In what has become a theme for Ohio State this season, a strong defensive effort was once again the key to victory in the Buckeyes’ 24-10 win over Wisconsin on Saturday. Ryan Day’s offense was not at its best, but TreVeyon Henderson and Marvin Harrison Jr. shouldered the load as the scarlet and gray outlasted the Badgers at Camp Randall. Coming away with a win in likely the toughest remaining game on the schedule ahead of Nov. 25, Ohio State remains undefeated as the campaign continues to speed towards a battle of 11-0 teams in Ann Arbor to end the regular season.
Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin
Ohio State was thrilled to finally get TreVeyon Henderson back on Saturday, and he produced in a big way in his first action since the Notre Dame game after sitting out the previous three contests. The Buckeye tailback put up huge numbers at Camp Randall, rushing for 162 yards on 24 carries (6.8 yards per attempt) while scoring what was virtually the game-sealing touchdown with five minutes remaining. Henderson also added 45 yards through the air on four receptions, showcasing his ability to make plays in the passing game out of the backfield.
A healthy Henderson completely changes Ohio State’s rushing attack, as the junior running back consistently made guys miss and tacked on extra yardage even when the offensive line gave him little space to work. Overall, given the way the game played out and the quality of opponent, this was arguably Henderson’s best game as a Buckeye. Obviously his 270-yard, three-TD performance against Tulsa as a freshman would be tough to beat, but putting up 207 yards of total offense against Wisconsin in a tight game on the road when his team needed him most is a more impressive feat to me.
Marvin Harrison Jr.
Honestly, I could really just write Marvin Harrison Jr.’s name in pen in the ‘Good’ section of this recap each and every week before the games are even played and then just come back and fill in his exact totals later. The nation’s No. 1 wide receiver has looked like the best player in all of college football week in and week out, and Saturday's performance against the Badgers was his fourth-straight game passing the century mark in receiving yards and scoring a touchdown in the process. His final line reads six catches for 123 yards and two TDs, and on what was a tough day for Ohio State’s quarterback — which we will get to shortly — Marv was everything Ryan Day and Brian Hartline could ask for.
Even with a pair of quiet games on his ledger against Indiana and Notre Dame, these last four weeks of dominance have rocketed Harrison Jr. up near the top of the statistical leaders nationally. His 889 yards rank him first in the Big Ten, 327 yards ahead of the next-highest player, and sixth in the country overall. His eight receiving TDs have him tied for 10th nationally (second in the B1G to Michigan’s Roman Wilson, who has 10) and his 18.5 yards per catch are the most of any player in FBS with more than 40 receptions. Simply put, Marvin Harrison Jr. should be a shoe-in for the Biletnikoff Award, and if the Heisman Trophy is truly supposed to go to college football’s best player, that should be his as well.
The Whole Defense
Another game, another dominant performance for Jim Knowles’ defense. Outside of really one good drive by Wisconsin’s offense to open up the second half, the Silver Bullets were once again lockdown, and all three levels played exceptionally well even despite guys getting banged up throughout the contest. Overall, the Buckeyes allowed 259 yards of total offense and 10 points, and without that 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the third quarter, those numbers drop to 184 total yards and just three points allowed. As a unit, Ohio State’s defense tallied two sacks, four tackles for loss, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Knowles’ group did a really good job of containing Braelon Allen before he left the game with an injury, as the star running back’s longest run went for 11 yards and averaged just 4.3 yards on his other nine carries of the night. Ohio State made life difficult for quarterback Braedyn Locke as well, allowing him to complete less than half his passes (18-of-39) for 165 yards and the one score. The Buckeye defense did allow an uncharacteristic amount of big plays, with six completions of more than 15 yards and a long 29-yard run by Locke, but they continued to bend and not break as they kept the Badgers out of the end zone for the majority of the contest.
