Ohio State passed a huge test on Saturday, defeating Penn State 20-12 to stay undefeated and set up what could very well be an 11-0 vs. 11-0 matchup in Ann Arbor to end the regular season. Before they get there, the Buckeyes must win their toughest remaining game on the schedule ahead of TTUN, and that is Week 9’s road trip to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Luke Fickell’s guys have had a couple stumbles, but the Badgers will still present a real test for Ryan Day and company in what should be a hostile environment.
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Spread: Ohio State -14
Ohio State’s offense wasn’t the star of the show against Penn State, as the 20 points scored against the Nittany Lions were the team’s second-lowest output of the season (17 against Notre Dame), but the Buckeyes did enough offensively to emerge victorious against a strong defense. Kyle McCord struggled, although he finished the game with 286 yards passing and a touchdown. Marvin Harrison Jr. was Ohio State’s main source of offense, totaling 11 catches for 162 yards and a TD — his fifth 100-yard game of the season and third time with more than 160 yards receiving through seven games.
Defensively, you couldn’t have asked for a much better performance from the Buckeyes. Jim Knowles’ unit held Penn State to under 200 yards passing and under 50 yards rushing, while allowing the Nittany Lions to convert on just 1-of-16 third down attempts. Guys were making plays at all three levels, with the Buckeyes totaling four sacks, eight tackles for loss and six pass breakups. Drew Allar completed less than 50% of his passes (18-of-42), and Penn State really just had zero answers on offense for the entirety of the afternoon. Impressively, Ohio State did all of this without its top corner Denzel Burke, who was sidelined with an injury.
Wisconsin, who comes into this game at 5-2 on the year, managed to bounce back from a 15-6 loss to Iowa with a 25-21 win over Illinois last time out. With starting QB Tanner Mordecai sidelined indefinitely with a hand injury, Mississippi State transfer Braedyn Locke helped lead the Badgers to a fourth quarter comeback. Trailing 21-7 entering the final frame, Wisconsin rattled off 18 unanswered points to steal the game. Locke finished 21-of-41 with 240 yards and two TDs, while star running back Braelon Allen totaled 145 yards rushing and a TD. The Badgers’ offense has struggled at times under OC Phil Longo, but they are at their best when they give Allen the football.
With Jim Leonard no longer at the helm of the defense, the Badgers have taken a bit of a step back this season on that side of the ball. It's still not a bad unit by any means, but Wisconsin currently ranks middle of the pack in the Big Ten in scoring defense, sitting 10th at stopping the run and eighth in stopping the pass. The team’s biggest star defensively has been safety Hunter Wohler, who leads the Badgers with 70 total tackles — 26 more than the next-highest player — with three tackles for loss, two interceptions and four pass breakups. Linebacker Darryl Peterson leads the way in the front seven, tallying six TFLs and 3.5 sacks, both team-highs.
A big question mark going into this game is just how healthy is Ohio State? The Buckeyes have managed to get by with all their injuries, but it would be nice to have guys like TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka and Denzel Burke back for what could be a tough road game. OSU has done a great job against the run this season, but Allen is far and away the best back they’ve faced thus far. The linebackers were up to the task against Penn State’s RB duo, and they will need to match that performance this week. Elsewhere, Ohio State has to get something going on the ground to help McCord keep the offense moving. A healthy Henderson would go a long way there, but it remains to be seen when he will take the field again.
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