Football: Five takeaways from No. 3 Ohio State’s 52-21 win over Wisconsin

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Fireworks go off at Ohio Stadium as the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes run onto the field ahead of their 52-21 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 24. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

The Buckeyes began Big Ten play Saturday, and they did so without much issue against a Wisconsin team that consistently remains near the top of the conference.

No. 3 Ohio State fell in the opening coin toss for the first time this season, but they raced ahead, scoring on the first drive of the game and not allowing the Badgers a chance to catch up during its 52-21 win .

Third-year quarterback C.J. Stroud tossed five touchdowns for the second-straight game, passing former gunslingers Bobby Hoying and Joe Germaine and moving into third among Ohio State quarterbacks with 60 scores through the air.

Stroud’s performance contributed to Ohio State’s 539 yards of total offense, while the Buckeye defense held Wisconsin to 296 yards, which marked the third time they’ve held opppents under 300 through four games this season.

Here are five takeaways from the Buckeyes’ 52-21 victory over the Badgers.

Buckeyes are banged up

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles acknowledged the Buckeyes would enter the season with nicks and bruises at cornerback, and their depth was tested at the position Saturday.

Ohio State listed graduate cornerback Cameron Brown as unavailable , and second-year cornerback Denzel Burke wore a cast on his right hand, signifying he wouldn’t play either.

In their places, second-year JK Johnson and first-year Jyaire Brown made the first starts of their careers, combining for five tackles while the latter recorded a pass breakup. Brown was also flagged for a personal foul, but both he and Johnson helped limit Badgers junior quarterback Graham Mertz to 94 passing yards.

At wide receiver, third-year Jaxon Smith-Njigba missed his second game of the season as he continues to nurse a leg injury originally suffered against then-No. 5 Notre Dame in the season opener Sept. 3.

Second-year running back TreVeyon Henderson showed no limitations from a foot issue that held him to four carries against Toledo Sept. 17, leading the Buckeyes with 21 carries and 121 yards.

Defense taking steps toward meeting high standards

Before the season, head coach Ryan Day said he expected Ohio State’s defense to finish within the top-10 in college football.

Knowles upped the ante during the preseason, saying he wants a top-5 defense . The Buckeyes emerged from Week 4 at No. 18 in total defense among NCAA teams, averaging 238 yards allowed per game thus far.

Wisconsin accumulated 73 yards or fewer in each of the first three quarters Saturday, then totaled 123 yards in the fourth quarter largely thanks to a 75-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Braelon Allen.

Ohio State held opponents to under 300 yards of offense three times last season, and the Buckeyes have done so as many times through four games in 2022.

Graduate cornerback Tanner McCalister, who returned against the Badgers after missing the game against Toledo, snagged his first interception as a Buckeye on Mertz’s first pass attempt in the first quarter, setting up Ohio State to hold a 14-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game.

The Badgers rushed for 192 yards and amassed 104 through the air. Aside from Allen’s big run in the fourth quarter, Ohio State allowed just one rush for over 10 yards and three passing plays of 15 yards or more.

Fourth-year linebacker Tommy Eichenberg anchored the front seven behind 14 tackles, including two for loss. He helped limit Wisconsin to 5.3 yards per play, and the Buckeyes began conference play with a statement victory defensively.

Running backs remain ‘unselfish,’ achieve feat not done since 2020 season

Henderson and third-year running back Miyan Williams each eclipsed 100 rushing yards Saturday, becoming the first Buckeye duo to do so since former quarterback Justin Fields and running back Trey Sermon at Michigan State Dec. 5, 2020.

Williams capped the game’s opening drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown and later added a 3-yard score with 13:33 left in the second quarter.

Day said Henderson and Williams can each run “back and forth” thanks to their “unselfish” attitudes. First-year running back Dallan Hayden also earned eight carries for 31 yards Saturday, coming one week after running for 108 yards as well as a touchdown while crediting Henderson and Williams for helping him adjust to football at the college level.

Ohio State is third in the Big Ten behind an average of nearly 220 rushing yards per game, and its two leading rushers are No. 10 and 11 in the conference in total yards on the ground with 318 and 308 for Henderson and Williams, respectively.

Stover is not the typical Buckeye tight end — and that’s proven productive

Fourth-year tight end Cade Stover already entered the season atypically, joining the Buckeye offense after spending most of his Ohio State career at linebacker and defensive end.

Against Toledo in Week 3, Stover caught 83 yards across three receptions.

Stover found the end zone that eluded him through the first three games of the season against Wisconsin.

Two plays after McCalister’s interception, Stroud rolled to his left after receiving the snap in shotgun formation. He turned to his right where he threw to Stover, who caught the pass near the nine-yard line and leaned into a tackle attempt that sent him flipping into the end zone for the first touchdown of his Buckeye career.

Stover scored his second touchdown out of I-formation on Ohio State’s next drive, and finished with 51 receiving yards on four catches.

Day said he’s proud of the role Stover is undertaking in the Buckeye offense , which currently sees him third among Ohio State receivers with 188 receiving yards.

Stroud shows he’s human but still a Heisman candidate

With less than one minute remaining in the first half, Stroud overthrew second-year wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and Badgers senior safety John Torchio intercepted the ball.

It was Stroud’s first interception of the season, and among one of his few mistakes through the first four games of the campaign.

Wisconsin took over possession to no avail, gaining seven yards and being held to one of its four three-and-outs of the game.

Stroud seemingly shook off the miscue and fired 134 passing yards in the second half highlighted by three touchdowns. He completed a season-low 63 percent of his passes, but averaged 16.5 yards per completion, finding four receivers and helping three of them score a touchdown.

Stroud is tied with 16 passing touchdowns for most in college football, sits No. 12 with 1,222 passing yards and No. 20 with a 70.5 completion percentage so far this season. His 207.54 passing efficiency leads the Big Ten and is second in the NCAA, showing he’s in contention to be college football’s top quarterback after finishing No. 4 in Heisman Trophy voting a year ago.

Ohio State’s quarterback is much different than last season, as Stroud took over as starter in 2021 without having recorded a pass attempt at the college level. Through four games this season, he’s showcasing the strides he’s made that’ll not only help the Buckeyes vie for a spot in the Big Ten title game, but send himself back to New York City for a shot at college football’s highest honor in December.

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