Ohio State football: Grading Buckeyes in win over Wisconsin
On Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State played a ranked Wisconsin team with, at least statistically, the best defense in the nation coming in. This was also a Badgers team with a presumably angry attitude after the previous week’s stunning loss to Illinois.
How would the Buckeyes respond?
With a 38-7 thumping of the Badgers in which OSU dominated every phase, that’s how.
The Buckeyes improved to 8-0 (5-0 in the Big Ten) on a rainy, sloppy day in Columbus. The weather affected the Buckeyes for sure but they eventually found their footing, literally and figuratively.
Now the Buckeyes head into their second and final bye week of 2019 tied with Penn State for first in the B1G East Division, two games clear of everyone else.
Here are 5 things I liked and 3 things I didn’t like from OSU’s win over Wisconsin:
5 things I liked
Chase Young: What more can you say about the most destructive defensive player in college football? When OSU needed him most, the junior defensive end was at his best. Young tied a school record with four sacks, had five tackles for loss and absolute disrupted everything the Badgers wanted to do all day. Teammate Damon Arnette said Young is “the best player in college football” and Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson, a Heisman Trophy voter, said Young would get his vote at this point. Young was stellar but was not the only Buckeyes defender to put in a full day’s work because…
OSU stuffed Taylor: Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Jonathan Taylor, was held to 52 yards on 20 carries. It was the third-lowest yardage total of Taylor’s stellar college career — and the second time in two meetings that OSU has kept Taylor under 60, because in the 2017 Big Ten title game he had a career-low 41 yards on 15 carries. On Saturday, OSU held Wisconsin to 191 yards of total offense, making it eight straight games that the Buckeyes kept an opponent under 300 yards in 2019.
Fields’ connection with Olave: Even on a wet day, Chris Olave was an extremely reliable receiver. Justin Field found him seven times for 93 yards and 2 TDs. Considering that Fields was 12-for-22 for 167 yards, it’s safe to say that the game would have been a whole lot closer if not for Olave’s abilities. The final Buckeyes TD came when the whole stadium had to know that Olave, isolated 1-on-1 and split to the right, was going to get the ball if the Buckeyes passed. But the connection between the two players was as natural as could be and the TD could not have been easier:
Offensive line dominance: Pass blocking has been an issue at times for OSU this season (see below). But the run blocking? Stellar, and it was never better than in Saturday’s game. On a day when heavy rain meant passing would be problematic, the Buckeyes line and star running back J.K. Dobbins combined to pound Wisconsin’s No. 1-rated defense into submission. OSU ran for 264 yards — Wisconsin hadn’t given up more than 141 rushing yards in a game all season. The line kept getting better as the game wore on, the sign of a unit that has it all together. Speaking of Dobbins…
Dobbins keeps chugging: Wet footballs, limited passing options, the nation’s No. 1 run defense … none of it mattered to Dobbins. The junior had perhaps his best game in scarlet and gray, gaining a career-high 221 total yards (163 rushing, 58 receiving) on just 23 touches. Dobbins averaged 8.1 yards a carry and scored 2 TDs on the ground. His three receptions included 2 on third-and-10 plays, both times converting for first downs.
3 things I didn’t like
Slow first quarter: The Buckeyes have been wiping teams out in the second quarter of games all season, to the tune of 168-20 including Saturday. But the first quarter has usually been pretty close. This is perhaps nitpicking. But since the opener against Florida Atlantic, when the Buckeyes led 28-0 after the first quarter, OSU has just 45 first-quarter points, an average of 6.4 a game. On Saturday it was 0-0 after 15 minutes, the first time in more than two years that the Buckeyes were held scoreless in the first quarter at home.
Pass protection: Yes, Wisconsin brought a defense with a ferocious reputation. But OSU’s pass protection — which has looked decent but not good enough for most of the season — was not up to par in this game. Wisconsin had five sacks, bringing the season total allowed by OSU to 19. Imagine what that total would be if Fields were not so elusive.
Chugunov’s first play: Fields was hit on a play in the second quarter and his helmet came off; by rule, he had to leave the game for one play. Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov entered and threw an incompletion into the ground just to get rid of the ball, except the play did not count because left tackle Thayer Munford was called for holding. But why on earth was Chugunov throwing in that situation anyway?
If Fields had to leave for good and the staff had wanted Chugunov to gain confidence quickly, the call would have been understandable. Maybe. Except they were asking a quarterback to come in cold off the bench, without warning or much of a warmup, on a day when receivers were already dropping potential catches and handling the football was a problem in such lousy weather. And everybody knew Fields was coming right back in on the next play, so the whole issue of giving the backup a chance to jump-start quickly was a non-factor. Just a strange call with poor execution all around.