The Badgers last won in Columbus in 2004, a losing streak of five games. And Ohio State is no stranger to playing in prime time, going 21-4 in night games since the start of the 2017 season. Here's a look at the keys to victory for both teams ... and a prediction for the final score.
Three keys for the Badgers
Make them patient: Ohio State’s explosiveness on offense is why it’s able to compete in College Football Playoff games and what separates it from the rest of the Big Ten. UW has to take that away.
The Buckeyes’ touchdown scoring drives average just more than six plays. UW’s best chance is if it can double that number. The more plays on a drive, the more chances for a hold, a dropped pass, a miscommunication, something that can put the Badgers defense in a good down-and-distance to get off the field. To accomplish this goal, the Badgers have to contain tailbacks TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, tackle well and avoid receivers getting behind them.
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Make blitzes count: The Badgers only blitzed their first three opponents on 18.1% of their plays, per PFF. That partially can be attributed to UW having a big lead in two of those three games, and Washington State’s offense not lending itself to being blitzed often.
Expect UW to send an extra rusher more frequently Saturday for a couple of reasons. First, inside linebacker Jordan Turner has created pressure when he rushes, and second, blitzes can create one-on-one matchups Nick Herbig, the Badgers’ best edge player. But when UW brings pressure, the Badgers must tally sacks or force incompletions — asking the secondary to cover too long on a play against OSU’s receiving corps is a recipe for disaster.
Find and block the Jack: Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ move from Oklahoma State to Ohio State was one of the most significant in college football this offseason. His job was laid out simply: Make the Buckeyes better on defense and help them win a national championship this season.
One of the special features of Knowles’ system is the use of a defensive end in a two-point stance at varying points of the defensive front. Jack Sawyer is the man playing that role this season, and the former five-star recruit is starting to find success after tallying five tackles with two for loss last week.
Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz and center Joe Tippmann must identify Sawyer and account for him in the blocking scheme each play.
Three keys for the Buckeyes
Heat Mertz up: Graham Mertz has played his best and most consistent football in the opening weeks of this season, and solid pass blocking by his offensive line has been a key component of that start. But Mertz still struggles to execute when he’s under pressure.
UW’s first three opponents got pressure on Mertz on just 20% of his dropbacks, according to PFF, and Mertz completed 3 of 7 passes for 23 yards, a touchdown and an interception on those plays. OSU has studs upfront like Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau who can get home without the aid of blitzing, but the Buckeyes might want to press the envelope early to see if they can rattle Mertz.
Take away Dike: Junior Chimere Dike is the most dependable option for Mertz, and the one he’s checking first on third downs. Mertz has done well this season spreading around the ball and not locking into Dike in every situation, but the Buckeyes should do what they can to make other, less-proven receivers make the plays the Badgers need.
OSU cornerback Denzel Burke hasn’t been quite as good as he was last season, but look for him to draw the assignment on Dike whenever the receiver is lined up on the outside.
Double-team Keeanu Benton: Keeanu Benton told reporters Monday that he views a game at Ohio State in his senior year as an opportunity to boost his draft stock. The nose tackle was one of the bright spots on UW’s defense the last time it faced the Buckeyes in the 2019 Big Ten title game, barreling through the line with little more than bull rushes as a true freshman. Benton, now older, wiser and better, has been the most disruptive Badgers defensive lineman with nine pressures, per PFF.
OSU should send two linemen at Benton every play until the Badgers’ edge rushers prove they can beat tackles Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones and force the Buckeyes out of that plan.
The Badgers’ toughest regular-season test also comes with the most difficult circumstances — on the road at the Horseshoe in primetime with 102,000-plus fans locked in on a themed night.
Ohio State sees the Badgers and most other opponents not named Michigan as speed bumps on the way to another Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff berth. UW didn’t do enough in its weak nonconference schedule to make anyone believe that it will win this game, but there might be just enough on both sides to keep it respectable.
