Ohio State continued to dominate their opponents this season, with their latest mauling coming last Friday, easily handling Northwestern 52-3 in Evanston. The Buckeyes became the first Big Ten team since 1973 to win their first seven games by at least 20 points, when Woody Hayes’ squad won their first nine games by at least 20 points. The win over the Wildcats extended Ohio State’s winning streak to 13 games, which is the second-longest active streak among FBS teams.
The Buckeyes enter Saturday’s games as the only team in the country to be ranked in the top-five in both offense and defense. Ohio State is averaging 526 yards on offense per game, while only giving up 229 yards per game on defense. The 297.7 yard differential between offense and defense is the best margin in the country.
Where Ohio State has done most of their damage this year has been in the first half. The Buckeyes are outscoring opponents 231-31 in the first half and averaging 305.7 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes of games this year. Even more impressive is what Ohio State is doing to opponents in the second quarter. The Buckeyes have scored at least 21 points in the second quarter of each of the last six games, and are outgaining opponents 1,432-309.
Move the chains
The Buckeyes have also been terrific on third down this season. The Buckeyes are converting 56.1% of their third downs this year, which is the most efficient conversion rate in the country. The work Ohio State has done on third down this year has allowed them to go three-and-out on just 9% of their drives this year. It’ll be interesting to see how the Buckeyes fare against a Wisconsin team that is allowing opponents to convert just 16.1% of third downs.
History against Wisconsin
While Ohio State has a 59-18-5 edge in the series against Wisconsin, lately the games between the schools have been tight, with five of the last six being decided by seven points or less. Their last meeting came in the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game, with Ohio State pulling out a 27-21 win over the Badgers. The only recent game between the schools that was decided by more than a touchdown came in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game, where Cardale Jones and Ohio State obliterated Wisconsin 59-0.
Justin Fields continued his strong play in his first season at Ohio State, passing for four touchdowns in the win over Northwestern last week. Even though Fields’ streak of games with a passing touchdown and rushing touchdown ended at six last week, the sophomore transfer quarterback from Georgia still has 30 total touchdowns this season, which is one more than Dwayne Haskins had through seven games in 2018.
Working on some records
The favorite target of Fields this year has been K.J. Hill, who has a team-high 29 catches. Hill is just 10 yards shy of becoming the ninth Ohio State wide receiver to go for at least 2,000 career receiving yards. Before the end of the season, Hill should be able to pass David Boston for most receptions in school history. Hill currently has 173 career receptions, which is 19 catches shy of passing Boston. The senior from Arkansas has caught a pass in 41 straight games, which is seven shy of tying Gary Williams for longest consecutive games streak with a reception is school history.
Another of Fields’ most trusted targets has been Chris Olave. Since beginning to see more playing time in the second half of last season, Olave has 31 receptions for 496 yards and nine touchdowns since the Michigan State game last year. Those totals are even more impressive when considering Olave wasn’t targeted at all in the Rose Bowl or the game against Michigan State a couple weeks ago. This year Olave has six touchdown receptions, with two of those coming last week against Northwestern.
The Buckeyes have been excellent through the air this year, but their running game is what powers the offense. Ohio State is averaging 287.1 yards per game on the ground this year, which is third in the country and first among Power Five schools. The Buckeyes have already ran for over 300 yards in three games this year, and have 2,010 yards rushing through seven games.
J.K. Dobbins has had a sensational junior campaign so far, rushing for 947 yards, which is fourth nationally. Last week against Northwestern, Dobbins rushed for 121 yards, which marked the 14th time he has cracked 100 yards on the ground in a game. In games where Dobbins rushes for at least 100 yards, Ohio State is a perfect 14-0.
After being bottled up for most of last season, Dobbins is finding bigger holes this season thanks to his offensive line. The Buckeyes recorded just six runs of at least 30 yards last season. This year Ohio State already has 12 rushes of at least 30 yards. Dobbins has four runs of at least 50 yards this season, with the junior running back registering a 60-yard run in each of the last two games.
