The Wisconsin Badgers enters Saturday's game at Ohio Stadium with a record of 7-2 overall, 4-2 in Big Ten Conference play. While the sportswriters do not have the Badgers ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll Wisconsin does check in at No. 19 in the coaches' version.
At one point this season, the Badgers were ranked as high as fifth in the AP poll before close wins against lesser opponents dropped them down the list, before two straight losses knocked them out of the poll entirely.
The Badgers opened the season with an impressive 42-21 win over Washington State before needing a touchdown in the closing minutes to defeat UNLV 20-13. The following week, Wisconsin defeated FCS member The Citadel 45-31 at Camp Randall Stadium.
Heading into the Big Ten portion of the schedule with a record of 3-0, the Badgers won two close ball games, defeating Iowa 17-13, and Michigan State, 37-34, both at home. Wisconsin's next two conference contests were all on the road, with the Badgers dropping a 31-26 decision to Illinois, followed by a 38-7 blowout loss to Penn State a week later.
Since those two straight losses, Wisconsin has rebounded against lesser foes, routing Mid-American conference member Northern Illinois 44-3, and last Saturday, the Badgers defeated Indiana 33-3.
Against the Hoosiers in Madison, backup sophomore tailback Lance Smith (5-foot-10, 203-pounds) had 79 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns to lead the Badgers. Smith was subbing for an injured P.J. Hill, who gained 57 yards in 12 rushing attempts before leaving in the first quarter due to a bruised left foot .
Hill, a 5-11, 227-pound sophomore tailback, is currently the Big Ten's fourth-leading rusher averaging 118.4 yards per game, but he may not play against the Buckeyes, this Saturday.
"The MRI basically showed a bruise," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said in his weekly press conference, Monday afternoon. "It's just a bruise, and it's hopefully something we can get through in a short amount of time.'
Hill, who missed the entire 2005 season after he broke his left leg during preseason camp and was eventually redshirted, had a plate surgically inserted to help the mending process.
"It's right, almost pinpoint accuracy, right on top of the plate that they put in from his freshmen year," Bielema said. "So it was very, very sensitive and sore, and we're encouraged that there wasn't any structural damage."
If Hill can't play against the Buckeyes, true freshman Zach Brown (5-11, 198) will get the starting nod. For the season, Brown has 118 yards on 35 attempts and a score.
Without Hill, the Badgers also might look to senior quarterback Tyler Donovan (6-1, 185) for more offense. Donovan has thrown for 1,855 yards while completing 59.2 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, but has nearly as many interceptions with nine.
Donovan is a mobile quarterback who likes to run, as well. He is third on the team in rushing with 188 yards in 73 attempts.
Donovan's favorite target by a large margin is junior tight end Travis Beckum (6-4, 224), who has 53 receptions for 625 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's kind of a wide receiver in a tight end's body," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said in his weekly press conference, Tuesday afternoon. "They'll put him out wide and run streaks. They'll bring him inside and run inside routes. You better know where No. 9 is as you prepare for Wisconsin."
Wisconsin has already lost their top wide receiver, Luke Swan, due to a season-ending injury. In six games this year, Swan had 25 catches for 451 yards and two touchdowns, but he tore his hamstring near the end of game against Illinois after landing awkwardly following a reception.
Third on Wisconsin squad in receiving is true freshman Kyle Jefferson (6-5, 195), from Cleveland's Glenville High School. Jefferson has 21 receptions for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Badgers are led by a trio of linebackers.Junior WILL linebacker Jonathan Casillas (6-2, 220) leads the team with 69 total tackles. Tied for second is junior SAM linebacker DeAndre Levy (6-3, 230), and sophomore MIKE linebacker Elijah Hodge (6-1, 235) with 50 stops. On Monday, Levy was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after recording eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Indiana, last Saturday.