The Wisconsin Badgers (2-2) collapsed on both fronts in an eye-opening loss to the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0) in their first road game of the 2022 season.
Following their biggest win of the year, in which their offense and defense clicked on all cylinders, the Badgers had no answers for C.J. Stroud and the Ohio State offense in the air. Wisconsin also struggled to contain the deadly one-two punch of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams on the ground.
Ohio State set the tone immediately, beginning with the ball and marching 88 yards on six plays for a quick touchdown drive that finished in under three minutes of game time.
On the opening drive, Stroud aired out the Wisconsin defense, completing all three of his passes for 18, 22 and 33 yards respectively. TreVeyon Henderson had a 10-yard rush of his own before Miyan Williams finished the drive with an easy two-yard punch for the score.
Wisconsin’s opening drive couldn’t have gone any worse, as quarterback Graham Mertz missed receiver Chimere Dike on a simple stick route from the slot in what seemed like a miscommunication.
Mertz’s pass was intercepted by safety Tanner McCallister, who ran 30 yards to the Wisconsin 16-yard line before being brought down. This set up an easy two-play, 16-yard second touchdown drive that ended in a Cade Stover 13-yard touchdown reception from Stroud. Ohio State was leading 14-0.
Despite Ohio State sporting a relatively inexperienced cornerback group, Wisconsin had no answers for the Buckeyes' defense, recording three-and-outs on each of their next two drives. Meanwhile, Stroud and company compiled two touchdown drives of 70 and 67 yards, respectively, bringing the score to a whopping 28-0.
During the first four touchdown drives for the Buckeyes, it was clear that Wisconsin’s personnel was outmatched by the Ohio State offense, which forced defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard to play safeties deep and linebackers to be less aggressive than normal.
As a result, the Buckeyes’ offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, consistently getting to the second level. This created a strong rushing attack that never cratered as the game continued.
To make matters worse, on top of the softer coverage, Wisconsin defenders consistently missed tackles, allowing for chunk plays that kept the Ohio State offense moving with no resistance.
After a 28-0 deficit, Wisconsin finally got on the board with a 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, which was primarily spearheaded by a broken coverage on 3rd & 9, resulting in a 26-yard Skyler Bell reception from Mertz. Mertz finished the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak to cut the lead to 28-7.
However, the drive wasn’t without bad news as tight end Clay Cundiff suffered a lower-body injury which required him to be carted off with what may be a potentially serious injury.
On the ensuing drive, Ohio State milked the clock, continually reverting to their run game (nine carries on 13 plays). But the Buckeyes only got a field goal out of the drive, as head coach Ryan Day elected to go for three points at the Wisconsin seven-yard line on fourth & two.
Following yet another three-and-out, Stroud threw a rare interception on a nice play from safety John Torchio, giving the Badgers prime field position at the Buckeyes’ 48-yard line.
However, Wisconsin couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, as Skyler Bell failed to haul in a deep pass from Graham Mertz on fourth & three that might’ve resulted in a potential touchdown.
To begin the second half, Wisconsin’s offense struggled once again, with Chimere Dike killing the potential of a first down by Braelon Allen by committing a holding penalty. The Badgers then punted after a Mertz incompletion on third and long.
Ohio State marched down on an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive capped by an easy 12-yard completion from Stroud to Julian Fleming for the score, increasing the lead to 38-7.
On the following two drives, Wisconsin continued their offensive woes, gaining just eight yards combined on two three-and-outs. Punter Andy Vujanovich made matters worse with inconsistent punts all night long.
Before the second of those punts, Wisconsin finally got a stop defensively, and in tougher field conditions too, as they forced an Ohio State punt on a drive that began at the Wisconsin 49-yard line.
However, the damage didn’t stop, as Stroud marched the Buckeyes’ offense on a quick four-play, 38-yard touchdown drive that finished in an Emeka Egbuka touchdown catch to increase the lead to 45-7.
With the game out of reach, Wisconsin changed course, heavily relying on star running back Braelon Allen to provide a spark, even out of wildcat formations at times. The Badgers compiled a 14-play, 80-yard, nearly eight-minute touchdown drive during which the true sophomore halfback ran nine times and threw one pass.
Following yet another Ohio State touchdown, bringing their point total to a whopping 52, Wisconsin followed the same formula but saw results at a much faster pace. Allen got behind the defense for a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play, albeit with the game definitively over by at that time.
To finish the game, Ohio State brought in their backups, killing the clock on a six-minute drive that resulted in a punt. Wisconsin’s Chez Mellusi rushed twice on the ensuing drive to end the game.
FINAL: Ohio State 52, Wisconsin 21
Wisconsin didn’t have a chance from the start, as they were clearly outmatched physically, while getting out-coached on both sides of the football.
Ohio State had its way in the running game, which had been one of the strongest elements of Wisconsin’s defense during the Jim Leonhard era. Both of their top options, TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, rushed for over 100 yards at a seven-yard-per-carry clip combined.
The Buckeyes’ offensive line truly dominated this game. They consistently reached the second level of the defense, simultaneously eliminating the Badgers’ vaunted defensive line and linebackers as threats on the ground.
In the passing game, Stroud’s arm clearly had Leonhard scared. The defensive coordinator often placed safeties nearly 15 yards past the line of scrimmage in two-high shells to limit explosive plays, essentially making them ineffective in the short game and rushing attack.
Additionally, it made the defense predictable when Leonhard would bring either of his safeties near the line of scrimmage, suggesting a potential safety blitz or extended pressure. Stroud and head coach Ryan Day continuously weeded this out with their playcalling and execution.
On the other side, Wisconsin began slow and never had a chance after Ohio State scored on each of its first five drives. The Badgers and slow starts have been an unsatisfying, yet consistent relationship to begin the season, and it hurt them again in Week 4.
The Badgers will continue Big Ten play in Week 5 when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini, and a familiar face in head coach Bret Bielema, at Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday.