Ohio State passes B1G test, proves it's ready for national contenders
Wisconsin gave Ohio State all it could handle in windy and soggy Columbus on Saturday.
In the end, though, the defending Big Ten champions showed that they are the most complete team in the country and ready for much bigger challenges ahead.
The Buckeyes and Badgers were scoreless after 15 minutes of play, combining for just 99 total yards and 18 plays of two yards or less. Jim Leonhard’s Badgers defense was able to contain running back J.K. Dobbins and put some pressure on quarterback Justin Fields, making it difficult for the Buckeyes to get any traction on offense.
Wisconsin came into the game with the best defense in the country on third-and-long situations, and the unit did a great job early of putting Ohio State in those situations.
The Buckeyes were finally able to muster some points when Blake Haubeil connected on a 49-yard field goal to cap off a 12-play, 41-yard drive. Yes, that’s the type of game that was playing out early on Saturday in Columbus. And it was beautiful.
But then the Ohio State offense finally came to life.
Wisconsin’s defense ultimately wilted late in the second half as the Buckeyes went on an 8-play, 85-yard drive spanning just 1:54. It ended with a Fields 27-yard scoring pass to Chris Olave on third-and-13 — usually a situation when the Badgers defense thrives. The drive featured a 21-yard run by Fields, whose ability to make plays with his feet have hurt opposing defenses all season.
The Badgers weren’t able to do much offensively besides convert a fourth-and-one in its own territory on a Jonathan Taylor run. The Buckeyes were able to bottle Taylor up, as he was held to just 25 yards on 12 first-half carries. He’d finish with just 52 yards on 20 rushes.
On six first-half possessions, Paul Chryst’s offense advanced only as far as its own 46-yard line. Star Buckeyes defender Chase Young had two sacks in the first half as he lived in the backfield and made life hell for Badgers quarterback Jack Coan, who was going up against the best secondary he’ll face all season.
It appeared the Badgers were ready to make this a four-quarter game when they forced a quick three-and-out and then managed to deflect the OSU punt on the first possession of the second half, setting the line of scrimmage at the Buckeyes 30-yard line. Wisconsin cashed in when Coan lobbed a perfect pass on third-and-6 to A.J. Taylor for a 26-yard score.
Fields and Co. answered immediately, however, as the offense sliced its way through the Badgers defense on a drive that featured an Olave 22-yard catch, a Dobbins 28-yard run and a 10-yard touchdown run by Fields to give the Buckeyes back their 10-point cushion.
The lead moved to 17 as Dobbins continued to display his speed and strength behind a beefy and sturdy offensive line. The Texas native used a 34-yard run to set up his 9-yard scoring scamper on the next play to cap off a quick 4-play, 53-yard drive that essentially sealed it for the Buckeyes.
On Wisconsin’s ensuing possession, Taylor was stopped for no gain on a third-and-3 at the Buckeyes 32, then a fourth-and-3 turned into a fourth-and-8 when the center was called for a snap infraction. It was then Chase Young time as he recorded his third sack of the day and forced a fumble that was recovered by Pete Werner.
It was all Dobbins on the ensuing Buckeyes possession, as he touched the ball five times for 55 yards on the touchdown drive that gave the Buckeyes a 31-7 lead.
Young showed why he is the best defender in the country when he recorded his fourth sack of the game — a career high and tie for a school record — and forced another Coan fumble that was recovered once again by Werner and returned 31 yards to set up another Olave touchdown reception that made the final score 38-7.
This was a big game for Ohio State because it needed to be tested at this juncture of the season. Some college football fans nationally still snicker at the Big Ten and view it as a league with slow, plodding players. That’s simply not the case. This is a very good Wisconsin team despite its slip up in Champaign last week. Chryst’s crew went toe to toe with Ryan Day’s team on Saturday. Ultimately, Ohio State’s O-line wore down the Badgers front seven, and the Buckeyes talent on offense was just too much.
Fields and the offense needed to be tested. And they were. There are still a couple of Big Ten exams left for the Buckeyes, but they showed on Saturday that they are ready to compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU on a national stage.