Badgers prepare for Buckeyes' Miller, Guiton
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Let the chess match—and the mind games—begin.
No team in 2012 corralled and confused Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller more than Wisconsin.
Yet with UW (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) set to face the host Buckeyes (4-0, 0-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday, the story lines are all about change.
Miller, expected to return to the starting lineup after missing the last two-plus games with a minor knee injury, is said to be a better passer this season. His backup, senior Kenny Guiton, has been fabulous with 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
The Buckeyes appear to have more play-makers and overall speed to surround either quarterback and are fourth nationally in scoring a 52.5 points per game.
“I think that probably the biggest development in the past 12 months has been our development of the skill position,” Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “Being able to throw the ball more efficiently and some of the things last year that we weren’t comfortable with we’re more comfortable now.
“(When) teams want to do things like Wisconsin did last year against us we are going to take advantage of what their weakness is.”
When the teams met last season in Madison, Ohio State prevailed in overtime despite a shaky showing from Miller and the offense.
In leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record last season, Miller averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 105.9 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 13 touchdowns. He completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 169.9 yards per game, with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Buckeyes averaged 423.8 yards and 37.2 points per game.
UW’s defensive coaches devised pressure packages that kept Miller in the pocket and left him uncertain about from where the pressure would come.
The Badgers held Miller to 145 total yards—48 rushing on 23 attempts and 97 yards passing. He was sacked three times and had a long run of 10 yards. Ohio State was held to 236 yards.
“Every defense has a weakness somewhere,” Smith said, “and last year we didn’t feel great about the weakness that they had attacking it. So this year we feel much better about it for sure.”
Yet this season UW has a new head coach in Gary Andersen, whose forte is defense, a new defensive staff, led by coordinator Dave Aranda and a veteran front seven.
Senior linebacker Chris Borland, who missed the 2012 game after suffering a hamstring injury the previous week, believes UW again has the personnel necessary to slow the Buckeyes’ offense.
“I think we kept him contained,” Borland said of Miller. “We took away a lot of options he had. One simple thing is we kept the edge, kept him boxed in on pass plays—Didn’t allow any scrambles.
“He is going to hurt you eventually. He is a great athlete. But not letting him be the difference between a win and a loss is what you’ve got to do.”
If you believe Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, both Miller and Guiton will play against UW.
Miller completed 17 of 24 passes for 208 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, remains more apt to run than throw if given room.
“He’s got eyes in the back of his head,” Aranda said, “can scramble and can make plays on the run. His passing has improved down the field.”
Guiton is averaging 7.4 yards per carry but is completing 68.4 percent of his passes and has particularly effective on deep balls.
Aranda compared Guiton to Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 259.5 yards per game, with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions, last season.
“I think in terms of a package it’s got to be well-rounded enough where you can move from one phase or one set of calls with one quarterback to another set of calls with another quarterback,” Aranda said. “That is the approach we will take.”
But will it be enough?
The Buckeyes can use tailbacks Jordan Hall (6.2 yards per carry, eight TDs), Carlos Hyde (8.2 yards per carry) and freshman Dontre Wilson (9.3 yards per carry) and boast six players with at least eight receptions.
Wide receivers Devin Smith and Corey Brown lead the way with 16 catches apiece and a combined seven touchdown catches.
Smith, a junior who caught the 40-yard bomb from Miller to beat UW in 2011, has 14 touchdown catches. The average length is 41.5 yards.
For Borland, UW’s defensive success will be predicated on stopping Ohio State from running the ball at will. The Buckeyes are second in the Big Ten in rushing at 311.0 yards per game, with 14 rushing touchdowns.
“Even though they are a spread team, they like to establish the run,” he said. “They stress your defense horizontally, vertically and in the middle, too.
“Stopping the run is the first key, but you’ve got to really take care of everything.”
UW coach Gary Andersen added one more key.
“You’ve also got to understand that they’re going to get theirs,” Andersen said. “They’re going to get some plays. The key is how do you react to the next play?”