In the week leading up to Saturday's matchup with 13th-ranked Wisconsin, Ryan Day continually called it Ohio State's biggest challenge yet on both sides of the ball.
With a 38-7 victory, the eighth win in a row by at least 24 points, it's fair to say the Buckeyes passed the test.
Chase Young's four sacks held Badgers quarterback Jack Coan in check, J.K. Dobbins (20 rushes, 163 yards, 2 touchdowns) overshadowed Jonathan Taylor (20 rushes, 52 yards) in a battle of the top two running backs in the Big Ten and Ohio State out-gained Wisconsin, 431-191, and did most of its scoring in the second half.
We're taking a closer look at 11 plays from the 31-point victory that we can learn from as the Buckeyes enter their second off week of 2019.
1st quarter – 12:15 and 4:36: Justin Fields got sacked for a seven-yard loss, and then later in the quarter he rushed for no gain.
- Ohio State's first two drives stalled due to a pair of self-inflicted mistakes. An early snap on the first drive, then a fumble by Fields on the second drive.
- After the game on Saturday, Fields said, "I think our motto as an offense is nobody can stop us except us. We knew what we had to do out there." That has proven to be the case through eight games, and it was true against the Badgers. When Fields said he thought the Buckeyes could have put up 50 points, he was likely thinking back to these two mistakes.
- Myers and Fields had no major communication issues in the first seven games, and they didn't make any more errors as a quarterback-center tandem the remainder of the game. Regardless of how it happened, the early snap on second down led to an eventual punt.
- "It's third and whatever, we just hand the ball off and punt," Ryan Day said on Saturday. "Trust me, it's harder for me to do that than anybody in the country. I hate doing that. But I just knew that you can't all of a sudden throw an interception now; you'll put yourself behind the eight ball."
- The rain could have contributed on Fields' fumble later in the quarter.
1st quarter – 9:02: Jonathan Taylor rushed for two yards and got tackled by Chase Young.
- The Buckeyes entered Saturday with a clear directive, which Pete Werner voiced last week: "We stop (Taylor), we’re going to win the game.” They stopped him – only one of his 20 carries went for more than seven yards – and they won.
- As Eleven Warriors' own Kyle Jones detailed on Monday, Ohio State utilized a 4-4 defense early in the game to match Wisconsin's formations that had multiple running backs and multiple tight ends. Justin Hilliard entered as the fourth linebacker beside Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner, and Shaun Wade came off the field.
- "We figured this game would be kind of like an inside run drill," Jeff Hafley said on Saturday. "So we wanted the backers to defend the run and the DBs to do the pass. Again, it's kind of like I've been saying. We've had things, we just haven't used them yet."
- On this play, Hilliard blitzed and would have recorded a tackle for loss but essentially got tackled by the right tackle who wasn't penalized. With Chase Young pursuing down the line, Davon Hamilton executing a picture-perfect swim move on first-team All-Big Ten center Tyler Biadasz and Jashon Cornell also getting penetration, the non-called penalty ultimately didn't matter.
- Ohio State stuffed Taylor on Saturday the same way it has held the other running backs in check: hurried pursuit to the ball, penetrating defensive tackles, linebackers playing aggressive and downhill and Chase Young doing Chase Young things.
1st quarter – 8:19: Jack Coan completed a pass for a one-yard loss to Garrett Groshek, who got tackled by Chase Young.
- We hadn't seen Ohio State line up like this, and neither had Wisconsin, which called a timeout. The Buckeyes didn't change their look, though. Baron Browning was a standup 3-technique, and Chase Young was a prowling middle linebacker. Per Jeff Hafley, this defensive look came about due to the need to vary up Chase Young's positioning.
- Wisconsin, anticipating a blitz, opted for a screen pass on third down. At the snap, Browning dropped into coverage and Young rushed the quarterback.
- Two aspects of this play stand out most: the right guard was late to block Browning because he felt as though he needed to hit the charging Young, and Young still managed to flip his hips and make the tackle for loss. He made his presence felt.
