It isn’t quite the 30-plus points they were favored against Toledo this past weekend — which proved to not even be enough in Ohio State’s 56-point victory over the Rockets — but once again the Buckeyes are double-digit favorites as they are set to begin their Big Ten schedule when they host Wisconsin next weekend. Now 3-0, Ohio State came out of the gates a bit slow in Week 1 against Notre Dame, but since then has defeated Arkansas State and Toledo by a combined 122-33. The Badgers, on the other hand, are 2-1 on the year, losing a head-scratcher to Washington State in Week 2 but dominating against New Mexico State this weekend with a 66-7 win.
Ohio State’s offense looked the best it has thus far this season in its Week 3 blowout win over Toledo. C.J. Stroud continued to stack up the numbers for his Heisman campaign, completing 22-of-27 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. He was certainly happy to have his full compliment of wide receivers back on the field with a healthy Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming, and while JSN didn’t really play all that much, Fleming made his season debut with a two-touchdown performance. The Buckeyes finished the game with three 100-yard receivers in Emeka Egbuka (116), Jayden Ballard (113) and Marvin Harrison Jr. (102) while Dallan Hayden made the most of his opportunities to lead the team with 108 rushing yards and a score.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Ohio State on defense, as they allowed what is now a season-high 21 points to the Rockets on Saturday. They let up 307 total yards in the game, but they did hold Toledo to just 4-of-13 on third down and also forced their first two turnovers of the year on an interception by Ronnie Hickman and a sack-fumble by Javonate Jean-Baptiste. The Buckeyes were, however, without a handful of starters on that side of the ball, including a pair of safeties in Josh Proctor and Tanner McAlister as well as defensive line standout Mike Hall, who were all held out with minor injuries out of an abundance of caution. Ryan Day said postgame that he expects all of those guys back next week.
For Wisconsin, even though it was against a much lesser opponent, their Week 3 romp of New Mexico State had to feel good after dropping a close, low-scoring affair to Wazzu. The Badgers had their way with the Aggies on the ground, rushing for 260 yards on 46 carries with six rushing TDs, led by star sophomore Braelon Allen’s 15 carries for 86 yards and three scores. Quarterback Graham Mertz was efficient through the air, completing 12 of his 15 attempts for 251 yards with three TDs and one interception. Skyler Bell led the way in the receiving department, catching four balls for 108 yards and two TDs.
The Badgers’ defense was stout, collecting a trio of interceptions and holding New Mexico State to 3.3 yards per carry and 4.1 yards per pass. The Wisconsin defense totaled eight tackles for loss against the Aggies, led by 1.5 TFLs by linebacker Nick Herbig, who also registered the team’s only sack. Herbig has been one of the Badgers’ best defensive players so far this season, now owning a team-high five tackles for loss and four sacks. Wisconsin has been great at taking the ball away through three games, having now racked up seven interceptions thus far by seven different players. Jim Leonard’s group is allowing just eight points per game, giving up 17 in the loss to Wazzu but just 7 and 0 points in their other two contests.
This will be by far the best defensive group Ohio State has faced in the early part of this season, but I also don’t think Wisconsin has faced an offense that is even close to what the Buckeyes have when they are at full strength. The Badgers’ offense isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either, despite the gaudy number against the Aggies. Allen and the rushing attack are the strength of that unit, which also so happens to be what Ohio State’s defense has fared better against. Stroud and Co. will get their points, and I don’t know if Mertz and that Wisco air attack can do enough to keep up if the ground game isn’t firing on all cylinders.
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