Wisconsin hopes to utilize grit and momentum in matchup against Ohio State
In a Week 8 showdown with Illinois, Wisconsin trailed the majority of the game and entered the fourth quarter down 21-7. But all was not lost for the Badgers, who would put on a fourth quarter fireworks display that thrilled head coach Luke Fickell. After a 41-yard field goal, a twenty-yard TD pass from Braedyn Locke to Will Pauling and a two-point conversion to bring the score within three, the game still came down to the wire. Locke threw an unorthodox 3-yard touchdown pass to offensive lineman Nolan Rucci, who moved to tight end for the play, to secure the win and cap off an 18-point fourth quarter.
“This is the first time in 10 months that I’ve seen that out of our guys,” Fickell said during a post-game conference Saturday, “And [it’s] probably what makes me happiest. It’s not just finding a way to win. It’s the resiliency, the fight, and grit, that I don’t know that I had seen.”
The Badgers have had their work cut out for them this season, adapting to injuries of key players like quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who is out indefinitely with a broken hand he sustained versus Iowa, and running back Chez Mellusi, who suffered a broken leg against Purdue back in September.
Despite the loss of some key components, Wisconsin has amassed a substantial 3-1 conference record (5-2 overall), top of the Big Ten West division.
The hard-fought win over Illinois proves the Badgers can rise to the challenge, a necessary quality when preparing for their toughest challenge yet, a visit from the No. 3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes are the first ranked opponent the Badgers will face this season.
The Badgers will face the Buckeyes this Saturday at 7:30 PM ET (6:30pm CT) on Wisconsin’s home turf. The primetime slot is guaranteed to bring in a large Halloweekend crowd with Camp Randalls capacity set to over 75k.
With a hyped matchup against a tough opponent, it is critical that the Badgers prepare mentally as well as physically. The win against Illinois is a welcome boost of fuel for that preparation.
“To come out with a victory is obviously huge, the momentum, the energy, things like that, but I think the ability to make plays, especially down the stretch, the ability to come back, I think has a far bigger impact than anything else,” Fickell said of the Illinois game. “The game comes down to plays that have to be made.”
Wisconsin skill players rising to the challenge
Quite a few Badgers proved themselves to be playmakers during last weekend’s matchup, making persistent efforts both on the ground and in the air.
Running back Braelon Allen ran for 145 yards against Illinois, including an 11-yard rush on third and ten during the fourth quarter to keep the winning drive alive.
Coach Fickell had lots of praise for Allen’s performance.
“Braelon runs angry,” he said on Saturday. “Even though we had confidence in Braedyn, Braelon needed to shoulder more of the load. When the game is on the line, you’ve got to get the ball to your horses.”
Wide receiver Will Pauling had seven receptions including a 20-yard touchdown reception, the first of the redshirt sophomore’s career.
“One of the number one things he’s done is his ability to have endurance to be able to play as well as he can, especially later in the games,” Fickell said of Pauling.
Quarterback Braedyn Locke played well against the Illini, completing 21 of 41 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, a performance that earned him the title of Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
Locke hasn’t had much time to adjust to his responsibility of starting quarterback after taking over for Tanner Mordecai during the Iowa game, but it appears that he began to find his stride from the Illinois matchup. When asked about Locke’s performance against Iowa, Fickell praised his maturity.
“I don’t know what else I can say about Braedyn Locke,” he said regarding Locke’s performance against Illinois, “The guy’s got incredible poise, you know, for a young guy that went out there today and [was] put in a really, really tough situation and he performed really well.”
Fickell noted Locke’s “internal confidence” and how it impacts his teammates.
“[For] him to be able to prove that seeing is believing, I think helps; not just him, but the people that are around him as well.”
Ohio State presents daunting test for surging Wisconsin
That confidence will be a needed asset for Wisconsin’s matchup against Ohio State.
The Badgers and Buckeyes are well acquainted. Ohio State leads the all-time series between the teams with a record of 68-18-5. The last time Wisconsin won against Ohio State was in October 2010, with a final score of 31-18. The two teams’ last meeting was September 24, 2022 where Wisconsin lost 52-21. Fickell views last year’s matchup as an opportunity for growth.
“If we don’t use what happened last year as a learning lesson, whether we were here or not, then we wouldn’t be doing our job, as coaches and as players as well,” he said.
The Badgers plan to utilize their momentum and correct past mistakes to try and take down a robust Ohio State team that is riding the high of their own big win.
While the Badgers were busy with the Illini, the Buckeyes had their hands full with the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions, winning 20-12.
It was a defensive showcase for the Buckeyes, who held the Nittany Lions to just 49 rush yards and 1-16 on 3rd down conversions. They also had 4 sacks on the night, demonstrating how overpowering they can be.
The Buckeyes dynamic offense will be a test for the Badgers as they have found success both in the air and on the ground. Buckeye quarterback Kyle McCord has a rocket for an arm, throwing for 1,121 yards against conference opponents this season with a 61.6 completion percentage. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. has tallied 42 receptions and 6 TD, and leads the Big Ten with 766 receiving yards.
The Badgers will have to respect these numbers when they face Fickell’s alma mater - the Columbus, Ohio native not only played at Ohio State, but also spent 16 years coaching there.
Fickell’s connection to Ohio State has been a point of conversation leading up to Saturday’s game. Fickell himself has made it clear that he wants the focus to be on the players, not his personal history.
“It’s about our program,” Fickell said, “It’s about the journey we’re on and the process we’re in, not the specifics of, ‘Hey, you went to school there. Hey, you played there. Hey, you’ve got guys on your staff from there.’ When the ball’s kicked off, that will have absolutely no effect on anything that happens on that field. So we try to just focus on the things that will have the greatest effect on Saturday night.”
Fickell’s approach for the Buckeye battle is to stay true to the culture of Wisconsin football, emphasizing the importance of discipline.
“Discipline is a gift,” Fickell said. “And so everything we do in the program has to do with discipline. So it’s not something that’s just taught, it’s something that, you know, over time continues to grow. It’s a skill.”
There are bigger stakes that the Badgers are working toward. If they continue on their intended course to win out in the regular season, Wisconsin will win the Big Ten West for the first time in four years.
About the Author
Brynn Sproul is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in English and Communication Arts. She has a passion for both writing and sports and enjoys it when the two intersect. She is pursuing a career in sports writing or production. Brynn currently works for the University’s athletic department as a student video production assistant, working multiple positions in and out of the control room.
How to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Wisconsin Badgers
- When: Saturday, October 28
- Where: Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin
- Time: 7:30 p.m. ET (Pregame coverage begins at 7:00pm ET)
- Watch: NBC, Peacock