This past weekend Wisconsin looked like a cohesive and dominant team with a 66-7 win over New Mexico State. . Meanwhile, Ohio State is coming off a dominating 77-21 victory over Toledo and comes into this game 3-0. What does Wisconsin need to come out of Columbus with a W?
Establish the run
Last week the line seemed to create space for anyone coming out of the backfield with a football. Three different backs not only found their way into the endzone, but they also averaged more than 5 yards a carry. Braelon Allen, Isaac Guerendo, and Chez Mellusi are a trifecta of Thunder, lightning, and more. If Wisconsin can utilize the trio again this week it’ll task Ohio State with stopping a three-headed monster all capable of making plays and scoring touchdowns.
However, the big boys up front have their work cut out for them. Mike Hall Jr. has been explosive for Ohio State this year racking up 7 tackles and 2 sacks early into the season. He’s a guy capable of blowing up the gaps. Not only that but Tommy Eichenberg is quick enough to rapidly read play calls and make adjustments before the ball is even snapped. If the Badgers can find ways to isolate those two and keep them contained, Wisconsin’s ground and pound should be strong enough to at least set up the passing game for Graham Mertz.
Capitalize on the play-action (throw the damn ball)
If Bobby Engram has been holding anything back this season, now’s the time to let it shine. While the run game will likely be the focus, Wisconsin will need to take some shots and push the ball downfield to attack the prevelant weakness of Ohio State. They’ve given up almost two hundred yards through the air per game so far this year. Including individual passing plays of 50 yards or more. When Wisconsin has taken to the air it's been explosive, ranking top ten in passing explosiveness, and it needs to continue here.
If Mertz is able to find that the defense will bite on a play action he could soon find himself with an opportunity to hit some big plays. Wisconsin has four different receivers who’ve reached the end zone through the air, and three of them have over one hundred yards receiving so far on the year. Wide receiver Chimere Dike, Skyler Bell, and tight end Clay Cundiff are all capable of creating space between defenders for Mertz to sling the ball into.
Even if it’s just helping with small gains, ensuring they are within striking distance of a first down could be the game changer. Wisconsin has one of the highest third-down conversion rates in college football. Let’s see if they carry that into the horseshoe of Columbus.
Find ways to confuse C.J. Stroud
The Badgers have one of the best defensive units in the country. The Wisconsin defense is currently sitting at 11th in total yards allowed, 19th in passing defense, 13th in rushing defense, and 8th in points allowed per game. They’re certainly capable of containing the Buckeyes. But C.J. Stroud is a potential Heisman candidate.
Yes, the Badgers have 7 interceptions including one for a touchdown, but Stroud hasn’t thrown any picks yet this season showing incredible efficiency with the football. It’s also going to be quite the task to shut down a 6’4, fast, and strong route runner like Marvin Harrison Jr. of the Buckeyes. Most of the Badger defenders are fast, athletic, and able to read routes and schemes fairly well. But you can’t make up for physical size sometimes, and most of Wisconsin’s defenders hover around 6 feet even.
If Wisconsin can force the Buckeyes to rely more on the run game versus attacking through the air they have at least slowed the game down enough so that Ohio State will be less likely to run away with it. The Badgers have a dominant force who’s able to rises to the task in Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig. They are both capable of taking command and keeping Ohio State guarded inside the box. If you’re thinking about the points Washington State put up just remember that a lot of those scoring opportunities were not necessarily created by the defense. Poor decision-making on 4th down and special teams played a big part.