No one ever said that going undefeated and winning a Big Ten and National Championship was going to be easy. Last Saturday, the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes overcame an early double-digit deficit to knock off the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers in Madison to maintain their unblemished record.
Heading into one of Happy Valley’s infamous white-outs on Saturday, head coach Urban Meyer said in his Monday press conference, “We have another tough task, a team that's 4-0 at home…. (I) wish they saved the white outs for other games, but I guess they used it for our game. It's one of the top five atmospheres, again, in college football.”
After setting the Ohio State record for most touchdowns accounted for, J.T. Barrett remains atop the quarterback depth chart, as he will for the entire season, barring injury. After a rough first half, Barrett rebounded well, throwing for 226 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 92 and two scores. Backup Joe Burrow did not play for the second week in a row.
At running back, Mike Weber had the lowest output of his young career, accounting for just 46 yards on 11 carries. However, he seemed to provide a spark of toughness to the offense in the second half that proved he was capable of competing against the toughest of Big Ten defenses. Weber remains the co-starter at RB with Curtis Samuel, who is also listed as a co-starter at H-back. Like Weber, Samuel notched only 46 yards rushing on 12 carries against the Badgers.
The starting wide receivers remain as they were in previous weeks. Noah Brown OR Parris Campbell at the X position, with Terry McLaurin OR James Clark at Z, and Corey Smith OR Johnnie Dixon also listed as starters. Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor are the third-string options at the X and Z respectively. While still not reaching the statistical heights of the early season, eight Buckeyes caught passes in Madison, including Brown who hauled in the eventual game-winning touchdown in Overtime.
The H-back spot remains unchanged with Samuel OR Dontre Wilson slotted to start. While Wilson netted only one yard rushing on Saturday, he did come up with one spectacular 43-yard reception. Samuel led the team with six catches and 58 receiving yards.
The tight end spot is firmly locked down by Marcus Baugh with A.J. Alexander listed as the backup. Baugh caught one pass this week for 29 yards last weekend.
The offensive line starters are listed as Jamarco Jones, Michael Jordan, Pat Elflein, Billy Price, and Isaiah Prince (from left to right). Jones, who missed a few plays after a non-contact injury to his ankle, is expected to be 100% for the trip to Penn State. The line gave up two sacks on Saturday.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sam Hubbard OR Jayln Holmes and Tyquan Lewis remain listed as the defensive end starters. The backups at defensive end are Nick Bosa OR Jonathon Cooper, though Bosa’s playing time is increasing week-to-week. In the middle, Michael Hill anchors the defensive line alongside Dre’Mont Jones who replaced Tracy Sprinkle. Davon Hamilton is listed as the co-starter with Jones. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was sacked four times on Saturday, none more memorable than on fourth down in overtime when the entire defensive line seemed to meet up to seal the victory. Rashod Berry moves from a backup linebacker spot to backup defensive end this week.
The linebacking corps continued to be a strong unit against Indiana. Raekwon McMillan remains slotted in at middle linebacker. Surrounding him are outside linebackers Chris Worley and Dante Booker OR Jerome Baker. Booker, who is dealing with an MCL sprain, did not play against Wisconsin, allowing Baker to lead the team in tackles with 13. Joe Burger and Craig Fada are the backup LBs.
At cornerback, Gareon Conley is the starter on one side and Marshon Lattimore OR Denzel Ward on the other. At the safety position, Damon Webb and Malik Hooker remain the starters. Erick Smith is listed as the backup to Hooker, while Jordan Fuller is the backup to Webb. Conley pulled down his second interception of the year against Wisconsin, and could have (should have?) had a second, if it were not for the replay official.
On special teams, senior walk-on Tyler Durbin continues to be the starter for both kickoffs and field goals as Sean Nuernberger recovers from a groin injury that forced him to miss most of camp. Durbin had his biggest day as a Buckeye in terms of field goals, connecting on all three attempts (25, 40, and 31 yards), raising his season total to a perfect 8 for 8, and he is currently 38 for 39 in extra points.
Senior Cameron Johnston remains as the team’s punter, which is no surprise considering he is one of the country’s leading Groza Award candidates. His four punts against Wisconsin averaged 53.8 yards, including one of 70 yards. Though he is short of the minimum 3.6 punts per game to be eligible for the honor (he is currently at 3.5), his average of 50.8 yards per punt is the best in the country.
At punt returner, Dontre Wilson OR Corey Smith OR Curtis Samuel are all in play, but, as he has for most of the season, Wilson handled all three of the punts in Madison, though he was not as sure-handed as he had been previously. On kickoff returns, Dontre Wilson OR James Clark OR Johnnie Dixon are listed as starters, although Parris Campbell was again the only one to return a kick last week. The long-snapping duties are given to Liam McCollough, and Johnston holds on kicks.