State Journal beat reporter Colten Bartholomew breaks down UW's matchup against the highly talented Buckeyes.
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
Jonathan Taylor (above) has 212 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the past two games for UW, but Michigan State and Illinois’ defenses didn’t allow him to break off many long runs. Taylor and the offensive line have their work cut out for them against Ohio State’s much-improved run defense. The Buckeyes allow 92.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks ninth in the FBS, and is down from 158.2 in 2018.
Jack Coan will need to continue his efficient passing, especially on third down, and avoid turnovers against a secondary that already has 10 interceptions. UW’s struggle to turn red-zone possessions into touchdowns cost it the game against Illinois, and could do so Saturday if it happens again.
Junior defensive end Chase Young is a threat to change the game on every snap for the Buckeyes. He has 9.5 sacks, which is tied for the most in the country, and he’s forced three fumbles. Linebacker Malik Harrison has been a force — his 37 tackles are tied for the team lead and he has 3.5 sacks as well.
EDGE | OHIO STATE
WHEN THE BUCKEYES HAVE THE BALL
Justin Fields has been everything the Buckeyes wanted through seven games. The redshirt freshman transfer from Georgia is in the Heisman Trophy race with 30 total touchdowns to his name this year. He’s completing 70.7 percent of his passes, averaging 213.1 yards per game, and carrying a 22:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Fields engineers a high-powered offense that ranks third in the FBS at 49.7 points per game. He’s spreading the ball to a number of targets — seven players have multiple receiving touchdowns — but Chris Olave (21 catches, 318 yards, six touchdowns) and K.J. Hill (29-294-4) have emerged as top targets. Junior running back J.K. Dobbins (above) is fourth in FBS with 947 yards.
UW’s defense was gashed by Illinois on big plays, some of which came on throws down the field and some were the result of missed tackles. Inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Chris Orr will be crucial in slowing Dobbins, and outside linebacker Zack Baun will need to get pressure on Fields, an elusive runner.
EDGE | OHIO STATE
Collin Larsh made three field goals against Illinois, the most in one game in his UW career, but also missed a 37-yard kick that proved to be costly. Danny Davis (above) has taken on more duties as a punt returner in the past two weeks, and he’s averaging 9.5 yards per return. Zach Hintze has negated opponents’ kick-return game with 40 touchbacks.
OSU punter Drue Chrisman has only been needed for 22 punts thus far, but 10 of them have gone for 50 or more yards and 11 have landed inside the 20. Kicker Blake Haubeil is 6 of 8 on field goals, including 3 of 3 on tries of 40 or more yards. OSU puts athletes like Hill on the field for punt returns, and he could break one if UW’s Anthony Lotti isn’t effective on his punts.
EDGE | OHIO STATE
Ryan Day was waiting in the wings as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator when Urban Meyer stepped down after last season. He’s put the offense into hyper-drive, and co-defensive coordinators b and Jeff Hafley have gotten the most out of an uber-talented unit.
UW’s Paul Chryst took heat this week for his Badgers succumbing to a trap game against the Fighting Illini, but a bounce-back against the Buckeyes would quiet that noise. The matchup between UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and Day is one to watch.
EDGE | PUSH
This matchup lost some of its nation-wide luster when UW fell last week. Still, the Badgers are the best opponent OSU has seen yet, and the Buckeyes have looked like the most complete team in the country during lopsided wins.
UW didn’t handle the swings of the game against Illinois, allowing two fourth-quarter turnovers to become the final 10 points its opponent needed for the upset. How well Jack Coan (above) and the offense handle a hostile crowd of 100,000-plus will be crucial.
EDGE | OHIO STATE
STATE JOURNAL PICK
Illinois’ offense is similar in style to Ohio State’s, but the Buckeyes have the luxury of running it with better athletes. Seeing the chunk plays UW allowed to the Fighting Illini make it tough to envision slowing down Fields and Co. enough to remain in the game. The Badgers’ ball-control offense could help in that regard, so long as clock-killing drives result in touchdowns.
BUCKEYES 28, BADGERS 10
THE NUMBER (UW)
15: Rushing touchdowns for Jonathan Taylor as he prepares for Ohio State’s defense, which has allowed just two rushing TDs.
THE NUMBER (OHIO STATE)
62: Points off turnovers for the Buckeyes, who have 15 takeaways. When its defense creates a turnover, Ohio State capitalizes.
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Third-down conversions: UW is sixth in the FBS with a 52 percent third-down conversion rate. OSU is third in the country in getting third-down stops, and allows just 25.9 percent of tries to convert.
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
Passing efficiency: Fields is fourth in the country at 190.2 passer efficiency rating.
Video: Badgers' Paul Chryst looks ahead to Ohio State
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