8-0, and the calendar is going to flip from October to November this week. Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel often said, “September is for pretenders, November is for contenders.” Ohio State is assured of a winning record for the 2023 season, but the true test remains over the next few weeks.
Ohio State passed another test by going to Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 2016 and beating a not-surprisingly pesky and determined Wisconsin team, 24-10. Luke Fickell’s Badgers fell to 5-3 on the season, and are in a four-way tie(!) for The Big Ten West Division lead with Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
The frustrating aspect for Ohio State’s coaches, players, and fans is that this victory could have been easily secured. Ohio State only led 10-3 at the half, and could have been leading by at least two more scores, were it not for self-inflicted mistakes. Even more fortunate for Ohio State, Wisconsin was not able to truly capitalize upon those mistakes by the Buckeyes.
Below are some random thoughts about the win at Wisconsin, and what Ohio State needs to focus on as they prepare to travel to New Jersey next week to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights...
Kyle McCord played his worst game as Ohio State’s starting quarterback
McCord has been a slow starter, but the game at Wisconsin went beyond any first-quarter blahs. McCord’s final statistics wound up with him completing 17 of 26 passes for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns (more on that momentarily), and 2 costly interceptions, which I alluded to above in the area of dealing with frustration. Throw in a fumble after he was sacked on Ohio State’s opening drive of the evening, and perhaps you will understand why I wrote that this was his worst game.
On the positive side, McCord was able to get past his problems and helped the Buckeyes secure a win that keeps the team’s goals within reach. McCord suffered an ankle injury that nearly brought backup quarterback Tristan Gebbia into the game, but McCord was able to persevere through to complete the game.
For those of you clamoring for Tristan Gebbia or true freshman quarterback Lincoln Keinholz, allow me this quick moment. Riddle me this, Batman - do you believe Ohio State head coach Ryan Day would suddenly open up the offense, and let either Gebbia or Keinholz just let it rip, or do you think Day might become even more conservative in his play calling, on the road, against a talented Luke Fickell-coached team? I think we all know the answers to that one. With Devin Brown out for the foreseeable future, Ryan Day does not truly have another option at quarterback and will be sticking with McCord from here on out.
My point is that yes, McCord’s play regressed. Both interceptions were from McCord forcing the ball into coverage, trying to get the ball to Marvin Harrison, Jr. (more on him momentarily). I have every confidence that Day and Ohio State quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis is going to be grilling McCord on making better decisions this week in practice, as those interceptions were the type of plays that could lead to an Ohio State loss. The return of a healthy Emeka Egbuka can only help the passing offense.
Marvin Harrison, Jr. is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate
The media are starting to hype him, and even Ryan Day has been saying, “I believe he’s the best football player in the country”. While wide receivers traditionally do not win the Heisman Trophy, Harrison has been demonstrating that he is the best player in the country, regardless of position. It may not be a flashy Heisman Trophy campaign, comparable to other players around the country, but Harrison is making his case to earn a trip to New York City in December.
The Ohio State defense needs to wrap up better
Wisconsin had their moments of making it a game, coming back to tie the game up, 10-10. Keeping any team to only 10 points is impressive, but there were a few moments in the game where an Ohio State defender would go for a “highlight hit”, versus wrapping their arms around the player, and bringing them to the ground. A better team would make Ohio State pay for that mistake. Ohio State fans are just now getting back onto the Jim Knowles bandwagon, so it would be terrific to avoid the defensive swoon that afflicted this team last November.
The Ohio State special teams were a problem again
Similar to what I wrote about how a better team would make Ohio State pay for its mistakes by not wrapping up on defense, the punt coverage against Wisconsin was poor. Chimere Dike had a 35-yard return that he nearly took for a touchdown. Ryan Day has to have a stern conversation with Parker Fleming about the play of the coverage units.
Frustrating, and often ugly, but a win is a win. Considering how Kansas upset Oklahoma, how Washington nearly lost to Stanford, and how USC was only a failed two-point conversion from losing to California, some perspective is needed by Ohio State fans. Here is to fixing what ails this team, and getting people back healthy for the November stretch run.