With just 53 yards rushing, Dobbins will become the first Ohio State running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards in their freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons. Last week Dobbins passed Braxton Miller and Chris “Beanie” Wells on Ohio State’s all-time rushing yardage list, and now sits fifth in school history. With 151 yards rushing, Dobbins will pass Tim Spencer for fourth place in school history.
Ohio State’s defense has been just as good as their offense this year. After giving up 21 points in the season opener against Florida Atlantic, the Buckeyes haven’t given up more than 10 points in a game over the last six games. The Buckeyes are second in the country in scoring defense, total defense, and pass defense.
Third and done
One area where Ohio State’s defense has been outstanding is how frequently they are shutting down drives before they start. The Buckeyes are forcing opponents into three-and-outs an average of 5.8 times per game, which ranks sixth in the nation. One of the only teams to force more three-and-outs than Ohio State is Wisconsin, who is tops in the nation with an average of 6.7 three-and-outs forced per game.
Ohio State has really tightened up when opponents have gotten inside the red zone this year. The Buckeyes have allowed touchdowns just 25% of the time when opponents have entered the red zone, which is second best in the country. Of the 16 possessions opponents have had inside Ohio State’s 20-yard line, only four have resulted in touchdowns.
The star of this year’s defense has been defensive end Chase Young, who has sacks in nine straight games dating back to last season. Since the start of the 2018 season, Young has 20 sacks in 21 games. The junior need just half a sack to join Mike Vrabel as the only Buckeyes with multiple double-digit sack seasons.
The Buckeyes are going to need a strong effort from their linebackers if they hope to slow down Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. Last week Ohio State was missing Baron Browning, who has had a renaissance this year under new linebackers coach Al Washington. Ohio State didn’t need Browning against Northwestern, but it sounds like the linebacker should be ready to take on the Badgers. Browning has 23 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks so far in his junior season.
Joining Browning at linebacker will be Malik Harrison, who sits just behind Chase Young with 9.5 tackles for loss. The senior is tied with Jordan Fuller for the team lead with 37 tackles. Peter Werner and Tuf Borland round out the Buckeyes who will see plenty of snaps at linebacker on Saturday afternoon against the Badgers.
Second to none
Ohio State’s secondary has gone for the weak link on the defense to one of the best units in the country. The Buckeyes have intercepted a pass in seven straight games, and are sixth in the country with 10 interceptions. Ohio State has allowed just opponents to pass for just three touchdowns this year. Leading the defensive backs is Jeff Okudah, who has three interceptions so far this year. Jordan Fuller has added two interceptions, while Shaun Wade has broken up seven passes.
Last time out
Wisconsin comes into this game angry after falling to Illinois last week 24-23 in Champaign. The Badgers had a lead in the fourth quarter, but the Fighting Illini scored 10 points in the last six minutes to pull the massive upset. Under head coach Paul Chryst, Wisconsin is 11-1 following a loss, with the only loss coming to Ohio State in the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game.
Ballin’ Badger back
The Badgers are paced by running back Jonathan Taylor, who last week became the fastest player in FBS history to rush for 5,000 yards in their career. Taylor is now just one of four running backs to rush for 5,000 yards before the end of their junior season. With his 5,128 career rushing yards, Taylor is already third all-time at Wisconsin, and he needs just 13 rushing yards to pass Montee Ball for second.
The running back already holds the FBS records for most rushing yards in a freshman season and a sophomore season, and looks on his way to threatening to rush for 2,000 yards in his junior season. Taylor currently has 957 yards rushing and 15 rushing touchdowns this year.
What makes Taylor and the Badgers so tough is since he is so effective running the football, it allows Wisconsin to control the clock. The Badgers are averaging 38:03 minutes of possession, which is best in the country, and more than two minutes more than what San Diego State, who is second in the nation in time of possession averages.
Jack of all trades
Since Ohio State is likely to key on Taylor to try and shut the running back down, expect to see quarterback Jack Coan try and make some plays with his arm. The junior is second in the country with a 76% completion percentage, and has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions this year. Coan isn’t asked to do a lot through the air, but he makes good decisions and can beat teams if they underestimate him.
