COLUMBUS - The guys in the glamour positions will get all of the hype. It will be the freakish athleticism of Terrelle Pryor against the turf-eating power of John Clay. No. 1 Ohio State's star quarterback matching touchdowns with No. 18 Wisconsin's stud running back.
But the coach of the Buckeyes isn't necessarily buying that scenario for Saturday night's close encounter of the brutish kind.
While he certainly sees the names up in the lights having an impact on the outcome, Jim Tressel said the end result is in the hands of the nondescript, often nameless chaps who will scrum and sumo wrestle at the point of attack for three-plus hours.
"Oh, yeah. Well, every game is won there," Tressel said about the battle for control of the line of scrimmage. "The trenches is where it will be."
A quickie comparative glance points to a violent collision taking place when the Buckeyes line up with the Badgers inside a raucous Camp Randall Stadium.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring at 43.2 points a game. Wisconsin's defense allows just 19 points a game. The Badgers are rushing for 240 yards per game and have 21 rushing touchdowns in six games. The Buckeyes allow just 78.7 rushing yards per game, and have surrendered just three rushing touchdowns in six games.
Clearly, something has to give. Tressel said the run blocking and pass protection for both offenses, and the pass rush and run stuffing for the defenses, constitute ground zero in the war of wills.
"Run game - certainly. Pass protection - for sure. Both sides," he said. "That's where the game is won and lost, but it's hard to quantify that. [Even] sacks don't quantify the impact of what's going on in the trenches there."
Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward said Wisconsin's offensive front makes a potent runner like the 6-1, 248-pound Clay even more formidable. Heyward said the Badgers don't show a lot of tendencies, because their line is so talented across the board.
"I think this is the most complete [line OSU has faced]," Heyward said. "They run so hard and finish blocks very well. They are some trees and they get so much push - it's going to be critical for us to keep up the line of scrimmage on our side."
On their last trip to Madison to face the Badgers, the Buckeyes needed a dramatic scoring drive to forge a 20-17 win. Pryor had an 11-yard touchdown run with just over a minute left which snapped Wisconsin's 16-game home winning streak.
Heyward remembers that game as being a particularly physical one, and one in which both wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and running back Dan Herron were knocked out of the game with concussions.
"In that '08 game . . . they kicked our butts on the defensive line. It's a very physical game," Heyward said. "They knocked us around pretty good. We were very lucky to win that game. It's going to be hostile, and we know we have a great challenge ahead of us."
Although acknowledging that big plays matter, swings of momentum matter, and it's the players with the name recognition that score the majority of the points, Heyward said the trench workers for Ohio State are aware they usually hold the outcome in their hands.
"Definitely. Every week. I think all games are won on the offense and defensive line," he said.
"I think in the summer and spring we emphasized that if we win every battle in the trenches, we'll have a great chance of winning [the game]."
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