Another week, another primetime tilt in the Shoe.
This week however, the stakes increase a bit as the No. 3 Buckeyes welcome Wisconsin to the Shoe, commencing Big Ten play.
Ryan Day's squad enters the contest as heavy 18.5 to 19-point favorites depending on the book and after last week's offensive explosion versus Toledo, it feels like the Badgers could be in trouble.
Wisconsin’s defense comes in giving up just 2.71 yards per carry though the Badgers haven’t faced much competition despite their 2-1 record. How successful will Ohio State be running the ball Saturday night? What kind of run/pass playcalling balance do you expect Ryan Day to deploy?
Dan: Day has had a tendency to rely heavily on the passing game in big games, but assuming he learned from what worked and what didn’t work in the Notre Dame game, I‘d expect Ohio State to try to establish the run early in this game. I don’t think running the ball will come easily against Wisconsin – and the Badgers are probably more vulnerable against the pass with their injuries in the secondary – but the Buckeyes are still going to have to have some success on the ground if they’re going to win this game comfortably. I’ll say the Buckeyes finish with about 175 rushing yards.
Ramzy: Are we really doing this? Wisconsin has been a carbon copy of itself since 1993. It’s the same deeply annoying team every year. Ohio State only loses to Wisconsin in Columbus when it is rebuilding, and this season Ohio State is not rebuilding. The Buckeyes will run and pass the ball to their liking from the 2nd quarter on, or as soon as Ryan Day has collected enough data to conclude that once again, Wisconsin is deeply annoying. The Badgers will likely try to run out the clock from the opening kickoff since they’re basically Sodium Nitrate Notre Dame, which will cause the Buckeyes to respond like the bullies they are.
Matt: The consensus among most people – myself included – is that Ryan Day is a pass-happy, air-it-out coach. Especially in big games. After doing a little research, it turns out Day is fairly balanced in his play-calling, but he typically runs the ball more than going to the air.
Against ranked opponents, Ohio State has snapped the ball 1,287 times on offense. Running plays were called 700 times (54.4%) and passing plays 587 (45.6%). Which falls right in line with Day’s overall average of a 55.7 to 44.3 run/pass split percentages.
Since 2019, the Buckeyes have faced ranked opponents 17 times and in only five of those games did Day throw the ball more than he ran it.
Those games? Oregon, Michigan and Utah last year, Alabama in the CFP National Championship and Clemson in the 2019 CFP semi-final game. That’s right, Day lost four of the five games in which he threw the ball more than he ran it against ranked opponents. The only losses of his career.
To answer the question, I think Ohio State will have some success on the ground, but more importantly I hope the team finishes with 41 running plays and 35 passing. That 55/45 split has resulted in favorable outcomes under Day’s watch.
Badgers tailback Braelon Allen enters Saturday’s contest averaging 110 rushing yards per game on 6.64 yards per carry. What will Jim Knowles have in store for the Badgers running game? Can the Buckeyes shut down the Badgers on the ground and make shaky quarterback Graham Mertz try to beat them with his arm?
Matt: I’d be surprised if Knowles deviates too much from what he’s been doing. The big plays against this year’s defense have been through the air and one quarterback’s legs. Last time I checked, Graham Mertz doesn’t run like Toledo’s Dequan Finn.
Based on history, yes Ohio State’s defense should be able to keep the Badgers in check on the ground. How many times have we seen a Wisconsin team face the Buckeyes with one of the nation’s best running games/running backs and finish the game well below the season average? I’m putting my money on Knowles and Ohio State’s history of shutting down prolific running teams.
Dan: If you include only runs by running backs, Ohio State has held opponents to only 48 rushing yards per game this season. Braelon Allen will certainly be the best running back Ohio State has faced so far this season, but the Buckeyes have a history of shutting down highly touted Wisconsin running backs in previous matchups. While Dequan Finn gave the Buckeyes some trouble as a running quarterback last week, Mertz offers less running threat than any quarterback Ohio State has faced so far this season. I like Ohio State’s chances of keeping Allen in check and forcing the Badgers to make plays through the air.
Ramzy: Wisconsin’s strongest opponent, Washington State, currently lives in the same SP+ neighborhood as Toledo. The other two are New Mexico State, ranked 130 - literally Michigan’s schedule of strength ranking - and Illinois State, which is FCS and unranked. So what I think you’re asking is if [generic Wisconsin running back who got fat against Wisconsin’s schedule] is a threat to the Ohio State defense. Sure, the same threat as all the previous ones. And is Knowles' strategy to force [generic Wisconsin quarterback whose only job is to not suck] to win the game? Of course it is. It’s the same strategy every time Wisconsin shows up, since there’s absolutely no reason to deviate from how to beat a team that never changes anything it does. We’re really doing a Wisconsin roundtable? Man I hope no one reads this.
