Wisconsin running game expected to test OSU’s defense

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2003

MADISON, Wis. - Ohio State leads the nation in rushing defense, and Wisconsin sports one of the best running games in the country.

Neither has been tested like it will Saturday night when the defending national champion Buckeyes bring their 19-game winning streak into Camp Randall, where a big, booming, boisterous crowd awaits.

The 23rd-ranked Badgers (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) are the only team in the country with three players - Anthony Davis, Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley - who have each rushed for three touchdowns in a game this season.

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The third-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) have allowed just 43.4 rushing yards per game, 1.5 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns, numbers the Badgers believe they can inflate - providing the swelling goes down.

In a victory at Penn State last week, Davis aggravated a sprained left ankle that had sidelined him for three weeks, and Smith injured his left foot. Both are questionable, although Smith appears healthier.

Still, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel expects to see plenty of Davis, the only running back to crack 100 yards against Ohio State during its winning streak.

He had 144 yards on 25 carries in a 19-14 loss to the Buckeyes at Camp Randall last season, one of 10 games during Ohio State's streak that have been decided by a touchdown or less.

''He supposedly wasn't going to play against us in 2001 and came in and played very, very well,'' Tressel said. ''He played against us this past year and did very, very well. We expect him to play. This is a huge game.''

Even if he doesn't, that's no lucky break for the Buckeyes.

Smith ''is a big, strong guy. You look at some of their ball games, they don't miss a beat, and amazingly the third person, Stanley, he's out there getting over 100 yards,'' Tressel marveled.

Davis rushed for 247 yards against Akron on Sept. 6, the highest individual rushing total in the nation this season, before getting hurt in a stunning loss to UNLV the next week.

Yet, behind Smith and Stanley, Wisconsin averaged nearly 250 yards on the ground in victories over North Carolina, Illinois and Penn State.

The Buckeyes had a bye last week, and Tressel said they needed every bit of the extra time to prepare for what they'll face in Madison.

''They'll pound it at you across the front,'' Tressel said. ''They can stretch you wide, they can just stay direct and they do a great job with their cutback plays. It's not like you can load up any one place to stop the run.''

The Badgers haven't seen the likes of Ohio State's defensive line, anchored by ends Will Smith and Simon Fraser with tackles Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott inside.

''The difference maker is Will Smith,'' Badgers offensive coordinator Brian White said. ''Not that the other guys aren't, but he is a really special football player and as good a defensive lineman that has played in this conference since I've been coaching in it.''

That would be since 1995.

The Buckeyes, however, haven't faced a team like Wisconsin. They've stymied Washington, San Diego State, North Carolina State, Bowling Green and Northwestern - none of which are big running teams.

''What our guys have been asked to do versus the run, they've done a solid job of it,'' Tressel said. ''And they know that it's a quantum leap in challenge'' to stop the Badgers' run.

Load up against the run, however, and senior Lee Evans, who has returned from two knee operations last season to lead the Big Ten with an 86.2-yard receiving average, can burn you.

''Wisconsin will challenge us, perhaps across the board, better than anyone has challenged us this year,'' Tressel said.