Ohio State will have to wait another week to find out if a Big Ten team can truly test its mettle this season. On second thought, maybe more like a month.
The Buckeyes made minced meat from the Badgers in Saturday’s 52-21 blowout. With Rutgers, a reeling Michigan State team and the offensively challenged Iowa Hawkeyes on tap after that, we could see smooth sailing for the scarlet and gray until late October.
But let’s not peer past Week 4 just yet, as we look at the litany of Buckeyes who boosted their stock and the programs heading in the wrong direction as things heat up at the end of September.
Raise your hand if you thought Cade Stover would be Ohio State’s third-leading receiver this season. Nobody?
I didn’t see it coming either, and if you did, you’re probably lying. But that’s exactly what the fourth-year Buckeye captain has been through the first third of the season, hauling in 12 catches for 188 yards in the opening four games. Stover caught the first two touchdown passes of his career against Wisconsin, and by the sounds of things, that production won’t slow down anytime soon. C.J. Stroud and company seem to relish the thought of keeping Farmer Gronk involved in the passing game as he continues to prove himself as a legitimate weapon on offense.
Buckeye run game
It may never be the focal point of the Buckeye offense under Ryan Day, but the Ohio State run game seems to be firing on all cylinders following back-to-back 250-yard days. In 2021, the Buckeyes never eclipsed that total in consecutive contests.
TreVeyon Henderson snapped an eight-game streak without a 100-yard game against Wisconsin as the sophomore dashed for 121 on 21 carries, but Miyan Williams might have been even more impressive. The man they call Porkchop pounded the Badger front for 101 yards and two scores on 11 carries, and Ohio State finished the game with its first pair of 100-yard running backs since J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague against Indiana in 2019.
Ohio State’s 258 yards rushing were 30 more than Wisconsin allowed to its first three opponents combined.
Miyan Williams really said, "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh."pic.twitter.com/zqzMh9oMSm— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 25, 2022
With both starting cornerbacks out against Wisconsin, Tanner McCalister stepped up to set the tone for the Buckeye secondary on Saturday. The Oklahoma State transfer tallied his first interception in scarlet and gray, picking off a Graham Mertz pass on Wisconsin’s opening possession and returning it 30 yards to set up an easy score for the Ohio State offense in the first quarter.
Just have to revisit this amazing play from Tanner McCalister. pic.twitter.com/FjJqyYfsip— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 25, 2022
McCalister also broke up what looked to be a surefire touchdown for the Badger passing game and laid the wood down on a couple of big hits to finish the night with four total tackles for Jim Knowles’ defense.
McCalister had his first big moment for the Buckeyes during their Big Ten opener, and it isn’t likely to be the last as things move forward.
Tommy Eichenberg was a fitting choice to speak at Ohio State Skull Session before kickoff Saturday, and not for his verbosity. Perhaps Ryan Day and company sensed what was coming from their starting middle linebacker, whose 14 total tackles were more than twice as many as the next best Buckeye when the clocks hit zero.
Eichenberg had five more tackles than his previous season-high mark, and two of those went for a loss as Ohio State bottled up Braelon Allen and the Wisconsin run game until the result was well in hand. Eichenberg now has more than half as many tackles through the first third of the 2022 season as he did in all of 2021.
Tommy Eichenberg made his presence felt on Saturday night. pic.twitter.com/LTIA7npL0p— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 25, 2022
Michigan looked shaky at times in its seven-point win over Maryland to start conference play, but that had nothing to do with running back Blake Corum, who turned in a monstrous 243-yard, two-touchdown day to keep the Terps from toppling the No. 4 team in the country.
Donovan Edwards’ absence aided Corum’s heavy workload for the Wolverines, but his career-high effort is sure to earn him even more touches in the Michigan offense as it moves forward in the Big Ten gauntlet in the coming weeks.
While Ohio State firmly established itself as the league's leader with its 31-point beating of the Badgers this weekend, a frontrunner for its potential Big Ten Championship Game matchup continues to emerge out of the West.
Entering East Lansing as a field-goal favorite over Michigan State, Minnesota covered that spread several times over on Saturday, turning a 17-0 halftime lead into a 34-7 blowout as the Spartans had no answer for Tanner Morgan, Mohamed Ibrahim and company.
Now 4-0 and ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25, the Gophers possess the No. 1 total defense and No. 3 total offense in the country ahead of Week 5.
Ohio State had no trouble dicing Wisconsin through the air on Saturday, but once again, it had to do so without the services of its top wideout.
Ryan Day sounded optimistic all week about Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s chances at making a total return to action against the Badgers. Still, he didn’t suit up at all amid rumors he reaggravated a hamstring injury in the leadup to the game.
Smith-Njigba has now logged just 38 snaps through the first third of the season and may not play against this weekend as the record-setting season he was projected to have in 2022 has seen an unfortunate setback.
Kills me that I havent been out there yet. I know God has a bigger plan! Ill be back sooner than later.I know my brothers gonna keep handling business! Love yall Go Bucks— JSN (@jaxon_smith1) September 26, 2022
Wisconsin’s 104-yard performance in the passing game came despite serious depth concerns at cornerback for Ohio State, which lined up without two starters in the secondary on Saturday. Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke were unavailable due to injury, and with Jordan Hancock still sidelined, two first-time starters had to step up at cornerback.
Redshirt freshman JK Johnson and true freshman Jyaire Brown held their own, however, as Graham Mertz failed to capitalize on the pair’s inexperience, closing out the night with just 94 yards, one score and an interception on 11-for-20 passing.
McCalister said it was “kind of scary” preparing for a legit Big Ten opponent without its starting corners, but he and the whole Buckeye team gave Johnson and Jyaire Brown a vote of confidence before the game the underclassmen seemed to feed off of throughout the night.
It seemed a bit harsh when Mel Tucker called himself a “horseshit football coach” after Michigan State’s Week 3 loss to Washington. But not many Spartan fans will be lining up to counter that notion after a second straight defeat at the hands of Minnesota.
A loss to the surging Big Ten West frontrunner is one thing, but a multi-score blowout at home in which Michigan State failed to muster more than one touchdown is particularly frustrating for a program ranked 11th in the country after the first two weeks.