Consider Ohio State’s first major test of the season passed.
The third-ranked Buckeyes welcomed No. 13 Wisconsin to the Horseshoe on Saturday and came away with a convincing 38-7 victory on a rain-soaked afternoon in Columbus.
Things seemed to favor Wisconsin’s grind-it-out style of play early, but the Buckeyes proved they can play that way too. OSU’s defense was all over Wisconsin star running back Jonathan Taylor. And any time Jack Coan dropped back to pass, Chase Young was right in his face.
The ferocity of the OSU defense allowed Justin Fields and the offense — which was averaging 49.7 points per game entering Saturday — to shake off a slow start. The Buckeyes finally got on the board with a 49-yard Blake Haubeil field goal with 6:52 left in the first half. And after the defense forced Wisconsin to punt for a fifth straight drive, Fields led the offense right down the field and found Chris Olave for a 27-yard touchdown, giving OSU a 10-0 lead right before halftime.
But Wisconsin would make things interesting early in the second half. The Buckeyes quickly went three-and-out to start the half, and Wisconsin’s Alex Smith got a fingertip on the OSU punt. That gave the Badgers a short field, setting up a 26-yard Jack Coan touchdown pass to A.J. Taylor.
All of a sudden, Wisconsin — now trailing just 10-7 — seemed to have some momentum.
It wouldn’t last.
On the ensuing drive, Ohio State marched 75 yards in eight plays with the Fields-to-Olave connection leading the way. Stud running back J.K. Dobbins got in the mix, too, with a bruising 28-yard run. But it was Fields who finished the drive off with a 10-yard touchdown run to make it 17-7.
The next drive was all Dobbins. He racked up 46 yards on three runs, including a score from nine yards out to make it 24-7. That score — and a strip-sack from Young on Wisconsin’s next drive — pretty much put an end to any hopes that the Badgers could pull off an upset.
What does this mean for Ohio State?
This game proved Ohio State can win a different kind of game. Before Saturday, the Buckeyes have been able to do whatever they wanted offensively.
Wisconsin, by its nature, slows things down and makes you play an older brand of Big Ten football. That kind of game, coupled with the wet, cold weather, put the Buckeyes in an unfamiliar position early. The game was scoreless well into the second quarter, but the game changed with OSU’s first touchdown drive late in the second quarter.
Fields, after a slow start, was up for the challenge, completing 12-of-22 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. But it was Dobbins who proved to be the best offensive player on the field, finishing the afternoon with 163 yards and two scores on 20 carries. And while Dobbins gashed the Badgers for big gain after big gain, Young proved once again why he is the best player in college football and the potential No. 1 pick next year. Young finished the afternoon with four sacks, upping his total to an FBS-leading 13.5 on the year.
The Buckeyes are now a perfect 8-0 heading into a bye week with the home stretch of the regular season around the corner. But it will be a while before Ohio State is significantly challenged again.
Next on the schedule are Maryland at home and a trip to New Jersey to face last-place Rutgers. From there is where things get interesting. Another unbeaten, No. 6 Penn State, will make the trip to Columbus on Nov. 23 before closing out the regular season against rival Michigan — currently ranked No. 19 — in Ann Arbor.
Michigan already lost to Penn State, so the Nittany Lions are Ohio State’s main competition in its quest for another Big Ten title. If PSU gets through a tricky spot in East Lansing later Saturday, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will be on a collision course for what very well may be a Big Ten East title game — a game with major College Football Playoff implications — on Nov. 23.
What does this mean for Wisconsin?
Had the Badgers not been upset by Illinois a week ago, Wisconsin’s CFP hopes would still have some life. The Badgers still have their top Big Ten West competitors, No. 17 Minnesota and No. 20 Iowa, on the schedule.
But with two losses, Wisconsin’s sights will be lowered to the division crown — and there is no margin for error left with Minnesota likely moving to 8-0 against Maryland later Saturday and Iowa alongside Wisconsin at 6-2 (3-2 Big Ten) following a win over Northwestern.
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