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COLUMBUS — A sign in Ohio State’s team meeting room reminds players what is said and seen in the football complex stays in the football complex.
On Monday, though, the state’s biggest secret got out.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes expect to throw everything they have at Wisconsin on Saturday — passes from Braxton Miller included.
“I don’t mean to talk too much, but he looked phenomenal,” center Corey Linsley said of Miller’s mobility in a full-pads practice Sunday. “I could tell Braxton is back.”
Expect life for OSU to resume as usual heading into its prime-time home showdown against the 23rd-ranked Badgers. Coach Urban Meyer put Miller’s health at 90 percent and expressed confidence the junior star will be back in his old role after missing the past two games with a sprained left knee.
“If he has a good week of practice, he will start,” Meyer said. “I saw him [Sunday], and I’m much more confident. I mean, he had a very good day, and we practiced pretty hard. ... He will be 100 percent by next week, I’m hoping.”
Miller’s return would show a flair for timing. If the visit from Wisconsin lacks the usual off-the-field drama — former Badgers coach Bret Bielema’s departure to Arkansas assures that — the stakes remain as high as ever.
The Buckeyes (4-0) need a win to gain the inside track to a second straight Leaders Division title and, in their minds, officially reset the conference hierarchy.
While OSU prevailed in overtime last year at Wisconsin and won the division, its bowl ban meant the team watched from home as the Badgers advanced by default to the Big Ten championship game, then crashed their third consecutive Rose Bowl.
Meyer on Monday said, “In my opinion, [Wisconsin] is the king of the Big Ten right now.”
“This will be a classic game,” he said. “As much as you like coaching in those games where it’s one‑sided and you get a bunch of guys in, there's also the competitive spirit of the whole thing. You know what the preparation has got to be this week, crossing all the T’s, dotting all the I’s.”
Four weeks of lightweights will give way to the Buckeyes’ most black-and-blue test of the season. Though the Badgers’ record is stained by a disputed 32-30 loss at Arizona State, first-year coach Gary Andersen has enjoyed a strong start by staying true to the program’s in-your-face identity.
Wisconsin (3-1) is third nationally with 349.8 rushing yards per game behind one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Bruising sophomore Melvin Gordon has run for a league-high 624 yards while more elusive senior James White — the Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher — is the active FBS leader with 3,013 career ground yards.
This game more than most will be decided by the big guys up front — on both sides of the ball. Though OSU cloaks its power game in spread formations, its offense plans to punch back with similar force.
“Definitely, there’s a little bit of pride in that that’s what we do too,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “We are a power run football team. It may be out of different sets. It may not be with a bunch of tight ends and fullbacks and everyone on the field. But we are still going to run right at you and hit you in the mouth.”
How much Miller’s potential return will affect the game plan is unclear. Meyer said Miller could be “100 percent,” though he expects “a little bit of rust.”
“That’s what I was hoping to get out of the way last week,” Meyer said, noting it was a “mutual decision” for Miller to sit out the Buckeyes’ 76-0 win over Florida A&M. “So I’m going to practice him real hard this week.”
Meyer again sought to douse any controversy, saying Miller was the no-doubt starter over backup and two-time reigning Big Ten offensive player of the week Kenny Guiton. He also dismissed his own suggestion that Miller and Guiton could be on the field together.
“I don’t know if that’s reality,” Meyer said. “I keep thinking about it. I just love both those players, but I don't know what that gives you. If Kenny was a better wide receiver than one of our receivers, he would be playing receiver. If Braxton was a better running back or something ... but they are not. So someone has to come off the field.”