Ohio State vs. Wisconsin Notebook: Four Buckeye Starters Battle Injuries, Marvin Harrison Jr. Continues Building Heisman Case and Defense Makes A Key Goal-Line Stand

By Dan Hope and Andy Anders on October 29, 2023 at 6:00 am
Lathan Ransom being carted back to the locker room

Ohio State started Saturday’s game at Wisconsin with all but one of its starters healthy and in the lineup, but it didn’t end the game that way.

Initially, it appeared as though the Buckeyes would have all of their starters available against the Badgers, as none of their starters were included on the pregame injury report. But Emeka Egbuka didn’t end up playing even though he was not listed as out or even questionable.

“We decided to hold Emeka one more week,” Ryan Day said. “He was close, but we just made the decision to hold him. I do feel really confident we’ll get him back next week.”

Four other Ohio State starters suffered injuries over the course of the game.

Wide receiver Julian Fleming left the contest late in the first quarter after he was injured while attempting to catch an underthrown deep ball by Kyle McCord. Fleming would not return for the rest of the first half, but ended up reentering the game in the second half.

Defensive end JT Tuimoloau suffered a scare in the final minute of the second quarter when he took a shot to the side from the helmet of Jack Sawyer, his teammate. But Tuimoloau only ended up needing to leave the game for one play before returning to the field for Wisconsin’s half-ending field goal, and he would continue to play throughout the second half.

“It was a big scare,” Sawyer said. “JT is a huge part of this team, one of the best players in the country, so when he went down, everybody held their breath for a minute.”

The most serious injury of the night for a Buckeye appeared to happen in the fourth quarter when safety Lathan Ransom limped off the field with an apparent non-contact leg injury. Ransom was only putting pressure on one leg as he was helped into Ohio State’s medical tent, and the injury was significant enough that Ransom was carted back to the locker room. Ransom ultimately returned to the sideline for the end of the game, but did not return to action.

Day said after the game that he had not yet received an update on Ransom’s status.

“I'm not even sure exactly how it all shook out there,” Day said. “It was all kinds of chaotic.”

Perhaps most significantly, quarterback Kyle McCord also dealt with an ankle injury during Saturday night’s game, one substantial enough that he walked out of Camp Randall Stadium with a significant limp and with ice taped around the ankle.

That injury didn’t force McCord to miss any snaps, but it did seem to affect his play, particularly in terms of his mobility as he took four sacks, including two third-down intentional grounding penalties in the second half. That said, Day said he expects McCord to be “fine” going forward.

“I think it's like bumps and bruises and things like that, and I think something maybe happened in the game there and he was able to fight through it, which was great. So we'll get an evaluation, but I think he'll be fine,” Day said. “I don't think those things are in his way right now, but I thought he toughed it out at the end. Still hung in there, and when you do maybe have a couple tough plays, the easy thing to do is or what most people do is they start to get gunshy. But he didn't do that. He kept swinging, he kept pushing.”

All of those injuries played a part in Ohio State beating Wisconsin by only 14 points. But Day said the Buckeyes were determined not to let them derail the night.

“You're not allowed to think like that,” Day said. “And certainly, there's a difference between hurt and injured. But our guys, man, they battled. And you saw a bunch of guys just fighting at the end, they didn't want to come out of the game.”

“Our guys, man, they battled.”– Ryan Day on Buckeyes Playing through injuries

Marv continues building Heisman case

By catching six passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin, Marvin Harrison Jr. continued making his case that he needs to at least be firmly in the conversation for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

Harrison has now topped 100 yards in six of Ohio State’s last seven games, bringing him to 13 100-yard games for his Ohio State career, just one shy of David Boston’s school record. His four consecutive 100-yard games leave him just one triple-digit game shy of the school record of five 100-yard games in a row held jointly by Cris Carter and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

For the season as a whole, Harrison has now caught 48 passes for 889 yards and eight touchdowns through eight games. For his career, Harrison has now caught 136 passes for 2,291 yards and 25 touchdowns – moving him to 11th in school history in receptions, ninth in school history in receiving yards and tied for fifth in school history in touchdown catches.

