Following their second win this season over a top-10 team, Ohio State hits the road the next two weeks. This week, the Buckeyes head to Madison to take on Wisconsin and former Ohio State player and coach Luke Fickell on Saturday night. The Buckeyes will be looking to win their 16th consecutive regular season night game, with their last loss under the lights coming back in 2018 at Purdue.
Ohio State has largely dominated the series with the Badgers, posting a 62-18-5 all-time record against Wisconsin. Trips to Madison have been a little tougher to navigate lately. In their six appearances at Camp Randall Stadium since 2002, Ohio State has won four of those six contests, but all of those wins have come by seven points or less. Overall, the Buckeyes are 27-11-2 in Madison.
Last week Ohio State notched their seventh straight win over Penn State, beating the Nittany Lions 20-12. Even though the Buckeyes were without TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka, and Denzel Burke, they still were able to hand the Nittany Lions their first loss of the season thanks to monster performances from Marvin Harrison Jr. and J.T. Tuimoloau.
Money Marv and the Buckeye ballers
Marvin Harrison Jr. continued his hot streak, recording at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown for the third straight contest, finishing with 11 catches for 162 yards and a score against the Nittany Lions. Harrison is now just two 100-yard receiving games from tying David Boston’s school record of 14 games hitting the century mark. If the junior wide receiver can continue his stellar play it is going to be tough to exclude him from being a Heisman Trophy finalist since he has been the constant in the Ohio State offense.
What the Buckeyes are going to need if they want to be a true national title contender is more consistency from quarterback Kyle McCord. The first-year starter has done a great job at playing clean throughout the year, but there are stretches where he struggles with his accuracy. McCord has shown he can make plays in the toughest of situations, which makes his lapses when there isn’t as much pressure a bit puzzling. So far this year McCord has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just one interception, which came in the season opener against Indiana.
The return of a couple key offensive players could help McCord with some of his consistency issues. Emeka Egbuka and TreVeyon Henderson both missed last week’s victory over Penn State. Egbuka returning to the field will take some of the pressure off Marvin Harrison Jr., and also give opposing defenses another playmaker to have to gameplan for. Before getting injured in the Maryland game, Egbuka had grabbed 22 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
The return of Henderson would be an even bigger bonus to the Ohio State offense, since the Buckeyes have not had much success running the football this season. Last week against Penn State, Miyan Williams saw the bulk of the carries, toting the rock 24 times for just 62 yards. Henderson gives the Buckeye rushing attack a home run ability that Williams and Chip Trayanum just don’t possess. Dallan Hayden does have some of the similar game-breaking ability as Henderson, but for some reason he can’t get on the field even though he is electric every time he touches the football.
The defense continues to dominate
Ohio State’s defense continues to shut down every challenge put in front of them. Last week the Buckeyes snapped Penn State’s 13-game streak of scoring at least 30 points. Even though the defense wasn’t able to force Drew Allar into throwing his first interception this season, Ohio State was still all over Allar throughout the game, forcing him into his worst performance as a starter. Against the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes recorded six tackles for loss and four sacks.
Following a slow start to the season, J.T. Tuimoloau continued his strong play of late. Not only did Tuimoloau record a sack last week, he now has four sacks over the last three games. The four sacks by Tuimoloau this year lead the team. Along with Tuimoloau, Sonny Styles, Caden Curry, and Kenyatta Jackson Jr. also were able to get to the quarterback against the Nittany Lions.
Even though the Ohio State secondary was without Denzel Burke last week, the defensive backs gave up very little to Penn State. Jermaine Matthews Jr. played a huge role at corner, stepping in to take some of the snaps in Burke’s place. Along with the freshman, Davison Igbinosun and Jordan Hancock were rock solid at the corners.
A lot of credit for the success without Burke can be attributed to safeties Sonny Styles, Josh Proctor, and Lathan Ransom. Those three safeties allowed the corners to play with confidence since they knew they had those talents behind them to give them a bit of security if they did happen to get beaten. Proctor had two passes defensed last week, while Ransom, Hancock, and Matthews all had one PD.
A familiar face
After starting a then-school record 50 consecutive games from 1993 to 1996 and then coaching on the Ohio State staff for 16 years, Luke Fickell will be coaching against his alma mater on Saturday night. After leading Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff in 2021, Fickell moved on to Wisconsin at the end of the 2022. Fickell coached in Wisconsin’s bowl game, leading the Badgers to a 24-17 win over Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. The former Buckeye has coached against his former team on one other occasion, as Cincinnati was shutout 42-0 by Ohio State in 2019.
Wisconsin needs two more wins to clinch their 22nd consecutive winning season. Currently their streak of 21 straight winning seasons is the longest among Power 5 schools. On Saturday night the Badgers will also be looking for their first win over a top-three team since 2010, when they beat the Buckeyes in Madison. Saturday’s contest will be the first night game at Camp-Randall Stadium since 2020 when they played their opener under the lights against Illinois.
