Ohio State: Buckeyes need linebackers at their best against Wisconsin

All week long, our Land of 10 reporters following the Buckeyes will address pressing questions on the minds of the Ohio State fan base with our new daily feature. To ask Austin Ward a question, follow along on Twitter and suggest a topic right here. Check back Monday through Friday as we dive into the Ohio State Question of the Day. Go here to see all of our previous answers.

The issue that dragged the longest was the one that really wasn’t all that complicated in the first place. And frankly, it’s kind of surprising that it took so long for Ohio State to figure it out. If the personnel isn’t playing in the right spots, it’s going to be pretty difficult for the linebackers to be in position to make plays. Seems simple, right?

Chris Worley is at his best on the outside, where he’s allowed to show off his versatile athleticism by coming off the edge as a blitzer or dropping back into coverage. Tuf Borland proved early in the season that, even as a redshirt freshman, he was the most natural fit in the middle and needed to be on the field thanks to his steady, consistent tackling. And while Jerome Baker perhaps hasn’t played quite like the first-round draft pick many anticipated he’d turn into coming into the year, when he’s locked in and healthy, there aren’t many players with his ability to wreck a game plan at the second level.

To Ohio State’s credit, since it made those adjustments after the Iowa debacle, the Silver Bullets have been impressive. There were some early missed tackles against Michigan, sure. And the Wolverines came out with a nice plan of attack with some unique misdirection plays that Ohio State hadn’t seen yet this season, which helped them build that early lead. But the Buckeyes rebounded quickly, only allowing six points over the final three quarters — reminiscent of the dominant performance against Michigan State two weeks before that.

Now, the flip side of that is Ohio State essentially was forced to make those adjustments against the Spartans when Jerome Baker and Dante Booker were ruled out with injuries. Why exactly did it take so long, and what would have happened if those two hadn’t been hurt against Iowa, pressing Borland and Malik Harrison into the lineup and Worley back to the perimeter? The Buckeyes have really missed Luke Fickell’s influence with that unit this season, and that has shown up on game days. Maybe it’s just a matter of time with linebackers coach Billy Davis, and one year is a small sample size to make a sweeping judgment about his ability to lead the unit.

But Davis and the linebackers are going to be under pressure against a physical, powerful offense in the Big Ten title game. And that group can’t afford another slipup if the Buckeyes are going to claim a conference crown.

Read more answers to questions about the Ohio State Buckeyes here

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