Harrison is also now tied for the third-most multi-touchdown games ever for an Ohio State receiver with seven, behind only Chris Olave and David Boston, who each had 11.

After the game, Day wasn’t shy about making the Heisman argument for his star wideout.

“I believe he’s the best football player in the country,” Day said. “He's a dynamic player, and he keeps bringing it every week. Consistency is starting to show more and more week in and week out, just the playmaking ability.”

Harrison scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter when he took a crossing route to the end zone for a 16-yard score. His second touchdown came on perhaps his best catch of the season to date as he somehow got one foot down on the right side of the end zone while making a jump-ball grab over Wisconsin cornerback Nyzier Fourqurean for a 19-yard score.

“What a catch he made down there, my goodness. For him to get a foot in bounds and hang on to it, I was like ‘Man, that's gonna be hard,’” Day said. “Just an unbelievable catch.”

“I believe he’s the best football player in the country.”– Ryan Day on Marvin Harrison Jr.

Defense makes key goal-line stand

One of the biggest sequences for Ohio State momentum-wise on Saturday came in the final minute of the first half.

Wisconsin got the ball on its own 48-yard line following an interception by cornerback Ricardo Hallman and drove 51 yards in nine plays to land on the Buckeyes’ 1-yard line.

Wide receiver Skyler Bell caught a quick screen pass just behind the line of scrimmage and strode easily into the end zone, or so it was thought by almost everyone in the stadium. Upon video review, it turned out that Bell’s knee was down as he caught the football, setting up 2nd-and-goal at the 1-yard line. That proved to be a difficult yard for the Badgers to obtain.

“We always say, give us an inch and we’ll defend it,” defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “That’s kind of just our motto. So it felt really good to be able to hold strong, force them to a field goal at the end of the half. That was really big for us.”

Sawyer made the stop on Wisconsin’s 2nd-and-goal play, stuffing star running back Braelon Allen for no gain. Then Tommy Eichenberg sniffed out a shovel pass to Allen and stonewalled him for no gain again.

“It was excellent,” Day said of the goal line stand. “Not giving up an inch with the ball on the 1-yard line. Just keep fighting, keep swinging and keep playing tough. The play Tommy made on the shovel was huge.”

“We always say, give us an inch and we’ll defend it.”– Jack Sawyer on Ohio State’s goal-line stand

Hancock starts at nickel, Styles moves to safety

Ohio State made one notable change to its defensive lineup against Wisconsin. While Sonny Styles had started the Buckeyes’ first seven games of the year at nickel safety, Jordan Hancock started in the slot and played nearly every snap of the game in that spot.

The move came after Hancock excelled in his first start of the season against Penn State while playing both cornerback and nickel with Denzel Burke sidelined. With Burke back in action against Wisconsin, Hancock played exclusively in the slot vs. the Badgers and recorded four tackles with a sack and a forced fumble.

Styles still saw some playing time against Wisconsin, but not in the role he played for the first seven games of the year. Most of his playing time came in the fourth quarter after Ransom left the game, as Styles took Ransom’s place in the lineup for the remainder of the contest, though Styles also took Josh Proctor’s place at free safety for one series prior to Ransom’s injury. 

Ohio State also introduced a new package against Wisconsin in which Styles entered the game as a deep safety while Cameron Martinez – who had not played in any of Ohio State’s previous four games – checked in as a fourth cornerback. Hancock said the Buckeyes utilized that package because the Badgers utilized more four-receiver looks than their previous opponents had this season.

“All credit to Coach Knowles, he gave the quarterback a lot of different looks,” Hancock said. “We had to respond well to their personnel, because we haven't seen sometimes their personnel, maybe four receivers on the field. So I feel like our defense responded well to that.”

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