Buckeyes get past Badgers, Wildcats next

First tough game of the season down for Ohio State, but several more to go.

But this week, there’s no respite for Urban Meyer’s 5-0 Buckeyes, who head to Chicago for an 8 p.m. prime-time ABC telecast Saturday night versus the 4-0 Northwestern Wildcats after taking care of business last Saturday against Wisconsin in Ohio Stadium.

It really is OSU’s second straight meeting with another Big Ten unbeaten, as the Badgers would have been a perfect 4-0 coming into last week’s fray in Columbus except for getting the shaft from Pac-10 officials two weeks earlier in the closing seconds of their game at Arizona State.

Nevertheless, the Buckeyes’ main concern over the last three games leading up to Wisconsin was the health of OSU starting quarterback Braxton Miller. But Miller, sidelined with a left knee sprain since early in the San Diego State game Sept. 7, got the nod to play versus the Badgers and looked like he had never missed a beat.

The junior signal-caller connected on 17-of-25 passes last Saturday for 198 yards and four touchdowns, all except the last being from 25 yards out, including a 40-yard TD bomb to Corey (Philly) Brown with one second left in the first half for a 24-14 lead.

In fact, Miller whisked Ohio State down the field on its first and third possessions of the game without ever running himself, but depending on his stable of receivers and backs to get the job done.

However, Miller, sharp and on target with his throws, did test his injured knee throughout the first half with good results, and ended up rushing and/or scrambling for 83 yards on 22 carries in the game.

The Buckeyes pretty much clamped down on Wisconsin’s vaunted running game (third in the NCAA with 350 yards per game) to the tune of only 104 yards, forcing the Badgers to go to the air more with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis snagging 10 balls for 207 yards.

Nevertheless, OSU led 31-14 in the third quarter until Wisconsin closed to within 31-24 with 2:05 to play. But the Buckeyes knocked the ensuing onside kick out of bounds before punting the Badgers into a hole at their own 10-yard line with just 1:29 left that they were never able to get out of.

One bad note for Ohio State coming out of the Wisconsin game was losing free safety Christian Bryant, a starter in 27 games in his four-year career and the Buckeyes’ third-leading tackler this season, for the rest of the year with a broken ankle late in the game.

“Losing Christian was like getting punched in the gut,” said Meyer in his post-game press conference.

For Ohio State, Northwestern poses a couple of problems, starting with the dual-quarterback system the Wildcats are using as they strive to be a legitimate Big Ten contender.

Versatile starting QB Kain Colter can both run and pass with efficiency, although backup Trevor Siemian last season threw for 1,312 yards and six touchdowns. Siemian is the “passing specialist” of the two, but the Buckeyes need to find ways to stop both.

Northwestern’s running game is led by Venric Mark, who totaled 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns last season on 226 carries. Last year, the ‘Cats fielded one of the more potent offenses in the Big Ten.

Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at shemmelgarn@newsandsentinel.com