COLUMBUS — Wisconsin couldn’t stop Ohio State and got very little going offensively as the No. 3 Buckeyes steamrolled the Badgers 52-21 on Saturday night.
RB Braelon Allen
The game was out of reach by the time Allen got going but he did finish with a season-high 165 yards and a touchdown. That score came on a 75-yard run, his second-longest run of the year, topped only by his record-setting 96-yard touchdown in the opener against Illinois State. Wisconsin also unveiled its version of the wildcat with Allen serving as the quarterback. He had varied success with it but eventually got to use his throwing ability on a third-and-2 conversion for 10 yards to tight end Jack Eschenbach.
S John Torchio
He gets the call here because someone has to get it. Torchio made a diving interception of a CJ Stroud pass, the quarterback’s first of the year, just before the half. It set Wisconsin up with some good field position, though the offense was unable to take advantage. Torchio finished with seven tackles, the second most on the team.
What Went Wrong
Wisconsin couldn’t have had a worse start. The Buckeyes went right down the field on the opening drive, going 88 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead. The Badgers followed that with Graham Mertz throwing an interception on a ball intended for Chimere Dike, who wasn’t even looking for the ball.
“Just a little miscommunication,” Mertz said. “I’ll own that one. I can buy more time just to truly see how he’s coming out of (his break). It was just an option route. We’ve got to iron out those details a little more.”
Ohio State would be in the end zone two plays later for another touchdown. After a Wisconsin three-and-out, the Buckeyes would take just 3:24 to go 70 yards and another touchdown. The Badgers had some success on the next drive and had a fourth-and-2 near midfield. Instead of going for it, coach Paul Chryst tried to pin Ohio State deep by sending out the punting unit. It didn’t work, as Andy Vujnovich’s punt went just 23 yards. Only 3:21 later the Buckeyes went up 28-0 with 13:33 left in the first half and the game was essentially over.
“You can’t hide from what happened and you got to own it,” Chryst said. “And then you also got to own your response. I don’t think there is anyone that doesn’t own it. Like I said, I feel good with this group about the response. Now we got to go do it, but you can’t hide from this.”
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said this week that teams had made it too easy on Stroud this year and that they would have to challenge him. The Heisman Trophy candidate didn’t look challenged one bit, nor did the Ohio State offense in general.
“The whole defense, we were in positions all game to make plays and I just feel like we didn’t execute as a defense,” linebacker Nick Herbig said. “We had a solid plan going in, a lot of plays that we left on the table. But you got to hand it to them. They came to play tonight and they were the better team tonight.”
The Buckeyes did whatever they wanted to the tune of 52 points and 539 yards. It was the most points and yards given up by Wisconsin since the 2014 Big Ten title game when Ohio State had 59 points and 558 yards. It wasn’t just Stroud throwing five touchdowns — the most by an opposing QB since 2005 — the Buckeyes also ran it down the Badgers’ throats. Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson combined for 222 yards and averaged 6.9 yards per carry doing it. Both topped 100 yards, the first time Wisconsin has allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game since the 2012 Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make its offensive effort more pleasing to the eye but make no mistake the group was not good. Mertz went just 11-for-20 for 94 yards and that killer interception. Despite Ohio State missing two of its starting cornerbacks, the Badgers couldn’t take advantage down the field. Mertz’s passing yards were the second fewest in his 24 career starts. The offensive line, playing without starting tackles Jack Nelson and Riley Mahlman, failed to get much push in the run game. Outside of Allen’s 75-yard run against backups, Wisconsin averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
What They Said
Chryst was asked, with many fans being concerned with the direction of the program, what was his message to them:
“My message to our team is, yeah, we don’t want to be where we’re at right now, but we’ve got an opportunity to go forward. I care about our fans, but what I care most about is our team. I feel good about the group of guys that I get to be around and coach. I appreciate and feel good about the staff that I get to work with.
“I get people not being happy with where we’re at right now. They’re no more disappointed than I think anyone in the program is. But I also know we got to bounce back from this stuff. That’s part of it. We want to have a team that people are proud of but my biggest concern is getting our guys to play good football.”
Mertz on how they rebound from such a difficult loss:
“It’s kind of obvious. Fans, everybody feels pain after that. Who do you think feels that the most? And who do you think is going to use that as fuel the most? There’s no team that is going to respond the way we do this next week.”
About the only thing that didn’t go right for Ohio State on Saturday night
— Wisconsin tight end Clay Cundiff fractured his right leg late in the second quarter. He was eventually taken off the field on a cart. Cundiff missed the last month of last season after suffering a gruesome injury to his left leg.
— Wisconsin was without left tackle Jack Nelson due to an illness. He missed practice all week and Chryst said they knew Thursday they would not have him for sure. The team does believes he’ll return in time to play next week.
— After games, Wisconsin usually has as many as 10 players come to speak with reporters. But on Saturday only the three captains — Herbig, Keeanu Benton and Mertz — came to talk.
“Three seats for three captains are here,” Herbig said. “I mean, this is our idea. Come up here, being captains of this football team, you got to take full responsibility of this loss. I wouldn’t want to be with no other group of guys right now.”
— The Badgers dropped their Big Ten opener for a second straight season. They actually lost their first two conference games last year only to rebound and put themselves in position to win the Big Ten West before falling to Minnesota in the regular season finale.
“In the end, we just got to win games,” Mertz said. “I mean, everything that we want is still out there for us to get. These three (captains) up (here) are going to make sure that happens.”
Inside the Numbers
5-12 — That is Chryst’s record against top 25 teams since 2018. It includes a 1-6 record against top 5 teams, with four of those losses coming against Ohio State.
464.4 — That is how many yards the Badgers have given up to Ohio State on average in the five games with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard on staff. Against everyone else, Wisconsin allows just 284.8 yards, the fewest of any team in the country in that time.
31 — That was the margin of victory for Ohio State. It’s the same margin the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin by in the regular season in 2019. That Badgers team would rebound and make the Big Ten title game where they gave Ohio State a game before falling 34-21.
Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1) will welcome former coach Bret Bielema and Illinois (3-1, 0-1) to Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday with kick coming at 11 a.m.