There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: It was a bad night for QB1. Kyle McCord was lucky he had teammates like Harrison Jr. and Henderson to pick him up, because the poor play of McCord really hamstrung Ohio State’s offense in this game. The final numbers don't look too bad, finishing the game with 226 yards passing and two TDs, but he also threw a pair of really bad interceptions, fumbled the ball on the Buckeyes’ opening drive, was called for intentional grounding twice, and was overall largely inconsistent with his accuracy. Really the only success he had was throwing the ball to Harrison Jr., as he and Henderson combined for 330 of OSU’s 407 total yards.
The tools for McCord to succeed are clearly there, but inconsistency has been the story of the season for Ohio State’s quarterback. The first-year starter has had stretches of greatness, including that last drive at Notre Dame and a handful of big second halves, but the slow starts are becoming a concerning trend, and against the Badgers McCord was never able to find it. McCord made a handful of really nice throws on Saturday, but for every perfectly placed ball, there were one or two severe overthrows or underthrows to wide open receivers on plays that just have to be made. His pocket presence is also still an issue, failing to step up in the pocket or feel the rush all too often.
Ohio State only has a handful of games left in the regular season, and while we’re all still waiting for this offense to break out, they can only go as far as their quarterback play will allow.
3rd Down/Red Zone Offense
These issues weren’t as egregious against Wisconsin as they have been in games earlier this season or in year’s prior, but short yardage and the red zone continue to be Ryan Day’s biggest enemy. Ohio State converted 50% of its third down tries against the Badgers, going 6-of-12 on the day. They were also surprisingly good on 3rd-and-short, converting six of eight tries needing less than four yards to move the chains. However, they were 0-for-4 on third and medium (five to eight yards) and the red zone struggles reared their ugly head again with both a turnover and a field goal from inside the 10-yard line.
A lot of these struggles can be attributed to a lackluster day from McCord, but these areas have been a problem for Day now spanning multiple seasons with multiple different QBs and offensive personnel. The Buckeyes, for whatever reason, have gone away from the mesh concept offenses that worked so well for them when Dwayne Haskins was at the helm. They’ve run the crossing route to MHJ twice in the last two weeks against both Penn State and Wisconsin, and both times it resulted in a touchdown. Those easy routes over the middle of the field would seemingly make life easier for Ohio State in both short yardage spots and in the red zone, but they remain buried deep in the play book.
There is obviously nobody to blame here — although I do think that if Ohio State had a real strength and conditioning coach rather than one insistent on utilizing outdated methods and training his players to be body builders rather than football players they could cut down on many of these soft-tissue injuries — but injuries were a common theme of the game on Saturday. While the Buckeyes got both Henderson and Denzel Burke back on the field, it was another game without Emeka Egbuka, who was reported as ‘available’ but did not take a snap against the Badgers.
In addition, Ohio State lost a handful of really important players throughout this game, and while none of them appear to be serious and almost all of the guys that got banged up later returned to the field, you never want to see valuable contributors hobbling off to the sideline. At various points in this game, both J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer had to come out of the game with an apparently injury, as did Julian Fleming and Lathan Ransom. Three of the four would re-enter the game at some point aside from Ransom, who was carted to the locker room but later came back to the sideline without his helmet and appeared to be testing out his leg on the sideline but ultimately did not return to the field.
It will be worth monitoring these guys moving forward, as the Buckeyes now have a handful of what should be very winnable game against Rutgers, Michigan State and Minnesota before their big showdown in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25.
I’m just going to leave this loser in this section every week until Ryan Day finally does what he should have done after last season and fires the ‘Alex Grinch of special teams.’ The unit has been an absolute nightmare every single game under Fleming’s watch, and while nothing totally disastrous happened against Wisconsin on Saturday, they did still allow a 35-yard punt return to give the Badgers fantastic field position at Ohio State’s own 36-yard line — where the defense ultimately got the stop, leading to a missed field goal — as the unit currently ranks 122nd in the country in punt return defense, among other poor areas of the special teams.
There is no reason to have a full-time dedicated special teams coach on your staff, especially one that is actively bad at the job. Most of the best teams in the country do not have a full-time special teams coordinator, and those that do aren’t playing man down with one less assistant on the side of the ball opposite the expertise of the head coach. Simply fire Fleming and promote James Laurinaitis as a linebackers coach. This shouldn’t be this difficult.