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Wisconsin football defensive grades: Badgers give up most points ever in Jim Leonhard era

The Badgers’ defense had no chance against Ohio State’s multi-faceted offensive attack.

New Mexico State v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers suffered their biggest loss of the 2022 campaign in their most-anticipated matchup, falling 52-21 to the Ohio State Buckeyes on a Saturday Night matchup.

Here are the defensive grades for the Badgers in Week 4:

Defensive Line: C

Zero sacks. Zero tackles for loss. Zero quarterback hurries.

A stat sheet wasn’t necessary to tell that the Badgers’ defensive line got dominated at the line of scrimmage by the overpowering Ohio State front-five.

Going into this matchup, one of the biggest questions revolved around who would win in the trenches, especially in regards to this specific matchup, as the defensive line returned the only three starters from last year’s unit, including two captains in Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig.

However, the defensive line had minimal to no impact on this game, with Ryan Day’s playcalling utilizing the quick passing attack against Jim Leonhard’s conservative approach, which negated any potential of pressure and limited Wisconsin’s options as Ohio State jumped to a quick 28-0 lead on their first four drives.

The Ohio State rushing attack gained six yards per carry on significant volume, as they earned 258 yards on the ground on 43 attempts overall.

The Buckeyes’ two-headed monster of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams consistently got to the second level with help of the Ohio State offensive line, placing the offense in favorable situations all game long, keeping the Badgers’ defense guessing.

The Badgers will look to a bounce-back performance from their lead players on the defensive line in Rodas Johnson, Nick Herbig, Isaiah Mullens, and Keeanu Benton when they face off against Big 10 opponent Illinois for their second conference game of the season.

Linebackers: D+

This may be a bit harsher than expected, especially given Maema Njongmeta’s nine tackle performance, but the linebackers were consistently handled in both facets of Ohio State’s offensive approach in this game.

Last weekend, despite the 66-7 victory against New Mexico State, I wrote about Jordan Turner’s issues in zone coverage, as the linebacker consistently was a beat too late when picking up receivers streaking over the middle.

This week, similar issues emerged as Turner allowed a 22-yard catch and 33-yard catch immediately due to lapses in coverage.

Turner either arrives late in coverage on the play or misreads his depth over the middle of the field, which receivers and tight ends exploit to create open windows.

Additionally, both Turner and Njongmeta were consistently blocked by the Ohio State offensive lineman who reached the second level in the running game, providing rushing lanes for both of the opposing top backs.

When tackle opportunities arose, there were also a fair amount of missed tackles, leading to extra yards for the Buckeyes’ skill position players

After a fairly strong start for Njongmeta, this was a learning game for both of the first-time starters at linebackers, who will look to rebound against the Fighting Illini in Week 5.

Secondary: C

From the initial jump, it was evident that defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was playing conservative, as he looked to avoid allowing explosive plays over the top.

The strategy was somewhat understandable, given the lack of size with his defenders, as none of his cornerbacks are over six feet tall.

As a result, the Buckeyes were able to run at will, and busted coverages led to chunk plays that propelled Ohio State to an early 28-0 lead.

While Jay Shaw and Kamo’i Latu had a pass breakup each, C.J. Stroud diced the soft coverage up, throwing for five touchdown passes and 281 yards, although he was inaccurate on an interception to John Torchio, overthrowing a receiver near the end of the half.

Wisconsin only had two defensive penalties, but it was yet another personal foul penalty, as well as a Jay Shaw pass interference where his assignment got behind him for a potential big gain.

Finally, missed tackles haunted the secondary again as there were several miscues from the slot as running backs looked to bounce plays to the outside, leading to extended opportunities and a consistent rhythm for the Ohio State offense.