Third-year offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. has long awaited the Big Ten battle against Wisconsin set for under the lights Saturday.
Attending Princeton High School in Cincinnati, Johnson said playing conference opponents “when it means more” was something that played a role in his recruitment.
“I felt like this is one of those games that I knew when I committed here was going to be a big one because they’re known for bigger, stronger guys,” Johnson said. “I feel like this is always a game I’ve looked forward to since I was in high school.”
No. 3 Ohio State (3-0) opens its Big Ten schedule against the Badgers (2-1) at Ohio Stadium in its first meeting with Wisconsin since the 2019 Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes defeated the Badgers twice in 2019, prevailing 34-21 from a halftime deficit in the conference championship after routing them 38-7 in Columbus in Week 9.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard returned for his sixth season at his post on Badgers’ coaching staff, guiding them to the No. 1 scoring and total defense in the Big Ten last season by allowing 16.2 points and 239.1 yards per game — over 30 yards less than the next closest conference foe.
Ohio State topped more than 432 yards of offense in its 2019 outings against Wisconsin, and third-year quarterback C.J. Stroud meets the Badgers for the first time in his career Saturday. Stroud said he began film study of Wisconsin Tuesday, and he’s looking for patterns in Leonhard’s defenses.
“I definitely think you can find tendencies in old defenses in previous years that we’ve played them and even previous years other teams have played them,” Stroud said. “Just try to see what I can find of the system of defense of how they run their defense and why they run their defense, so I can have a better understanding of what the plays we put in, and why they’re going to work and why they might not work in whatever situation.”
This season, the Badgers remain a top-five defense, allowing an average of eight points per game highlighted by a 38-0 shutout against Illinois State in the season opener. Junior outside linebacker Nick Herbig is second in the Big Ten with five tackles for loss, including four sacks.
Ohio State’s defense recorded its first defensive turnover in 2022 in Week 3 against Toledo when fourth-year safety Ronnie Hickman intercepted Rockets sophomore quarterback Dequan Finn early in the second half. Head coach Ryan Day said Big Ten teams often aim to “control the football,” and Wisconsin will be no different.
“Wisconsin’s a very good team and epitomizes everything the Big Ten is all about,” Day said. “They’re always well coached, they’re always sound, and they have very good talent, so this is going to be a big challenge.”
Ohio State is stepping up to challenges this season so far.
The Buckeyes overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit in the season opener against then-No. 5 Notre Dame, then pulled away 45-12 from Arkansas State after leading 17-9 with less than six minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Badgers beat New Mexico State 66-7 last Saturday behind 595 yards of offense, averaging nine yards per play led by sophomore running back Braelon Allen, who rushed for a game-high 86 yards and three touchdowns. Fourth-year linebacker Steele Chambers said Allen will test the Buckeye defense.
“He’s a really good player. He’s very elusive — a lot more than I was expecting,” Chambers said. “He’s really patient, and he’s just a big back. I mean, they got a whole staple over there, but it’s just a bigger challenge for us and we’re really excited for it.”
Wisconsin fell to Washington State 17-14 in Week 2, but the Badgers historically hang tough in games with their hard-nosed style of play, particularly at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“Any team can beat you, and you can beat any team,” Day said. “You can say that once or you can keep saying it till you’re blue in the face, but the guys have to listen, and they got to believe in you.”
Since the Big Ten conference moved to the divisional format in 2011, Ohio State and Wisconsin represent the two programs with the most divisional titles in that span with more than a dozen combined. Junior quarterback Graham Mertz leads the Badgers Saturday, and he’s completed 71 percent of his passes for 697 yards and six touchdowns under center so far this season.
Ohio State hasn’t lost to Wisconsin since 2010, but Day said the Buckeyes must stick to their preparation and they “got to go do it” Saturday.
“The challenge is that competitive stamina and can we do it week in and week out, so this will be a very, very good team,” Day said. “It’ll be the best quarterback we’ve seen. It’ll be the best running back we’ve seen and it’ll be a lot of the best we’ve seen so far.”
Ohio State and Wisconsin meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium, broadcast by ABC.