With Ohio State’s non-conference regular season slate complete, what’s been the single most surprising player, thing or outcome through three games?
Ramzy: It's nice having an FBS-level defense again. I’ll go with Cade Stover for recency bias. Eight catches through three games, and looking like a giant sexy ballerina every time. Cade is lapping JSN in production, as everyone predicted.
Matt: The downhill nature of the defense and the linebacker play. I expected a better defense, but I’m pleasantly surprised at the speed it is playing against the run. Even though Eichenberg had a huge Rose Bowl, I didn’t believe he’d maintain that level of play through this season, but he has.
Dan: The underwhelming performance of Denzel Burke has been the biggest surprise to me. After his impressive freshman campaign, I thought he was in line to be one of the top cornerbacks in the country this season, yet he’s been arguably the Buckeyes’ worst defensive starter through the first three games. I still believe in Burke’s ability and think he will eventually shake out of his sophomore slump, but he’s looked more vulnerable than I expected so far this year, especially considering the Buckeyes haven’t yet faced anything better than a mediocre passing offense.
If you woke up tomorrow as the OSU AD, what’s the first thing you’d do to positively impact the game day fan experience inside Ohio Stadium?
Dan: I haven’t attended an Ohio State football game as a fan since 2014, so the other guys can answer this question better than me. Us media members in the press box do share WiFi with the fans, though, and I certainly share the fans’ frustration when the WiFi doesn‘t work as well as expected. Telling fans to put their phones down and just watch the game isn‘t a realistic expectation in 2022, so I’d certainly look for ways to improve the WiFi experience at the Shoe, though I recognize that’s probably easier said than done for a stadium that often hosts 105,000+ people.
Ramzy: First I’d roll over and tell Mrs. Smith I’m taking the day off and making us a nice picnic lunch. Chicken salad sandwiches on country loaf with tarragon, but no weird stuff. No excessive mayo or grapes - grapes! - or anything like that, since I’m Ohio State’s AD now and the university would never put a serial killer in charge of its athletic department. After I’m done taking PTO, I’m optimizing the Ohio Stadium food/beverage/bathroom experience, which is still unacceptably too slow for both profit maximization and consumer experience. I’m profit-driven. I’m customer-focused. It’s all about #value.
Entering/exiting the stadium is a hassle, especially in big games - but that's a hassle in any big stadium. Just need to get the concessions efficiency and peeing situation corrected. Now that wifi is blazing, you’ve got a connected and modern game day experience. Grapes are fine. They don’t belong in chicken salad. Panera, if you’re reading this: stop it. Also, you’re like hospital food but with minibar prices. Be better.
Matt: Strippers, cheap beer and free money. Seriously, I’d focus on the down time during tv timeouts. Leaning on smarter and more creative people than myself we’d come up with ideas to entertain and engage the fans during the multiple game breaks.
A possible option is to use the video board to show replays of the last drive, or show a live feed of another game of interest being played. Then again, cheaper beer might be a better option.
Ohio State is a sturdy 18-point favorite against the Badgers. Give us your final score and a guy not named C.J. Stroud you expect to have a major impact on the outcome.
Matt: C.J. Stroud might become the first Ohio State quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a game against Wisconsin, but since he’s off the table, I’ll go with Miyan Williams.
Why Williams? A Buckeye has rushed for over 100 yards in five consecutive games against the Badgers. With TreVeyon Henderson dinged up, it could be Williams’ day to run wild.
Since the 1990s, Bucky has given Ohio State trouble in Madison. Saturday’s game isn’t being played in Madison. Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 13.
Dan: I’ve got Ohio State winning 34-10. The Buckeyes are going to need Tommy Eichenberg to be at his best against Wisconsin’s rushing attack, and these are the kinds of games players like Eichenberg usually thrive in, so I’m expecting a big night from Ohio State’s middle linebacker.
Ramzy: Ohio State 45, Wisconsin 17. Eat a deep-fried cheese curd every time Tommy Eichenberg makes a tackle, but if you wear a ring you should take it off before the game starts or you’ll have to have it surgically removed. Those things are salty and bloating!