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This game could very well be a preview of what’s to come at the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis in December.
Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) enters the game under a bit of scrutiny. The Badgers had been one of the most consistent and complete teams in the country until a surprise loss at Illinois, 24-23, last week. Now, Wisconsin will try to bounce back against the toughest opponent on their schedule this season. The Badgers have one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, led by a strong offensive line and a Heisman Trophy candidate in junior running back Jonathan Taylor. But Wisconsin has proven it can do more than just run the ball this season. Junior quarterback Jack Coan is second in the country in completion percentage and has thrown nine touchdowns to just two interceptions this season.
The Badgers defense still ranks among the countries best despite the loss last weekend. Wisconsin is first nationally in points against, yards allowed per game, rushing defense, passing defense and red zone defense. Led by senior linebackers Chris Orr and Zack Baun, the Badgers have already surpassed their sack total from 2018 (19) through seven games this season (27). The Badgers have a young, but athletic, secondary, including junior safety Eric Burrell and freshman safety Reggie Pearson, who are among the team’s leading tacklers.
Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) has arguably been the most complete team in college football this season. Sophomore transfer quarterback Justin Fields has been unstoppable through the air and on the ground, while junior running back J.K. Dobbins has been a monster in the running game. Fields has what seems like an endless supply of athletic pass catchers, including senior K.J. Hill, who is closing in on the all-time Buckeye record for career receptions. The Buckeyes were forced to replace three offensive linemen from their Rose Bowl Game team last year, but the line hasn’t lost a beat. Ohio State has surrendered just 14 sacks all season.
If the Badgers defense is statistically the best in the country, the Buckeyes should be ranked 1B. Ohio State is right behind Wisconsin in scoring defense and total defense, ranking second nationally. The Buckeyes defense is led by junior defensive end Chase Young, who could very well be the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Young leads the country in sacks with 9.5 through seven games and has tallied at least one sack in nine straight games. But the Buckeye defense is more than just one player. Ohio State’s 66.0 tackles-for-loss, tied for the most in the nation, have come by 23 different players.
Over the last 10 meetings between Wisconsin and Ohio State, six games have been decided by seven points or less. The Badgers have just one win in that time frame and haven’t won in Columbus since 2004. The Badgers key to victory will be controlling the clock and keeping the Buckeye offense off the field. The Buckeyes key is to get off to a fast start, as they’ve done all year. Ohio State has outscored opponents 231-31 in the first half this year.
A year ago, Washington State upset Oregon in one of the biggest wins in recent Cougar history. This year, WSU will look to play spoiler as the Ducks try to strengthen their grip on the Pac-12 North.
Washington State (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) and offensive guru Mike Leach once again have one of the country’s most exciting offenses. The Cougars have scored at least 31 points in six of seven games but lost two of those games. After starting the year 3-0, Washington State dropped three games in a row, including last minute losses to UCLA (67-63) and Arizona State (38-34). Leach publicly called out his team during the three-game losing streak and the Cougars responded with a dominant win over Colorado last week. The Washington State offense has been quarterback-friendly under Leach and this year is no different. Senior Anthony Gordon leads the country in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
The Cougars defense has taken a step back in 2019. Washington State ranked 42nd in points against and total defense last season, but the Cougars have dropped more than 30 spots in each category this year. Things have improved defensively since defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned on October 4. Washington State held Colorado to 10 points last week and intercepted three passes, doubling their season total. Turnovers have been the key to the Cougars success this year. Washington State is 4-0 in games that they have forced multiple turnovers.
The Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) are on a six-game win streak, including a come-from-behind victory last week at Washington. The Oregon offense, despite the elite play from senior quarterback Justin Herbert, is led by a strong rushing attack. Sophomores C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye both average more than five yards per carry, while sophomore Cyrus Habibi-Likio has scored six rushing touchdowns. The running game is bolstered by one of the most experienced offensive line in the country, with a combined 188 career starts between the five starters.
Defensively, the Ducks have statistically one of the best defenses in school history. Oregon allowed just one touchdown from week two through week seven and surrendered just 25 points across those five games. Last week, the Ducks allowed 21 points to Washington in the first half, but they locked down in the second half and held the Huskies to 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s defensive success comes largely from its ball-hawking secondary. The Ducks are second in the country with 12 interceptions and lead the nation with nine different players recording a pick. Oregon turns that defense into offense, averaging 10 points per game off turnovers.
This game could have plenty of fireworks. Both offenses will find the endzones a lot, which means this one will come down to turnovers and penalties. The team that avoids turnovers and drive-stalling penalties should come out on top.
This top-10 SEC matchup of Tigers featured a true strength on strength, the Auburn defense against the LSU offense.
Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) has looked strong all season with the exception of their loss in the Swamp against Florida. Led offensively by a strong rushing attack, sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow is averaging nearly five yards per carry and has scored seven touchdowns this year. Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards per game and ran for nearly 300 yards in a 51-10 win over Arkansas last week. Through the air, freshman quarterback Bo Nix has looked great at points in the season, including guiding the Tigers down the field for a game-winning touchdown week one against Oregon, but he has also looked like a freshman at times. Nix is athletic enough to escape the rush and is third on the team in rushing, but still struggles to pass against the blitz.
The Auburn defense features one of the best front sevens in college football and begins with senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Brown is a true game-wrecker, with three sacks, three passes knocked down and two forced fumbles this season. With teams forced to focus on Brown, senior defensive end Marlon Davidson and junior defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell have flourished. Davidson is second in the conference with 5.5 sacks, while Truesdell has racked up three sacks. The defensive line also eats blocks and allows junior linebacker K.J. Britt to make plays.
As for LSU, they may be the best team in the nation. The Tigers (7-0, 3-0 SEC) have a top-three offense in the country and have scored 42 points in six of seven games this year, including more than 60 points on two occasions. The LSU offense has come alive under the tutelage of passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who the Tigers lured from the New Orleans Saints. Senior quarterback Joe Burrow has thrived in the new system and is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season. Burrow leads the country in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and ranks second nationally in passing yards and passing efficiency.
Defensively, LSU is widely known as DBU because the Tigers always have great defensive backs. This year, LSU features one of the best safety duos in the country with juniors Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens. The tandem was on display last week against Mississippi State when Delpit led the team with 11 tackles while Stevens tallied a sack, an interception and a tackle for loss to go with eight tackles. The secondary also features freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who leads the team with three interceptions and nine passes broken up.
LSU has won the last the nine games in this series in Death Valley, but anything can happen in a top-10 matchup. Both of these teams rank comparably on defense, so this game will come down to the offense. Auburn needs to be able to run the ball and protect Bo Nix. The game plan for LSU will be similar in that if they can stymie the Auburn defensive line, Joe Burrow will make plays.