It’s time to take things up a notch.
Ohio State closed out the non-conference portion of its regular-season schedule with a 56-point win over Toledo Saturday, but the challenges get steeper from here on out as the Buckeyes begin their league slate with the first of nine straight matchups against Big Ten opponents.
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:30 P.M. – SATURDAY, SEPT. 24
Wisconsin waits in the wings, having started the season with the No. 18 ranking in the AP Top 25 before a Week 2 stumble against Washington State. But even unranked and with a loss on its record, Paul Chryst’s eighth Badger roster presents a formidable threat to Ryan Day and the Buckeyes nonetheless.
We explore five things you need to know about Wisconsin below as Eleven Warriors begins previewing next weekend’s primetime tilt between two of the Big Ten’s best.
Already tasted defeat
Saturday’s matchup won’t be a meeting between unbeaten teams, as the Badgers suffered an upset defeat at the hands of the Pac-12's Cougars just two weekends ago.
Wisconsin was a three-score favorite entering the game, but wound up unable to put many points on the board as Graham Mertz and company finished with just 14 (and none after halftime) in a three-point loss. Penalties and turnovers didn’t help matters, as Wisconsin coughed the ball up on three occasions and racked up 106 yards on 11 flags.
Defensively, Wisconsin’s performance against the Cougars was an impressive one on paper. The Badgers held Washington State to just 53 yards on 22 rushing attempts, and Cougar quarterback Cameron Ward managed only 200 passing yards on 28 throws. The Badgers also turned Washington State over three times, including two interceptions for Ward.
But Wisconsin didn’t have enough offensive firepower to get the job done, which was an issue for the Badgers in 2021. In all four of Wisconsin’s losses last season, opponents held the Badgers to 17 points or less, and the Badgers finished the year with the No. 88 total offense and 84th-ranked scoring offense in the nation.
That said, Wisconsin bounced back with an explosive output on offense this past weekend (albeit against New Mexico State), scoring 66 points and racking up nearly 600 yards of offense.
Even at the end of a 9-4 2021 campaign, Wisconsin closed the year out with the No. 1 total defense in the nation. Early in 2022, the Badgers are once again leaning on their defensive prowess.
Wisconsin ranks among the top 15 teams in the country in total (246 yards per game), scoring (eight points per game) and rushing defense (76 yards per game), and its pass defense is No. 19 in the country as well at 170 yards per game.
The eight turnovers Wisconsin has created are tied for the ninth-most in FBS college football, and the Badgers have only allowed three touchdowns to opponents this season, which is the 12th-fewest in America.
The Wisconsin defense hasn’t exactly been tested by a top-flight offense just yet, given that Washington State and New Mexico State rank No. 97 and No. 130 in total offense, respectively, and Illinois State wasn’t even an FBS opponent. But the sample size for each of those teams isn’t very large at this stage of the season.
Still, the Badgers face their stiffest challenge to date with the Buckeye offense, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in total yards per game after putting up 763 against Toledo – the second-most in program history.
Seven Badgers have an INT
We mentioned Wisconsin’s eight turnovers above, and all but one of those have come via interception through the first three games.
Seven different Badgers have an interception so far this season, and only one team in the country (Louisiana-Lafayette) has more picks than Wisconsin through the first three weeks of the season.
Wisconsin ranked eighth in the country with 16 picks a year ago, and it's already on pace to outdo that number in 2022. Fifth-year safety John Torchio, who was tied for the team lead with three INTs in 2021, returned his first interception of the year for a 100-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the season opener, and it was one of two on the day for the Badgers.
Wisconsin also had a pair of picks against Washington State, and the Badgers intercepted a season-high three passes during their 59-point rout of New Mexico State this past weekend.
C.J. Stroud has yet to throw an interception for the Buckeyes this season, but the Wisconsin secondary could change that this weekend, given its aptitude for taking the ball away from opposing offenses.
One of the B1G’s best backs
Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2021, defying all expectations with a monster 1,268-yard, 12-touchdown year on the ground as the third-leading rusher in the Big Ten.
Allen only started four games as a freshman, but the physical 6-foot-2 rusher is already off to a rock-solid start as the full-time feature back for the Badgers in year two. With 332 rushing yards and five touchdowns through three games, Allen’s 110.7 yards per game are 13th-best in the country, and only eight players in the country have taken more trips to the end zone.
Allen had 148 yards and two scores in the season opener, 110 total yards on 23 touches in Wisconsin’s loss and an 86-yard, three-touchdown showing against New Mexico State this past weekend.
Ohio State mostly had success in matchups with Jonathan Taylor in its past few meeting with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have another formidable running back with which to test the Buckeye front next weekend.
Hasn’t beaten the Bucks in 12 years
The Badgers have come up empty-handed against the Buckeyes in each of their past eight meetings, with a winless drought dating back more than a decade.
Three of the past five matchups between the two programs have been in the Big Ten Championship Game, where Ohio State outscored Wisconsin 120-42 combined in 2019, 2017 and 2014. It took a second-half comeback for the Buckeyes to get the win in the most recent meeting, but Ohio State still managed to come out on top by a two-touchdown margin three years ago.
Wisconsin hasn’t beaten Ohio State since Oct. 16, 2010, when Bret Bielema and company spoiled an otherwise unblemished season for Jim Tressel’s final Buckeye team with a 13-point victory in Madison.
In fact, Ohio State's won 12 of its past 13 games against the Badgers, who are just 18-61-5 in all-time meetings with the scarlet and gray. The Buckeyes are 16-point favorites entering game week against its first Big Ten opponent, but Wisconsin will look to snap its longstanding losing streak against Ohio State in Columbus.