Big Ten play has arrived.
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:30 P.M. – SATURDAY, SEPT. 24
Ohio State will begin its nine-game regular season slate of conference games tonight when it hosts Wisconsin under the lights in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes and their fans will be wearing black as the Buckeyes play their third home night game in four weeks, continuing an unprecedented stretch of September primetime games in the Shoe.
Saturday night’s game will be arguably the toughest test of the season to date for Ohio State; at a minimum, it will be the Buckeyes’ toughest test since their season opener against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes are favored to win by 19.5 points, but the Badgers’ running game and defense will put Ohio State’s toughness to the test.
What final thoughts and lingering questions are on our minds entering the Big Ten opener, and who are the players we’ll be watching for to be difference-makers tonight? We share all of that in our conference-opener edition of Last Call.
These Badgers are hard to read
About a month ago, the staff of Eleven Warriors ranked Ohio State's opponents one through 12 regarding which opponent has the best chance of beating OSU this season, with one being the hardest and 12 being the easiest.
I picked the Badgers as the Buckeyes' hardest opponent because I believed their defense could get enough stops to make things interesting, and the offense could chew up enough clock to limit Ohio State's possessions. Not that I thought they'd win since I did pick OSU to go undefeated after all, but a month later, I am feeling regret about my pick.
Wisconsin has since lost to Washington State and home and will likely face the Buckeyes without top cornerback Alexander Smith and starting safety Hunter Wohler, a recipe for disaster when facing Ohio State's vaunted receiving corps. Not to mention Graham Mertz still looks to be fairly pedestrian.
While I expect the Buckeyes to win this game by double digits, maybe the Badgers will still win the Big Ten West anyway unless Minnesota continues to play well or Iowa decides it wants to play offense in 2022. So Ohio State just might see Wisconsin again in December in Indianapolis.
– Garrick Hodge
Toughest conference opener in nine years
As daunting a task as opening last season on the road against Minnesota threatened to be for a young Buckeye team in 2021, Saturday’s Wisconsin matchup might actually be Ohio State’s stiffest competition in a Big Ten opener in nine years. The year the Buckeyes began conference action against the 23rd-ranked Badgers at home, and managed just a one-score win when the clocks hit zero. While the 2022 Badgers aren’t ranked, having suffered a Week 2 upset loss to Washington State, they very well could be by year’s end given their talent and consistent success year to year.
Ohio State is a three-score favorite against the Badgers, and deservedly so. But it’s no cupcake welcoming the Buckeyes to Big Ten competition this weekend.
– Griffin Strom
Will Ohio State unveil a three-linebacker package tonight?
While Ohio State experimented with a three-linebacker package during the offseason, the Buckeyes have yet to put three traditional linebackers (not including the Jack linebacker) on the field at the same time in any game yet this season. That said, the belief has always been that Jim Knowles would be more likely to deploy that package against teams like Wisconsin that regularly utilize multiple tight ends and/or fullbacks.
If the Buckeyes opt to utilize a 4-3 defensive package and put a Sam linebacker on the field against the Badgers, that could open up an opportunity for a backup linebacker like Palaie Gaoteote IV, Teradja Mitchell or Reid Carrico to see their first significant playing time of the season on defense. Another option for the Buckeyes could be to utilize Kourt Williams or Lathan Ransom in a hybrid safety/linebacker role, as Knowles said this preseason that those two safeties specifically “may be able to get the job done without bringing in another linebacker.”
– Dan Hope
Who will be Ohio State's bellcow against Wisconsin?
TreVeyon Henderson was dinged up against Toledo and left the game in the first half, which led to Miyan Williams, Dallan Hayden and TC Caffey splitting the carries the rest of the game. Surprisingly, Hayden led the Buckeye backfield in Week 3 with 17 carries for 108 yards and a score, while Williams added 10 carries for 77 yards and Caffey contributed 57 yards on six touches, including a 49-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Although Henderson's injury is not long-term and the Ohio State coaching staff expects him to play, I am intrigued about who will emerge as the lead ballcarrier from the backfield against a stout Wisconsin defensive front.
– Chase Brown
Players to Watch
This is the kind of game Eichenberg is built to thrive in. He was Ohio State’s best player in the season-opening win against Notre Dame (and has continued to play well since), and the Badgers are likely to have a run-heavy plan of attack like the Fighting Irish did.
Against the best running back Ohio State has faced yet this season in Braelon Allen, it may be even more important for Eichenberg to have a big game tonight. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t rise to the occasion.
– Dan Hope
On Thursday, Ryan Day expressed confidence that Ohio State's top wide receiver would be "full-go" for today's game against the Badgers. But after missing the Arkansas State game and playing only 23 snaps in Ohio State's win against Toledo the week after, it's fair to wonder how healthy that hamstring really is.
Hamstring injuries can be very tricky to navigate, and they can be reaggravated easily. If JSN isn't fully healthy, the good news is Ohio State still has plenty of playmakers. If he is, he's a game-breaking weapon capable of destroying a defense.
– Garrick Hodge
Just as Hall was picking up steam to start his second season as perhaps the foremost standout on the Buckeye defense, he suffered a setback in the form of an apparent upper-body injury against Arkansas State. Hall wasn’t listed as unavailable ahead of the Toledo matchup, but was held out as a precautionary measure. Jim Knowles indicated Hall should be good to go against Wisconsin, though, and his impact on the Badger run game could be huge for an Ohio State team that hopes to slow Braelon Allen and the UW ground attack on Saturday.
– Griffin Strom
Dan, Garrick, Griffin or I could put C.J. Stroud as a player to watch every week of the season, but I think a strong performance from Stroud – more than many other games this year – will be crucial for an Ohio State victory. As always, the Wisconsin defense is among the best in the nation, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will have a well-crafted scheme to keep Stroud on his toes. This is an opportunity for the redshirt sophomore quarterback to prove that even the best coaches in college football cannot contain him and therefore solidifying himself further as one of the best players at this level and one of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL draft.
– Chase Brown