INDIANAPOLIS - Ohio State might not be the only team in the Big Ten championship game missing a key player because of an ankle injury.

INDIANAPOLIS - Ohio State might not be the only team in the Big Ten championship game missing a key player because of an ankle injury.

Melvin Gordon wouldn't be Melvin Gordon without Wisconsin's dominant offensive line, and the Badgers line wouldn't be the same without center Dan Voltz.

But Voltz injured his ankle in the regular-season finale against Minnesota, and his status is unknown for tonight's game.

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Much attention this week has been focused on the Buckeyes having to use Cardale Jones at quarterback after losing J.T. Barrett last week because of a broken ankle. But if Voltz can't play, that will be a big blow to Wisconsin. His replacement could be freshman and Curtice, Ohio, native Michael Deiter, whom the Badgers would like to redshirt.

"We'll know more on game day, for sure," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said yesterday. "We sure hope (Voltz) plays.There's no one tougher. If there's any way that he can get out there and play, he's going to get that done. I expect that to happen. He expects that to happen. We'll see as we move forward."

When Voltz was injured, left guard Dallas Lewallen switched to center. That could happen again, but Lewallen's replacement, Ray Ball, has missed time this week because of an apparent leg injury, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The same five linemen - Voltz, Lewallen, left tackle Tyler Marz, right guard Kyle Costigan and right tackle Rob Havenstein - have started every game for Wisconsin. The Badgers average 334.3 yards rushing, second-best nationally.

"Trust me: We'd love to have him," Andersen said of Voltz. "We need him against a very, very talented defensive front and front seven. From top to bottom, all the kids they rotate through that defensive line, I would say it's the most talented crew we faced this season.You want to be at your best in these moments and situations."

Meyer would quibble with Andersen's praise of Ohio State's defensive-line depth. He has said repeatedly that he's disappointed that more players haven't proved worthy of extensive playing time.

"We're still not where we need to be," Meyer said.

He said that Chase Farris, a former defensive lineman who has been with the offense all year, practiced some this week on defense. Against Wisconsin's beefy line, it would put quite a strain on OSU's starting front four if it couldn't get occasional breathers. But there's no question that the Buckeyes relish the challenge of trying to slow Wisconsin's running game.

"I honestly cannot wait for this game," senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said this week. "These are the games you play football for - these gritty games against huge O-lines that can play and move and running backs behind them that can make plays out of nothing.

"It brings out the fighter in everybody. You find out who's the meanest guy on the field really quick, and you find out who's going to quit. Being able to go against Melvin Gordon and that offensive line is a blessing for me and for us."

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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