Colten's pick: OSU 31, Badgers 14
The Badgers hit the road this week to play at Ohio State. Who do you like?— BadgerExtra (@BadgerExtra) September 20, 2022
Which years would Wisconsin football have made the playoffs if there always were 12 teams?
Good news for the Badgers
The College Football Playoff Board of Managers on Friday gave the University of Wisconsin program an easier path to the playoffs in future seasons.
The board’s decision to expand the playoff field from four to 12 gives the Badgers and others around the country hope to win a national title even if they don’t win their conference crown. The board voted for a 12-team model consisting of the six highest-ranked conference champions and six highest-ranked at-large teams. The expansion will take place in 2026, or possibly earlier if TV contracts and other considerations get ironed out sooner.
First-round games will be on campus sites, so Camp Randall Stadium potentially could host a playoff game this decade. Ohio State (four times), Michigan (once) and Michigan State (once) are the only Big Ten teams to have made the playoffs, and the 2016 Buckeyes were the only non-conference-champion from the Big Ten to represent the league in the playoffs.
The Badgers have been on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff before, but if the 12-team format existed in the past, UW would’ve made the tournament numerous times. Here are the five most recent times the Badgers would have been playoff-bound had 12 teams qualified for the playoffs.
Season resume: 11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten, tied for second in Big Ten
Why UW would get in: The Badgers were the fifth-highest-ranked team that wasn’t a conference champion. This selection process would’ve been difficult because it was before all the Power Five conferences had league title games.
What made the Badgers good: A strong offensive line anchored by Joe Thomas (72 above), an All-American and Outland Trophy winner at left tackle, helped an offense that featured tailback P.J. Hill (39 above) and tight end Travis Beckum. The defense allowed just 11 points per game in the regular season. However, the Badgers only played one AP-ranked team — No. 6 Michigan at The Big House — and it was their only loss.
Season resume: 11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten, conference co-champs with Michigan State and Ohio State
Why UW would get in: The Badgers were the highest-ranked team of the three Big Ten co-champs, sitting at No. 5 in the final BCS bowl standings and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl.
What made the Badgers good: A stellar backfield of Montee Ball, John Clay and James White led the way while quarterback Scott Tolzien completed 72.9% of his passes, a school record that still stands. J.J. Watt (above) had 21 tackles for loss en route to being an All-American. UW scored 43.3 points per game that regular season, including 83 against Indiana, the most in UW history.
Season resume: 11-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten, Big Ten champions
Why UW would get in: The Badgers were the sixth-highest ranked conference champion.
What made the Badgers good: Russell Wilson (above) put together the best season by a quarterback in program history, setting school records in passing yards, touchdowns and efficiency. Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon ran wild in the backfield and UW scored 44.1 points per game. Linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland tallied more than 140 tackles apiece. UW only lost heartbreaking shootouts to Michigan State and Ohio State.
Season resume: 12-1 overall, 9-1 Big Ten, conference runner-up
Why UW would get in: The Badgers were the second-highest-ranked team to not win a conference title. The Badgers had an undefeated regular season featuring two wins over ranked opponents, and their lone loss was a one-possession game against a one-loss Ohio State team.
What made the Badgers good: The emergence of freshman running back Jonathan Taylor (above) buoyed the offense and a veteran defense under first-year coordinator Jim Leonhard kept teams off balance. Only three opponents scored 20 or more points against UW, and the Badgers were 2-1 in those games. Taylor averaged about 6 yards per carry and quarterback Alex Hornibrook had 21 touchdown passes in the regular season.
Regular season resume: 10-3 overall, 7-3 Big Ten, conference runner-up
Why UW would get in: The Badgers were the third-highest-ranked team to not win a conference title. Two of the Badgers’ losses were to Ohio State, a team ranked first or second in each of the six CFP polls.
What made the Badgers good: A stellar defense posted four shutouts and Jonathan Taylor put together a second Doak Walker-award winning season. Linebackers Zack Baun (above) and Chris Orr became menaces to opposing quarterbacks, posting double-digit sacks each. The Badgers tallied ranked wins against Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota, the last of which clinched the Big Ten West division.