No. 8 Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) takes on No. 2 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) this weekend. If the Badgers have any hope of stopping the Buckeyes, they’ll have to slow down OSU’s offense.
Unfortunately for fans of the Badgers, that’s likely easier said than done, even with the game taking place in Madison. Ohio State boasts the top offense in the Big Ten, ranked No. 1 in points per game with 53.2, and No. 1 in rushing offense with 323.6 yards per game on the ground (16 rushing touchdowns). The Buckeyes are only seventh in the Big Ten in passing offense, but what OSU has been able to do on the ground and on the scoreboard has been impressive, to say the least.
The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 266-54 through five games and that includes a 45 point outing against No. 14 Oklahoma on the road. Freshman running back Mike Weber leads the Big Ten in rush yards per game with 113.20 and quarterback J.T. Barrett is eighth in the conference in passing.
Ohio State’s offense can hurt a defense in many different ways, and we haven’t even mentioned the Buckeyes’ X-factor: junior H-back Curtis Samuel.
Samuel is a 5-foot-11, 197 pound athlete from Brooklyn, N.Y., and yes, athlete is really the proper tag to use when discussing his role for Ohio State. Sure, the team lists him as a half back, but he can do so much more than run the ball for the Buckeyes. Though it’s worth noting that running is something he does well.
Through five games, Samuel joins Weber among the top 10 rushers in the Big Ten, putting up 410 yards and three touchdowns on 50 carries, averaging a stellar 8.2 yards per carry. He’s the No. 8 rusher in the Big Ten so far, made even more impressive by the fact that he’s the conference’s seventh best receiver, at least according to the stats. Along with his rushing output for Ohio State, Samuel has 23 receptions for 345 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging 82 yards a game through the air and 4.6 receptions per game.
Ohio State can use Samuel in multiple different ways in any given offensive set, and that’s what makes him such an important player for Wisconsin to key on. He can line up in the backfield and run read-option runs with Barrett or flare out and act as an explosive safety valve in passing situations. OSU also likes to use him as a reliable pitch man in the two-man option with Barrett, so there are multiple ways the Buckeyes can get him involved as a pure running back.
That’s not all, though.
OSU can line Samuel out in the slot and use him as a huge mismatch against slower linebackers or safeties who are forced to take him on in space. He has elite speed and route running ability, thus he’s essentially an extra wideout for the Buckeyes, though he can run after the catch as well.
There’s little that Samuel can’t do offensively for the Buckeyes. Mike Lucas of the Wisconsin website compared him to a former Urban Meyer protégé at Florida: Percy Harvin. Lucas also provided a scouting report of Samuel via senior linebacker Sojourn Shelton:
“He’s a very versatile guy because they can put him in the slot,” Shelton told Lucas. “Obviously, as a running back, he possesses threats there as far as his speed and getting in and out of his cuts and hitting the holes.
“When you see him in the slot, you can’t approach him as, ‘OK, I’m covering a running back.’ You have to cover him like you’re covering a receiver. He can run all the routes and he runs a lot of double moves. You just have to be aware of where No. 4 (Samuel) is at all times on the field.”
If Wisconsin wants to at the very least slow down Ohio State’s offense, the Badgers should focus on slowing down Samuel. When he’s on the field the Badgers would be smart to key in on him, realizing that Ohio State likes to use him both as a runner and a pass-catcher. If he’s lined up in the slot, as Shelton said, the Badgers should not underestimate his abilities as a receiver. He’s not just your average running back being used as a decoy or safety valve in the slot.
Even as good as Wisconsin’s defense has been this season, the Badgers have a huge challenge ahead of them against Ohio State’s offense. Simply put, they won’t be able to stop the Buckeyes, but they can focus on taking a few things away and minimizing the damage.
Barrett is going to make his impact and Weber is much more one-dimensional as a running back, though what he does, he does as an elite level. Wide receivers Dontre Wilson and Noah Brown will be threats on the outsides and deep, but perhaps no player on Ohio State’s roster can make the game-changing impact that Samuel can.
He can hurt Wisconsin’s defense is so many different ways, and he can break open a game for Ohio State.
Though the Badgers won’t have the luxury of simply focusing on one player, there’s wisdom in keying on No. 4 and trying to take away his X-factor ability this Saturday in Madison.