Wisconsin’s offense is battered and bruised
The Badgers were dealt a huge blow in the 15-6 loss to Iowa a couple weeks ago when Tanner Mordecai suffered a hand injury. Mordecai transferred into the program from SMU and was brought in to run Phil Longo’s air raid offense. The reliance on the passing game hasn’t quite taken off quite like Fickell and Longo had hoped, as Mordecai had only thrown for 1,127 yards, three touchdowns, and three picks prior to being injured.
Stepping in for Mordecai is Braedyn Locke. In his first start last week against Illinois, the freshman completed 21-of-41 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. The Badgers were able to rally from a 14-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to win their first Big Ten game in the Modern Era after trailing by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter. Locke’s three-yard touchdown pass to Nolan Rucci with 27 seconds left to secure the victory.
Along with Mordecai not being available to play, Wisconsin also lost running back Chez Mellusi for the season. Prior to being injured in the win against Purdue, the Clemson transfer was averaging six yards per carry. The loss of Mellusi puts the football in the hands of Braelon Allen more, which isn’t a bad thing. After running for at least 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons, Allen has already ran for 704 yards and eight touchdowns this year. Last week against the Fighting Illini, Allen carried the football 29 times and finished with 145 yards and a touchdown.
When the Badgers do throw the football, Will Pauling has been the primary target this season. Pauling has caught 37 passes for 398 yards and a score through the first seven games of the year. Along with Pauling, Braelon Allen, Skyler Bell, Bryson Green, and Chimere Dike have all caught at least 16 passes this year. While Wisconsin is spreading the football around, no Badger receiver has found the end zone more than once this year.
While a lot on the Wisconsin offense is changing, the Badgers still have a great offensive line. In the middle of the line is Tanor Bortolini, who was named Outland Trophy Player of the Week for his performance in the first game of the season against Buffalo. Dublin native Joe Huber followed Fickell from Cincinnati to Madison and is now the starting left guard for the Badgers. Left tackle will be manned by Jack Nelson, while 2021 four-star recruit Riley Mahlman will be at right tackle, and Michael Furtney rounds out the line at right guard.
What to expect from the Wisconsin defense
Expect to hear Hunter Wohler’s name called early and often on Saturday. The safety is leading Wisconsin with 70 tackles this season, and the junior has intercepted two passes. Wohler is often used in the “Dollar” position in defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s defense. Ricardo Hallman will also be a key player in the secondary for Wisconsin, as the sophomore cornerback from Miami has four interceptions this year, which leads the Big Ten.
Leading Wisconsin in sacks this year is linebacker Darryl Peterson, who had 1.5 sacks last week against Illinois, bringing his total for the season to 3.5 sacks. Peterson will have a lot to prove against his home state team after growing up in Akron. C.J. Goetz also has made a lot of plays this season at the other outside linebacker spot. Goetz has 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and an interception through seven games.
A couple of Ohioans will be on the defensive line of the Badgers on Saturday night. Columbus native Rodas Johnson is coming off a career-high six tackle performance against Illinois. The senior was a four-star recruit from St. Francis DeSales. On the other end of the defensive line is James Thompson Jr., who is from Cincinnati. Thompson leads all Wisconsin defensive linemen with three sacks so far this season. Senior Gio Paez will line up in between Johnson and Thompson.
After coming off a big win like Ohio State had last week against Penn State, there is always a possibility of a letdown, especially when playing in primetime in a hostile environment. This doesn’t feel like a situation where the Buckeyes are going to struggle to earn a victory, though. Ryan Day’s crew is brimming with confidence after beating their second top-10 team this year, and they know if they handle their business a showdown with Michigan is looming at the end of November.
Saturday’s contest against Wisconsin would be a little more worrisome if the Badgers weren’t dealing with injuries to Mordecai and Mellusi. Braelon Allen is a threat to find the end zone everytime he touches the football, but the Buckeyes have been one of the best teams in the country at stopping the run. If Ohio State is able to bottle up Allen, they’ll put even more pressure on freshman quarterback Braedyn Locke, who doesn’t have much experience against a defensive as good as what he’ll see from the Buckeyes.
The biggest question for Ohio State in this game is going to be who they’ll have available to play on Saturday night. If Henderson and Egbuka are able to play, it’ll be a huge boost to an already dangerous offense. Adding Egbuka to the mix will give the Wisconsin secondary another challenge to go along with figuring out how to slow down Marvin Harrison Jr. The return of Henderson’s big play ability would compliment the bruising running styles of Chip Trayanum and Miyan Williams on the ground.
Last time Ohio State was coming off a huge win, Maryland hung with the Buckeyes for over half the game. Some of the sluggish start could be a bit of rust after having the week after the Notre Dame game off. On Saturday night Ohio State will be juiced up and ready to go as they’ll be trying to quiet down the Badger faithful in Madison. The Buckeyes don’t disappoint and they take down a Wisconsin team that is not only struggling with injuries, but also trying to find their identity under Luke Fickell.