|Jay Laprete / Associated Press|
|Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier will have to contend with Wisconsin's two-headed RB attack of Melvin Gordon and James White.|
Two of the nation's best linebackers will be on the field Saturday night, when Wisconsin plays at Ohio State. Wisconsin senior inside linebacker Chris Borland and Ohio State junior outside linebacker Ryan Shazier will be perhaps the keys for each team's defense.
Borland -- who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 246 pounds but is probably really 5-10 -- is one of the most productive players in the nation. He has 337 career tackles to go with 14 sacks, 43 tackles for loss, three interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles, one shy of the NCAA career record. Borland lacks ideal height, which some NFL teams will hold against him, but he is a tough, physical team leader with athleticism.
Borland is from Kettering, Ohio, but wasn't given an offer by Ohio State. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, when asked about Borland's Ohio background, said on his Wednesday teleconference: "Just disappointed he's not here."
Shazier (6-2, 230) might be the nation's best outside linebacker. He has excellent speed, a high football IQ and a knack for big plays. He had 115 tackles, five sacks, 17 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception last season. This season, he leads the Buckeyes with 28 tackles and has added 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
Shazier is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and originally committed to Florida before he reneged after Meyer stepped down as Gators coach. Of course, he ended up playing for Meyer anyway.
Borland has adapted quickly to the Badgers' new 3-4 defense. Wisconsin is allowing 243.3 yards and 10.5 points per game, figures that rank sixth and 10th nationally. New coordinator Dave Aranda told WTSO-AM in Madison that he had talked this week with two coordinators about trying to stop Ohio State -- Arkansas' Chris Ash and California's Andy Buh. Both worked at Wisconsin last season, and Cal lost to Ohio State earlier this season. Presumably, Ash and Buh told Aranda that keeping the Buckeyes' quarterback under control was important.
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Ohio State coaches said again Thursday that they expected Braxton Miller to start at quarterback. He has missed the past two games with an ankle injury suffered early in Game 2. Kenny Guiton has played well in his stead. The Badgers have to keep both in the pocket and make Ohio State win with its passing attack.
Wisconsin ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (349.8) and have perhaps the nation's best tailback duo in sophomore Melvin Gordon (156.0 yards per game) and senior James White (110.5 yards per game). If the Badgers get their rushing attack cranked up, they have a legitimate shot at a win. Wisconsin can't win if it has to rely on its passing attack.
That means the Buckeyes' linebackers, and Shazier in particular, will be on the spot. Shazier is the only returning starter in the defensive front seven. He had 12 tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against the Badgers last season and had two tackles and a blocked kick in a reserve role against Wisconsin in 2011.
Ohio State has won the past two games in the series. In 2011, Miller threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Smith with 20 seconds left for a 33-29 victory. Last season, Ohio State won, 21-14, in overtime. The teams won't play annually after this season because the Big Ten is realigning its divisions and the Buckeyes will be in the East and the Badgers in the West.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.