COLUMBUS - Word is that the bulletin boards in the Ohio State football locker room are overflowing with motivational material as the fourth-ranked Buckeyes prepare to play Saturday at Wisconsin.
There's the autographed picture of Badgers quarterback Brooks Bollinger throwing a pass with a caption that reads: “The Horseshoe: They Built it. We Own It.”
The Badgers won for the second straight time in Ohio Stadium last year, overcoming a 17-0 deficit to triumph 20-17.
There's also the lore of the logo stomp.
It consists of bulletin-board material depicting the Badgers celebrating on the Ohio State “O” in the middle of the Horseshoe last year.
The Buckeyes celebrated a 23-7 victory at Camp Randall Stadium in 2000 by dancing on the “W” in the middle of the field.
OSU senior linebacker Matt Wilhelm says that if you get the notion these two teams aren't exactly on friendly terms, you're perception is razor sharp.
“There's definitely a rivalry between these two teams,” he stated yesterday. “I don't think we care a whole lot for each other because of the incidents that have happened in the past.
“We disrespected them by doing something on their `W' and they came to Columbus, an intimidating place, and came out with a victory after being down 17 points. Obviously, they get some respect for coming back in the second half and getting the win.
“This year we're a different class of people. We're in a different situation. We're 7-0, we've improved week-to-week in every aspect of the game. We still want to win the Big Ten title and we have thoughts of competing for a national championship.”
There are other things that are stirring Wilhelm's juices. He didn't get to play against Wisconsin last year because of an ankle injury that eventually required surgery, and he's leading the Buckeyes in tackles, and senior strong safety Michael Doss isn't.
“I do think I am playing better than any time since I've been here, mostly because I've been healthy every game,” said Wilhelm, who has 56 tackles to Doss's 48. “I think it's an accumulation of everything coming together at the right time.
“Mike Doss is not too pleased with that, him being a senior, a two-time All-American and on the defensive player-of-the-year watch list. We have a bet going. He said he's not going to get beat out after leading for two years straight. It's just a friendly bet.”
Wilhelm said the two made the wager last Sunday while working out in the weight room.
“It's two football players pushing one another and it's all in good fun,” he added. “Last year I was leading through the Northwestern game and I was also leading my sophomore year. But when Big Ten play starts he's racking up 10, 12 tackles a game, I'm sitting there at six to eight, he takes over and he's an All-American again.”
Wilhelm should get some gratis tackles because the wide-open, spread offenses that the Buckeyes have faced favor a strong safety more than an inside linebacker. Opponents are throwing an average of 43 passes per game at OSU.
OSU linebackers coach Mark Snyder put together a tape showing Wilhelm all of his missed tackles last year and plays that Wilhelm might have made by running to the ball better.
“Things like that have led to the improvement in my tackling and relentless pursuit to the football,” Wilhelm said. “I've gotten a lot of charity tackles just from running from sideline to sideline.”
He has also made any number of big plays, including what could be considered game-savers against Washington State with a key interception, and against Cincinnati with a tipped pass in the end zone at the game's conclusion.
Where there's a will, there's Wilhelm.
“It's our hope that everyone who enters his senior year has one of those career-best years,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “I thought Matt Wilhelm's preparation was extraordinary. When he didn't get to play in the spring ... some guys allow that to set them back a little bit. He took that opportunity to learn the game even more, though his knowledge of football is extraordinary.
“I just thought he did what he had to do to prepare for an extraordinary senior year and he's halfway home to having that.”
Ohio State backup linebacker Fred Pagac Jr. has been suspended for Saturday's game at Wisconsin, Tressel said.
Pagac, a redshirt junior, was arrested and charged with persistent disorderly conduct when police said they found him trying to fight outside a bar near campus early Sunday morning. Pagac is scheduled to appear today in Franklin County Municipal Court.
Tressel said Pagac does not face sanctions from the university, but would not play because of team rules.
Ohio State may also be without starting defensive end Will Smith, who sustained a sprained knee in last week's 50-7 win over San Jose State. Offensive tackle Shane Olivea will return to the lineup after missing last week with an injured rotator cuff.
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