Buckeyes must focus on the small picture
COLUMBUS — So, who does a rematch favor?
Is it the team that won the first time because those players can draw confidence from their earlier success or is it the team that lost because it is inspired by the pain of its earlier defeat?
Will Ohio State’s 38-7 win over Wisconsin during the regular season help the Buckeyes tonight in the Big Ten championship game? Or is it like a 12th man imbedded in the psyche of the Badgers, driving them to erase the hurt and embarrassment of their loss in October?
Will it be a factor in the game or is it a non-factor?
A 2012 story in The Atlantic magazine asked sports psychologists how athletes should approach rematches.
Their answers sounded a lot like what coaches say not just about rematches but about every game.
Bascially, the message was play them one at a time, play them one play at a time.
One psychologist said athletes can view rematches as a threat or as a challenge and that they should focus on the relevant, which is the upcoming game, and block out the irrelevant, which is the game that is in the past.
Another said that to avoid the distractions from thinking about the earlier game athletes should concentrate on performing their particular roles and assignments in the rematch rather than focusing on the desired outcome of the game.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s reply to a reporter who told him the week of the Penn State game that cornerback Shaun Wade hadn’t forgotten being burned by Nittany Lions receiver K.J. Hamler for a 93-yard touchdown pass last season indicates OSU is already putting those methods into practice.
“He can’t think like that and I’ll make sure he doesn’t think like that,” Hafley said.
No. 1 Ohio State (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) will be playing a team twice in the same season for only the second time in the modern era when it faces No. 8 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten).
OSU’s only other experience with playing a team twice was in 1975 when it beat UCLA 41-20 during the regular season but lost to the Bruins 23-10 in the Rose Bowl.
Since the Big Ten began playing a championship game in 2011, there have been two times when a team avenged a regular season loss in the championship game.
Wisconsin beat Michigan State in 2011 after losing the regular season game and the Badgers beat Nebraska in 2012 after losing the regular season game.
Also, three teams have come into the Big Ten championship game undefeated and all three have lost –
Ohio State in 2013, Iowa in 2015 and Wisconsin in 2017.
So, will tonight’s game look a lot like Ohio State’s 38-7 win in October or can Wisconsin put more pressure on the Buckeyes this time?
Ohio State outgained Wisconsin 431 yards to 191 yards during the regular season on a rainy, windy day.
The weather will not be a factor with tonight’s game being played in a domed stadium, which could mean Ohio State’s offense will be even more productive than it was the first time these two teams played.
But quarterback Justin Fields suffered a strained knee ligament against Penn State and aggravated it against Michigan last week. He might not be the running threat he has been the rest of the season.
Without that threat OSU’s offense might not be as dynamic as it has been in the first 12 games of the season.
Wisconsin’s defense is solid. It ranks fifth nationally in passing yards allowed, ninth nationally in rushing yards allowed and is one of only two major college defenses to force opposing quarterbacks into completing less than 50 percent of their passes.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor has gained more than 5,000 yards rushing in his career but in two games against OSU he has rushed for 41 yards on 15 carries and 52 yards on 20 carries.
On the other hand, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins has had two huge games in his career against Wisconsin, rushing for 174 yards in the 2017 Big Ten championship game and 163 yards earlier this season.
It wasn’t just Taylor who struggled in October. Wisconsin’s offensive line did not have a good day, including giving up four sacks to OSU defensive end Chase Young.
If Ohio State’s defense can contain Taylor and Wisconsin’s running game, it will be in good shape. If he puts up big rushing numbers, it could be close or Wisconsin might even have a chance at an upset.
In the end, the Buckeyes should win their third straight Big Ten championship.
The prediction: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 17.