Cade Stover’s emergence as one of Ohio State’s top offensive players is becoming more and more clear with each passing week.
Even after Stover had three catches of 30-plus yards between the Arkansas State and Toledo games, you’d be forgiven if you thought the tight end’s early-season production might be a fluke, considering the lack of targets Ohio State tight ends have notoriously seen in recent years.
On Saturday night against Wisconsin, however, the Buckeyes proved that Stover would continue to be a key target in the passing game, even in marquee games.
Having never scored a touchdown in an Ohio State uniform going into Saturday’s game, Stover scored two touchdowns in the first 12 minutes against the Badgers. The first came on a well-designed play by Ohio State’s coaches, as Stover got wide open on a delayed release off the line of scrimmage and C.J. Stroud found him while moving in the opposite direction, though Stover still had to somersault through a tackle to get across the goal line:
Later in the first quarter, Stover got open on another delayed release off of play action to catch a 2-yard touchdown pass.
“There's a lot of things that went into that. A lot of long nights went into something so small and so special like that for me, and I'm just really happy to help the team win,” Stover said when asked about scoring his first two touchdowns as a Buckeye.
Stover finished the game with four catches for 51 yards, making him the Buckeyes’ third-leaving receiver on the night after Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming. He showed toughness, too, leaving the game only briefly before returning after landing hard on the turf when he was upended on a pass breakup by Wisconsin safety Kamo’i Latu.
“It felt bad at first, I’m not gonna lie to you,” Stover said of taking that hit. “I’m feeling good now.”
All the way around, Ryan Day was thrilled by what he saw from Stover on Saturday night.
“I’m proud of what Cade is becoming for this offense,” Day said. “He deserves everything he's getting. He's earning it all. He's a weapon for us in the pass game. As you can see, he’s strong, and he’s powerful. But he's also getting after people in the run game and does a good job in protection. And he can do that. He can split out. He can come back into the backfield. He can line up as a tight end, he gets big in some of the bigger personnels and any time you have somebody that can do that, that's what the NFL’s looking for. That’s what we're all looking for, those versatile players that can do multiple things. And he’s shown he can do that, and he's become a weapon for us.”
Two Buckeye backs top 100
Neither TreVeyon Henderson nor Miyan Williams rushed for more than 100 yards in any of Ohio State’s first three games of the season, but that changed for both of them Saturday night.
Williams was the first of the Buckeye ballcarriers to hit triple digits against the Badgers, reaching 101 yards on what would be his 11th and final carry of the game late in the second quarter. Along the way, Williams scored a pair of 2- and 3-yard touchdowns and had two runs of longer than 20 yards.
Henderson, who returned to the starting lineup after leaving the Toledo game early, ran the ball 21 times and finished with a team-high 121 yards against Wisconsin.
In the process of leading the way for the Buckeyes to run for 258 yards against a Wisconsin defense that had allowed only 76 rushing yards per game before Saturday night, Williams and Henderson became the first pair of Buckeyes to both run for 100 yards in the same game since Trey Sermon and Justin Fields did so against Michigan State in 2020. They were the first pair of Ohio State running backs to both hit triple digits in the same game since J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague did so against Indiana in 2019.
It was the fourth time Henderson topped 100 rushing yards and the third time Williams topped 100 rushing yards in their respective Ohio State careers.
Both Buckeye running backs have consistently that they aren’t trying to compete with each other but instead trying to complement each other as a one-two punch in Ohio State’s backfield. And their combined performances against Wisconsin showed just how strong of a one-two punch they can be.
Day wants them to continue splitting the load all year long to keep both of them fresh throughout the season, and he felt like they did a great job of complementing each other against the Badgers.
“TreVeyon and Miyan both have been excellent,” Day said. “TreVeyon’s energy before the game was off the chart. You could just feel it. I mean, I felt it in warmups. I felt it in the locker room. I felt it coming out of the locker room. And then he ran that way. He just ran hard. He ran physical. He ran with energy. And so did Miyan. Miyan ran hard. So I think we’ve got something good going in that room.”
Day hopes JSN can return vs. Rutgers
While there wasn’t much to be concerned about with the Buckeyes’ on-field play against Wisconsin, one major question still lingering after Saturday night’s game is the health of wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who did not play for the second time in three weeks.
Although Smith-Njigba was healthy enough to play one week earlier against Toledo after sitting out the Arkansas State game, he didn’t even participate in pregame warmups with the Buckeyes before the most recent game, leaving reason to believe Smith-Njigba reaggravated the hamstring injury he initially suffered in the season opener against Notre Dame.
Day, who had said Thursday that he thought Smith-Njigba would be available to play against Wisconsin, said after Saturday’s game that the Buckeyes “decided to kind of shut him down for this game.” He did not get into specifics about why that decision was made but expressed hope that Smith-Njigba would be able to return to practice this upcoming week and play in next Saturday’s game against Rutgers. However, Day stopped short of saying he expected Smith-Njigba would be back next week.
“We’re gonna hope we'll kind of get him going on Tuesday and hopefully make some progress and get to see him play next week,” Day said.
As for starting cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown, who also both missed Saturday’s game due to injuries, Day said, “we're not expecting those to be long-term things.” Burke was seen with a cast on his hand during pregame warmups before he was ultimately ruled out for the game. At the same time, Brown did not participate in warmups after being listed as unavailable on the team’s pregame status report.