The Wisconsin defense will be tasked with containing an unstoppable Ohio State offense if the Badgers expect to defeat the No. 3 Buckeyes at Columbus on Saturday in the Big Ten opener for each.
While the Badgers (2-1) were dismantling New Mexico State 66-7 last Saturday, Ohio State (3-0) was having its way with Toledo, scoring touchdowns on its first seven possessions and 11 of 12 before running out the clock to mercifully end the 77-21 rout.
“Once we get the ball rolling it’s kind of hard to stop us, especially all the weapons we have and the way our defense has been playing,” Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka said. “I think we can go as far as we can take it with our offense.”
Ohio State racked up 763 total yards against Toledo, second-most in school history, with C.J. Stroud throwing for 367 yards and five touchdowns while completing 22 of 27 passes.
“He’s a heck of a quarterback, and I think they’ve got a lot of good players around him, and they do a great job of threatening and using the whole field,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said Monday. “A lot of respect for their coaches and what they do, and how they do it.”
Wisconsin, which fell out of the national rankings following a 17-14 home loss to Washington State in its second game, relies on one of the best defenses in the country.
The Badgers rank eighth in scoring defense (8.0 points per game) and 11th in total defense (246.0 yards per game). The Badgers have an interception in eight straight games, while linebacker Nick Herbig has four sacks.
However, top Badgers cornerback Alex Smith (hamstring) will miss a fourth consecutive game.
“You’re always paying attention to who’s doing well on defense and they’ve been consistently good,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said.
Ohio State can’t score if it doesn’t have the ball and the Badgers hope to win the possession battle.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has thrown for more than 200 yards in three straight games and Chryst is impressed by his development.
“He’s not trying to do it all on his own,” Chryst said. “He’s letting those around him help him, and that part has been good.”
The Wisconsin game plan includes handing the ball Braelon Allen. He has rushed for five touchdowns while averaging 110 yards per game this season but knows the Buckeyes’ defense presents his biggest challenge to date.
“Everybody is fast,” Allen said Monday. “It is a very fast defense. Very talented. Those guys are there for a reason.
“I think we just have to play our brand of football. Physical, downhill running. Just try to do what we do best.”
Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Hall did not play last week but is expected to be available. The same for running back TreVeyon Henderson, who left with an injury in the first quarter vs. Toledo.