Preview: Wisconsin at (3) Ohio State


The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) at vs the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0)

The time: 6:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

The TV coverage: ABC with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on the call, and Holly Rowe on the sideline.

The last time: Ohio State erased a 21-7 halftime deficit and beat Wisconsin 34-21 in the 2019 Big Ten championship.

The series: Ohio State leads 61-18-5

The line: Ohio State -19


1) Best offense in the country

The Badgers will face what many believe is the best offense in the country. It’s a group loaded with major talent in running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, a bevy of wide receivers led by Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, tight end Cade Stover and an offensive line filled with likely future NFL players.

But everything revolves around the play of quarterback CJ Stroud. A Heisman Trophy finalist last year, the redshirt sophomore has thrown for 941 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions so far this season, while completing 72.9 percent of his passes. How does Wisconsin try and slow him and the offense down? The only way is to get pressure. The Badgers can do it in a variety of ways, whether it’s Nick Herbig on the outside, Keeanu Benton up the middle or defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard dialing up blitzes from different levels.

Holding the Buckeyes down completely won’t happen but for Wisconsin to slow them the defense must get after Stroud, limit big plays, and not get overwhelmed by the environment.

2) Graham Mertz stepping up

Graham Mertz is playing the best sustained football of his career and he’ll need to keep it up to give Wisconsin a chance. The junior has thrown for 200 yards in three straight games for the first time and already has six touchdowns after throwing 10 all of last year. Ohio State will obviously be the stiffest challenge Mertz has faced to this point, though the Buckeyes have given up some long pass plays in the first three weeks, including against Toledo last week. Can Mertz and the passing game hit on some of their own big plays and take the pressure off having to have long, sustained drives to score?

3) In the trenches

In the past, Wisconsin would give itself a shot in these types of games by dominating the line of scrimmage, especially on offense. The big, powerful offensive line would move bodies, keeping the Badgers in manageable down and distance and drain the clock while keeping the opposing offense off the field. Does this Wisconsin offensive line have it in it to do that against the Buckeyes? In a 38-7 loss three years ago in Columbus, the Badgers had just 83 yards rushing, Jack Coan was sacked five times and lost a pair of fumbles. This time around, the line must protect Mertz, while giving Braelon Allen, Chez Mellusi, and Isaac Guerendo a little space to make some plays. If they dominate, the game could be must closer than many expect.

4) On the road

Wisconsin will hit the road for the first time this season and face its most daunting crowd since its last trip to Columbus in 2019. Not only will the Badgers be facing nearly 100,000 fans, but they will also be doing it at night after a full day for the crowd to “prepare.” Communication is critical in these situations and will be difficult for both sides of the ball. That’s specifically true for Mertz, whose previous experience starting in tough environments away from Madison came at Purdue and Minnesota last year. This will be on a different scale and a huge challenge for everyone in white.

5) Playing clean

For the Badgers to have any shot at pulling the major upset they’ll have to play a clean game. That means limiting mistakes like turnovers and penalties, while also avoiding major breakdowns on special teams. Wisconsin accomplished that last week against an overmatched New Mexico State team, but everyone saw what happened a week earlier in a disastrous loss against Washington State when 11 penalties, three turnovers and special teams’ blunders did the Badgers in.


Wisconsin is a 19-point underdog. It’s the biggest the Badgers have been an underdog since 1996 when they went to Ohio State and the Buckeyes were favored by 26.5. Wisconsin lost that game just 17-14. The Badgers have not won in Columbus since 2004, a stretch of five straight games. Overall, they haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2010.

Paul Chryst is 5-11 against ranked teams since 2018, including a 2-3 record last season. He’s 1-5 all-time against teams ranked in the top 5, with three of those losses coming to Ohio State. The lone win was against LSU to open the 2016 season.

Since defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard joined the program in 2016, the Badgers rank first in the country in yards allowed per game at 284.8. In the four matchups he’s been on the staff for against Ohio State, Wisconsin has allowed an average of 445.8 yards.


Zach Heilprin’s (2-1, 2-1 ATS) prediction: Ohio State 38, Wisconsin 13
Ebo’s (2-1, 2-1 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21
Nelson Raisbeck’s (2-1, 1-2 ATS) prediction: Ohio State 45, Wisconsin 21
RJ Brachman’s (2-1, 1-2 ATS) prediction: Ohio State 28, Wisconsin 17
Ben Kenney’s (2-1, 2-1 ATS) prediction: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 20