1st quarter – 0:31 and 0:13: Justin Fields completed a 17-yard pass to J.K. Dobbins then got sacked for an eight-yard loss.
- This drive, the third of the game, ultimately ended in a punt. But the 3rd-and-10 conversion felt significant at the time because the Buckeyes had punted to end both of their first two drives.
- Fields showed off the same slipperiness in the pocket that aided him in the prior seven games by shrugging off a potential sack from his blind side, repositioning himself and finding Dobbins for the first down. As has been written many times before, this is one of the most impressive aspects of his game. Few quarterbacks can do that so consistently.
- On the next play, Wisconsin's six-man pass rush got home for one of the team's five sacks.
- After the game, Wyatt Davis said it took the Buckeyes time to adjust to the Badgers twisting their linebackers on blitzes, and this was an example of that happening. Munford should have came off his block to take the blitzing middle linebacker, but he remained engaged with the defensive tackle. He had a rough first half in pass protection.
2nd quarter – 3:36 and 2:53: Davon Hamilton sacked Jack Coan for a five-yard loss, and then Coan threw an incomplete pass.
- Ask someone to name all the defensive players who have received notoriety from the public for their play this season, and Hamilton's name likely wouldn't be among the first. As a nose tackle, he flies below the radar. But with the way he has played in the first eight games, he deserves more shine.
- On the first play, Hamilton drove Biadasz backward into Coan for the first unassisted sack of his career. Making that play against anybody is impressive, and it's even more noteworthy when it comes versus a Rimington Trophy contender.
- The following play, an unblocked Young forced Coan to quickly deliver a screen pass, and Hamilton was there to clean it up. Wisconsin managed to convert just 4-of-13 third downs.
2nd quarter – 0:48: Justin Fields threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave.
- No team in the country converts third downs with as much efficiency as Ohio State, which moves the chains 57.3 percent of plays. The Buckeyes didn't just pick up a first down here. Fields and Olave scored the game's first touchdown.
- "We definitely got a lot of energy off the play and a lot of momentum going into the half," Olave said on Saturday. "Rather it be 10-0 than 3-0 or 6-0."
- With Wisconsin in man coverage and a deep safety not in the middle of the field, Olave ran a shallow cross before turning upfield. He got a step on the cornerback, who was late to see him adjust his route.
- The Buckeyes don't have a true No. 1 wide receiver. But Olave showed on Saturday that it might be him if given the chance. He's the most explosive of the rotation wideouts.
3rd quarter – 10:02 and 9:39: J.K. Dobbins rushed for 28 yards, and then Justin Fields ran for a 10-yard touchdown.
- Not only has Dobbins made significant strides as a back, but he's running behind an offensive line getting a consistent push.
- On the first play, watch Munford turn the rush linebacker to the outside. Jonah Jackson and Josh Myers executed the key blocks, double-teaming the nose tackle before Jackson slid off to push the linebacker out of the way, opening a lane for his running back. Dobbins then made the safety look silly trying to tackle him.
- Another part of the play to watch: the backside linebacker – who eventually makes the tackle – is slow to chase Dobbins because he had to make sure Fields didn't keep the ball.
- The next play, Fields showed why the linebacker had to play it safe by scoring his only rushing touchdown of the afternoon. Myers and Jackson opened up a lane for him.
3rd quarter – 7:08 and 6:33: J.K. Dobbins rushed for 34 yards, and then he rushed for a nine-yard touchdown.
- Here's Davis' explanation of what happened on the first play: "We were running stretch right," Davis said. "All week we were watching on film, the backers, they'll go back a gap and then the safety will come up. Sure enough, that's what they did. The backer I was going to folded over on the back side. The safety came up and I just got on the safety and J.K. took off."
- A charging middle linebacker nearly spoiled the run, but Dobbins stiff-armed him into the turf and raced down the sideline. Blocks from Myers on a lineman and Davis at the second level helped spring him.
- The next play, the Buckeyes again gave it to Dobbins, this time leading to the touchdown. A double team from Davis and Bowen that led to Bowen blocking a linebacker gave Dobbins enough of an opening to score.
