Wisconsin's P.J. Hill averages 23 carries - second most in the country - and 112 yards per game.
MORRY GASH / AP Enlarge
MADISON, Wis. - There's no smoke and no mirrors involved when Wisconsin plays football. The Badgers don't waste time with misdirection, and the only diversion they take from the Woody Hayes approach of "three yards and a cloud of dust" is that they don't want three, they want five.
And the dust is hard to come by in this era of synthetic playing surfaces, but the methodology lives on.
The Badgers are not going to send five receivers hither and yon and try to divide and conquer. They are not going to burn the midnight oil seeking to devise gadget plays and beat you with trickeration.
Wisconsin is going to line up, run straight at you, and challenge you to stop them from doing so. That is Wisconsin football. That is what the Badgers do best.
Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who expects to play a prominent role in what the Buckeyes do offensively in tonight's crucial Big Ten game here, is giddy over the possibilities. He knows this is the age of the spread and ultra-nuanced offenses, but Wells is all for a throw-back game now and then.
"This will be like an old-fashioned Big Ten game," Wells said. "This is one of these weeks when it is definitely going to be a smash-mouth football game, and I am looking forward to it."
While the still-healing Wells is the hammer on the Ohio State side, junior P.J. Hill is the incumbent tailback for Wisconsin, and he runs the ball 23 times per game, second most in the country.
Wells said that Hill, at 236 pounds, is a little trimmer and a little quicker than last season. Hill averages 112 yards per game, and about five yards every time he touches the ball. The Badgers' hulking offensive line pushing in front of Hill has 124 starts to its credit, and the tackles go 6-8 and 6-7.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the Buckeyes will tweak their defensive alignments to meet what Wisconsin will send at them - the powerful Hill surging behind that massive offensive line. Ohio State have seen a similar approach in practice facing Wells.
"Hopefully our defense has had enough work against that over the course of the spring and the fall and the years, so that they understand what needs to be a little bit different when you play against different styles of offense," Tressel said. "Our guys love the competition, they love the challenges, and they know full well that Wisconsin's going to come right at them."
The Badgers are ranked 15th in the country in rushing offense, averaging more than 218 yards per game on the ground. Ohio State is third in the Big Ten in run defense, allowing only 95 yards per game, and Buckeyes defensive end Lawrence Wilson expects that strength to get tested.
"Wisconsin is definitely power football," Wilson said. "That's what they are known for and that's what they do. They've got a good running back, a good offensive line, they're big and they're strong and they're powerful, and the game is going to be won in the trenches."
Eleven of Wisconsin's 15 touchdowns this season have come on the ground, but Tressel cautioned that his team not look for a one-dimensional approach from the Badgers. Wisconsin has thrown the ball 100 times in four games, and averages about 195 passing yards per game - about 40 more yards than the Buckeyes have averaged. Tressel expects to see a spread "lite" from the Badgers, on occasion.
"I think you'll find Wisconsin spreading it out," Tressel said. "All of us spread it out - to what degree. Maybe Wisconsin to the least degree of any of the [Big Ten] teams. But to be a complete team, you have to be able to present yourself in every fashion and you have to let your defense work against every different look. But there will always be varying degrees."
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