Ohio State Buckeyes: 5 things to know about the Wisconsin game, series

Ohio State’s third night game of the opening month of the season is on tap this weekend when Wisconsin comes to town.

The Badgers might present the Buckeyes’ toughest challenge yet, but Paul Chryst’s team will bring some question marks with it to Columbus.

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Here is an early look at the matchup and the series:

1. Wisconsin is a bit of an enigma.

This figured to be one of Ohio State’s toughest games of the season when the schedule was finalized, but that is in question at this point.

The Badgers easily beat overmatched Illinois State and New Mexico State, but those wins are sandwiched around a surprising home loss to Washington State.

The Cougars, who are 59th in SP+ team efficiency rankings this week, forced three turnovers and scored on all of them to pull off the upset of the Badgers, who started the season ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll, 12th in Phil Steele’s Power Poll and 10th in SP+.

2. How good is the Badgers defense?

Wisconsin has made a habit of having one of the top stop units in the Big Ten, but coordinator Jim Leonard’s unit was hit hard by graduation after last season when it finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense and against the run.

So far, they have only allowed 738 yards and 24 points in three games, but none of their opponents are expected to have much of an offense this season.

Linebacker Nick Herbig headlines the unit and has five tackles for loss, including four sacks. Lineman Keeanu Benton joins him as Badgers who made Pro Football Focus’ preseason players to watch list.

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3. The offensive line has some questions

This is an area of interest every week, but that is particularly true with Wisconsin.

The Badgers are used to having a great offensive line, but they didn’t last year when they finished 51st in Football Outsiders “Line Yards,” a measure of successful runs on each down. They particularly struggled in short-yardage, ranking 103rd.

Those numbers aren’t out yet for this season, but the O-line took some of the blame for the offense’s struggles against Washington State, leading to a juggling of the starting lineup last week.

4. The quarterback has shown some promise.

Graham Mertz was a lightning rod last season when the highly rated recruit struggled to move the offense, but he’s off to a solid start to this season.

His 190.0 QB rating ranks second only to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud in the Big Ten, and he is completing 71 percent of his passes (44 for 62) for 697 yards and six touchdowns. He threw an interception and lost a fumble against the Cougars, though.

Mertz can benefit from a strong one-two punch at running back, where 235-pound sophomore Braelon Allen is averaging 110.7 yards per game and 210-pound senior Chez Mellusi is adding 54.3 yards per game.

No go-to receiver has emerged yet from a group that includes Markus Allen, a redshirt freshman from Northmont High School who has caught four passes for 45 yards.

5. Ohio State leads the all-time series 61-18-5.

The Buckeyes have won eight in a row against the Badgers since a 31-18 upset in Madison in 2010.

That includes three victories in the Big Ten Championship Game, and two wins for Ryan Day as head coach (both in 2019).

The recent dominance follows a 10-game stretch in which Ohio State was just 5-5 against the Badgers.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Wisconsin at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ABC, 1410

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