- Davis' description of the touchdown: "We knew that if me and Bowen came off and got movement that he would score. Sure enough, that's what we did. It was just an unbelievable feeling."
3rd quarter – 1:55 and 1:07: Malik Harrison tackled Jonathan Taylor for no gain, and then Chase Young forced Jack Coan to fumble.
- Wisconsin first tried running at Young, and then it tried blocking him with a tight end. Neither worked out particularly well for the Badgers.
- On third-and-3, Young moved the left tackle backward and Justin Hilliard set an edge that forced Taylor inside, where Harrison cleaned him up with a tackle.
- When the officials blew their whistles, eight Ohio State players were in the pile around Taylor. That's the kind of pursuit Hafley and Greg Mattison talked about throughout the offseason, and it's one of the reasons this defense has stopped the run with such consistency.
- The next play, after a false start put Wisconsin in 4th-and-8, Young chose to line up outside the tight end, forcing the Badgers to block him without an offensive lineman. That ended exactly as anybody would have imagined: poorly. He caused one of his two strip sacks of the afternoon.
3rd quarter – 0:13: J.K. Dobbins rushed for 13 yards.
- Dobbins deserves all the credit he has received for his resurgence this season. He's undoubtedly playing at the highest level of his college career. But he's also running behind the best run-blocking offensive line he has had.
- On this play, Dobbins didn't even get touched until he reached the first-down marker, falling forward for an extra few yards after the tackle.
- The two offensive guards – Jackson and Davis – took the two defensive tackles out of the play, and Myers took care of the play-side inside linebacker to spring Dobbins.
4th quarter – 11:50: Chase Young forced Jack Coan to fumble, and Pete Werner recovered it and ran for 31 yards.
- We couldn't end with anything other than a sack from Young. This, his fourth of the game, led to a five-play, 55-yard drive from Ohio State's offense for the team's final points of the afternoon.
- Young had this play won before the right tackle even got out of his stance. His ridiculously fast jump off the line of scrimmage meant he barely needed any pass-rush move to get by the offensive tackle. Young's get-off from the line of scrimmage? "The best I've been around," Day said on Saturday.
- Through eight games, Young ranks second in the country with five forced fumbles. These are the types of plays that could make the Heisman Trophy talk a reality.
Other Observations from Saturday's Game:
- The three-man rotation at nose tackle – Hamilton, Robert Landers and Tommy Togiai – continues to pay dividends for the Buckeyes. All three of them impressed and looked fresh on the field.
- Jashon Cornell also played well at 3-technique. He's not the pass rusher that Dre'Mont Jones was from the position, but he's stout against the run and gets penetration.
- It didn't prove costly, but Demario McCall's diving fair catch on a punt return followed by Garrett Wilson's 23-yard return should give the coaches some thought about making Wilson the full-time returned. He doesn't have McCall's speed, but he also hasn't shown that he could turn the ball over.
- Fields threw more short passes over the middle of the field than he had in prior games, when he frequently delivered ball to players on the sideline.
- Tuf Borland played arguably his best game of the season. When Ohio State needs to go to a 4-4 defense, that's his time to shine. Later in the year, when facing more athletic spread offenses, the Buckeyes will have to turn to Baron Browning.
- At some point, the Buckeyes could need a defensive end not named Chase Young to get pressure on a quarterback. That didn't happen much on Saturday.
- Fields took a few hard hits, even after he got looked at in the medical tent in the second half. That's just his style of play, and there isn't a ton Ohio State can do to change it. An off week followed by games with Maryland and Rutgers should help him heal up for a difficult stretch run.
- Discounting the 27-yard run from the Wildcat formation, Wisconsin averaged 1.6 yards per carry. That's an astoundingly low number for a team that has to run the ball well to have any shot at winning, and it's a testament to Ohio State's defense against the run.
- When Fields had to come out for a play in the first half due to his helmet coming off, Day could have called a timeout. Instead, he put Chris Chugunov in for a play and called a pass. The boldness didn't pay off. Munford got flagged for a penalty, putting Fields in a 2nd-and-25 situation. Questionable decision by Day not to use a timeout.