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Badgers look to pass test vs. Ohio State's talented secondary
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UW FOOTBALL BIG TEN title GAME

Badgers look to pass test vs. Ohio State's talented secondary

From the Get ready for the Big Ten Championship Game with State Journal coverage series
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When teams prepare to play against Ohio State, their focus is rightly on Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young.

Young has earned that attention. His 16½ sacks lead the Football Bowl Subdivision despite missing two games last month due to a suspension for violating NCAA rules. Containing Young is crucial because, as the University of Wisconsin football team learned in its October loss at Ohio Stadium, Young can single-handedly swing games.

But even on plays on which Young is blocked well — rare as they are — the No. 2 Buckeyes (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) have proven to have a secondary that can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. That’s what junior Jack Coan will have to contend with when he leads the No. 10 Badgers (10-2, 7-2) into the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night in Indianapolis.

“They really have no weaknesses in their secondary. All guys that are back there can cover extremely well and have great technique. They’re just great players,” Coan said.

The Buckeyes allow opponents to complete 50.6 percent of their passes, and allow just 141.1 yards per game, which is second-best in the FBS behind third-ranked Clemson. Ohio State has more than twice the amount of interceptions (15) than passing touchdowns allowed (seven), with UW being the only opponent this season to not throw a pick against this secondary.

Michigan last week posted the most passing yards the Buckeyes have allowed this season with 305, but it took 43 attempts in a lopsided game to do so.

Obviously, Young and Ohio State’s stellar pass rush influence the passing game a great deal, but the secondary has done its part to restrict the airspace when opponents pass.

“They complement each other. If you go back and look at the number of pressures or quarterback hits or sacks, there’s no doubt that they’re generating it up front, whether it’s the defensive linemen or the linebackers. But I also think you see some of it because there’s not a place to go with the ball, so it gives you that extra bit of time,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “That’s where they’re playing really good defense, because I think they complement each other.”

Ohio State is working with tremendous talent in its secondary, and showed it this season. Two of its starters, cornerback Jeff Okudah (three interceptions, six pass breakups) and safety Jordan Fuller (two, four), were selected to the All-Big Ten first team by conference coaches and media members. Another starter, cornerback Damon Arnette (one, five), was a second-team selection by coaches and the media. Versatile cornerback Shaun Wade (one, eight), who has played all over the secondary, was a third-team pick by coaches and the media.

The Buckeyes’ depth in the secondary was tested last week, as Wade sat out against Michigan due to an injury. In his absence, Amir Riep played more snaps and he had an interception in the fourth quarter. Safety Marcus Hooker was pressed into more action due to an injury to safety Josh Proctor, and he had a pass breakup as well.

“I think it was real special. I see them growing up in practice, but it hasn’t really been in a game yet,” Fuller said of the performance. “I’m really proud of my guys for really stepping up and really not missing a beat. That second half was amazing.”

UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said the Buckeyes’ assertiveness in the secondary sets them apart.

“They’re aggressive to the ball. You see sometimes that ball’s going and you’re like, ‘Ahhh,’ and someone cuts underneath and makes a play,” he said. “I think that’s what you see stand out the most out of them, they’re aggressive. You expect it out of them, you expect that type of fight to resist any type of separation, but their playmaking ability, I think, is what really helps make them stand out.”

Coan knows just how difficult it can be to find success passing against Ohio State — he had a season-low 108 yards on 10 completions against the Buckeyes in October.

But Coan is coming off a strong stretch of play in November, including his 280-yard, two-touchdown performance against Minnesota last week in which he posted a 205.1 efficiency rating, his best of the season. He also made two brilliant throws against Ohio State in the previous matchup, one that went for a touchdown to A.J. Taylor and one to Quintez Cephus down the sideline to put UW in scoring territory in the second half.

“We know it’s going to be a challenge for us because they have so many great players,” Coan said, “but we’re going to believe in each other and we’re going to cut it loose.”


No. 10 Badgers vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Who has the edge?

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