Ohio State football: 3 keys, predictions for Wisconsin game

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Can Ohio State football cover the spread against Wisconsin on Saturday?

The Buckeyes are favored by nearly a touchdown on a neutral site after beating Michigan last weekend to finish the regular season 10-2. Here are three keys for the Ohio State-Wisconsin game, followed by predictions from our Land of 10 Ohio State writers.

1. J.T. Barrett’s health

Will Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett be healthy enough to be effective against Wisconsin? And on that note, will he actually be able to play at all? Barrett reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on Sunday after missing most of the second half against Michigan with a knee injury. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Barrett has been cleared and will play, but the coaching staff could always reverse course — especially if there are any new developments or setbacks.

If Barrett plays, he’ll need to be close to fully healthy to reach his maximum level of effectiveness. Running is a big part of his game, and the Ohio State offense doesn’t run as smoothly if the read option isn’t a factor. The Buckeyes are a better team when Barrett is out there, so they’ll obviously want him playing, but he can’t be limited physically against a defense with this level of talent and execution.

2. Time of possession

Ohio State could find itself in some trouble if it’s once again playing from behind in a big game. If Wisconsin enters the second half with a lead, the Buckeyes are going to need to start hitting on every drive because they might not get many chances. On average, Wisconsin’s offense holds the ball for 10 minutes longer than its opponent. That staggering 35-25-minute ratio ranks second in the country, just behind run-at-all-costs Navy. A 32-28 time of possession average is good enough for 13th nationally, and the Badgers are six minutes better than that gap.

Thanks to sensational freshman running back Jonathan Taylor and a powerful offensive line, the Badgers rank 18th nationally in rushing offense. The last thing Ohio State wants to see in the second half is Taylor bleeding minutes off the clock while the Buckeyes attempt a comeback. If given enough drives, the Buckeyes’ talent advantage will win out. But Wisconsin has survived unscathed thus far in part because it shortens the game and limits the opportunities for opponents.

3. Linebacker play

When Ohio State’s linebackers are at their best, the Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country. Look no further than the 48-3 win against then-No. 12 Michigan State that helped put the Buckeyes in position to win the Big Ten East and play in this conference championship game. When the linebackers are struggling, though, it’s a whole different story. That’s how Iowa routed Ohio State in the most mind-boggling score of the year in college football, and it’s how Michigan stayed in the game until the very end despite a typically anemic offense.

On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin’s linebackers are really impressive. The Buckeyes will have to find a way to solve them in order to get the run game going. Some position advantages can be negated or mitigated, but whichever team is better in the middle of the defense will have a great shot at winning this game.

Ohio State-Wisconsin picks: score predictions

Point spread: Ohio State -6

Over/under: 51 points

The Buckeyes are 5-7 against the spread this season, and they have their work cut out for them to cover the spread this week against an undefeated team. Nine of the Buckeyes’ 12 games have gone over the point total, which is set at 51 points on Saturday. The Land of 10 Ohio State beat writers are split as to whether the Buckeyes will cover the point spread, but both have the Buckeyes prevailing.

Ryan Ginn: Ohio State 24, Wisconsin 17

Austin Ward: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

The post Ohio State football: 3 keys, predictions for Wisconsin game appeared first on Land of 10.

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