Ohio State's defense returns to Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game this week not only with a new mission but a chance at redemption.

Ohio State's defense returns to Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game this week not only with a new mission but a chance at redemption.

Wisconsin awaits on Saturday, but for the Buckeyes defense, the game is a chance to make amends for what went wrong last year in a loss to Michigan State and also prove that the unit isn't in another late-season slow fade. The challenge this year, however, will be stopping the Badgers running game as opposed to the Spartans passing game.

But mainly, senior linebacker Curtis Grant said, it's a rare opportunity for a do-over.

"I still have a dirty taste in my mouth about that last year," Grant said, referring to a 34-24 loss in which Michigan State first threw over and then ran through Buckeyes defenders in an upset. "I don't want that feeling again."

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To avoid that, the Buckeyes will have to be the ones pulling an upset this time, even though Ohio State is fifth in the College Football Playoff ranking and Wisconsin is 13th. After losing starting quarterback J.T. Barrett to a broken ankle last weekend and replacing him with untested sophomore Cardale Jones, OSU is a four-point underdog.

Analysts also see Wisconsin's massive offensive line and running back Melvin Gordon, who leads the nation in rushing (2,260 yards) and is considered second in the Heisman Trophy race behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Can an Ohio State defense that has had occasional lapses against the run the past four games fill the gaps consistently enough to at least slow down Gordon and keep Wisconsin from converting big pass plays? If the Buckeyes don't do the former, they might not have to worry about the latter.

"They are going to run the football," Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "(Gordon) can be one of those guys that beats you" by either running between the tackles or bouncing outside when the inside is covered. "They are good enough up front to be able to give him the opportunity to do those things. It poses a lot of problems."

Which is why "remember your gap responsibility" and "don't lose leverage" will be rallying cries among the Buckeyes, along with "pursue" after Gordon makes his intentions obvious.

"Pursue him and get him on the ground," cornerback Doran Grant said of the basic approach.

The secondary, which has not been the pushover it was late last season, will be on alert, too. The Badgers and quarterback Joel Stave have employed the play-action passing game a little more the past two games, contested wins over Iowa and Minnesota.

"You have to stay focused every play because you never know when they're going to throw it," Doran Grant said.

Mainly, the defense has to be prepared every down, Curtis Grant said.

"This isn't going to be a little cat fight," he said. "This is when the big dogs come out."

tmay@dispatch.com

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