analyst for a meeting Bielema called an “enjoyable experience.”
According to Bielema, the much-publicized tiff between him and Meyer this summer over recruiting was overblown. Bielema said he was surprised at how big the issue became and added he learned from the ordeal.
The competition between Wisconsin and Ohio State extends beyond the football field. Wisconsin recruits heavily in Ohio, Bielema noted, and some of the players from both UW and OSU have known each other well before they even take the field against one another.
“Recruiting, you wear that on your sleeve,” Bielema said. “That’s the life line of your program. A lot of times, that’s when the feelings get very emotional.”
Despite having already clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game with a 62-14 win over Indiana Saturday, Bielema said the Badgers still have plenty to play for in the final two games of the regular season.
Dismissing the notion he might sit players for health reasons in the last two games, Bielema instead said the team’s focus is on winning a share of the Leaders Division title. Ohio State has already secured at least a share of the division crown.
“I might have a mutiny on my hands if I tried to pull anybody out of the game this Saturday,” Bielema said.
When the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams with the addition of Nebraska in 2010, Wisconsin and Ohio State were placed in the same division, meaning the two teams will play every year. In the past, the road to a Big Ten title meant beating Ohio State, Bielema said.
“When the divisions came out and Ohio State was in our division, I thought that was a great thing for us,” Bielema said. “Just because we knew we were going to get to play them every year.”
Bielema is 1-4 against Ohio State in his career, with his lone win coming in 2010 against a top-ranked and undefeated Buckeye team.
Preparing for Miller
Ohio State is led by sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, a player Bielema said has improved since his freshman year and one Wisconsin will need to contain Saturday.
Miller has accounted for 65.6 percent of the Buckeye’s offensive output this season with 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns passing as well as 1,116 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
The perfect dual-threat quarterback in Meyer’s spread attack and a potential Heisman candidate, Bielema noted UW recruited Miller out of high school before Miller ultimately chose OSU.
“We knew that he was a tremendous athlete and a tremendous kid,” Bielema said. “He’s just a really, really gifted human being.”
Bielema said he noticed Miller’s accuracy has improved this season, due in part to another year of experience and the scheme OSU has installed around Miller. According to Bielema, Miller is one of the most mobile quarterbacks he’s ever seen. When asked to compare Miller to former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Bielema claimed there was no comparison.
Following last season’s 33-29 loss in Columbus, Bielema said he noticed Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson sought out Miller to congratulate him on the victory.
“I just wish we didn’t have to play him every year,” Bielema said. “He truly is special.”