The Badgers might have the talent in their receiving corps that Ohio State has, but they do have some receivers that can do some damage. Quintez Cephus leads the team with 24 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Davis and tight end Jake Ferguson each have 20 catches so far this season, while fullback Garrett Groshek has snuck out of the backfield to grab 18 passes this year.
Experienced new starters
Even though technically the Badgers have four new starters on the offensive line this season, which marks the first time since 1997 Wisconsin has had to replace four starters on the offensive line, the new starters had seen a good amount of action prior to this season. Center Tyler Biadasz is the lone returning starter and was first team All-Big Ten last season.
Joining Biadasz on the offensive line is left tackle Cole Van Lanen, who played 560 snaps last season as he was in a rotation with Jon Dietzen. Left guard Jason Erdmann had played in 40 games for the Badgers prior to his first start in the season opener against South Florida. Right tackle Logan Bruss started three games last year while David Edwards was injured. Senior right guard David Moorman rounds out the offensive line for the Badgers.
Much like Ohio State, Wisconsin’s defense has been one of the most dominant in the country this season. The Badgers have used four shutouts to field the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 7.6 points per game. Wisconsin is also allowing just 193.9 yards per game, which ranks as the best in the country when it comes to total defense.
The Badgers had a bit of a down year last season when it comes to sacks, registering just 19 sacks after recording 42 in 2017. Wisconsin has done a better job at getting to the quarterback this year, as they already have 27 sacks this season through just seven games. The linebackers have done most of the damage on opposing quarterbacks, with Chris Orr leading the team with eight sacks, including three against Illinois last week. Zack Baun has 6.5 sacks this season to rank second on the team.
Big up front
The reason Wisconsin’s linebackers have been able to cause so much havoc is because the Badgers have a talented three-man defensive line with guys who take up a lot of space. Senior defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk is not only 6-7, but he weighs in at just under 300 pounds. Nose tackle Bryson Williams is 300 pounds, while at the other end Garrett Rand is a little lighter at 279 pounds giving him a little more speed to compliment the power of Loudermilk and Williams.
Ohio State quarterback will face a tough challenge in trying to crack Wisconsin’s secondary. The Badgers have eight interceptions this season, with safety Eric Burrell leading the team with two interceptions. As a team, Wisconsin has broken up 39 passes this season, with safeties Colin Wilder and Reggie Pearson registering five and four PBUs, respectively. Cornerbacks Caesar Williams and Deron Harrell also have each broken up four passes this year.
There’s no doubt Wisconsin will have a chip on their shoulder after losing to Illinois last week as a 30-point favorite. The Badgers are very talented on defense, but they haven’t played an offense anywhere close to the caliber of what they’ll see from Ohio State this year. Illinois showed Ohio State some things that could work against the Badgers, which the Buckeyes should be able to execute at an even higher level because of the superior talent Ohio State possesses.
Saturday’s game will be a true test to see if Ohio State’s run defense is really improved from last season. So far the Buckeyes have passed every test that has been thrown at them, but they haven’t faced a running back who can pile up yards like Jonathan Taylor. Ohio State will get a boost with the return of Baron Browning after the linebacker missed last week’s game against Northwestern.
The key for Ohio State will be shutting down Taylor and forcing quarterback Jack Coan to beat them with his arm. The more Ohio State forces Coan to drop back, the more shots defensive end Chase Young will get to take at Coan. While Coan hasn’t made a lot of mistakes this season, things don’t come so easy when a freak athlete like Young is breathing down your neck.
Ohio State should be able to stay undefeated because they are so well-rounded on both sides of the football. If the Buckeyes are able to pile on the points early, as they have done in every game this year, it will force Wisconsin to abandon Taylor and the running game, which is something they aren’t comfortable with. Becoming predictable in throwing the football will allow Jeff Okudah and the rest of the Ohio State secondary to force some turnovers.