COLUMBUS -- Ohio State leaned on its running game late against Notre Dame in the season opener because Ryan Day felt the Buckeyes needed to.
They did it Saturday night against Wisconsin because they could.
“I think you can see what this team is made of,” the head coach of the Buckeyes said after beating the Badgers 52-21 in a game that was set up to show just that. “I think we’ve shown in the first four games what we can do, what we’re capable of.
“The big challenge in college football, is you have to bring it every week and that’s the competitive stamina we’ve been talking about.”
“Competitive stamina” was Day’s preseason buzzword for a team looking to get back to the top of the mountain after stumbling late last season.
The Buckeyes were good at times, but not in the biggest moments in 2021.
Wisconsin won’t be the toughest test Ohio State faces this season — and neither was Notre Dame — but the Badgers presented an obstacle that bears some resemblance to the physical type of team Day says he wants the Buckeyes to be.
Day praised running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams for the mentality they brought into the season and showed again Saturday night.
Neither has had a heavy workload early in the season, but both have been productive at times.
And they both were against Wisconsin, as Henderson carried 21 times for 121 yards and Williams added 101 yards on 11 totes.
“When you have two guys that you can go back and forth, back and forth, who are unselfish, who understand what it means to be a team, that’s the key,” Day said. “If it starts to become ‘What are my carries? What are my touchdowns? What are my runs?’ then it doesn’t work. TreVeyon and Miyan both have been excellent.”
Henderson and Williams combined for more carries than C.J. Stroud threw passes (27), something that used to be commonplace for Ohio State but is no sure thing since Day took over in 2019.
The Wisconsin game also served as a litmus test for Day, who talked about wanting to have a balanced offense more than he put it into practice via play-calling a year ago.
After Stroud sliced up the Badgers secondary early, they often played two safeties deep to try to prevent the big play and invite Ohio State to run.
Unlike some games last year, Day accepted, and his team thrived as a result.
Next up is a Rutgers team that does not enjoy the recent history of success Wisconsin does, but head coach Greg Schiano (a former Ohio State defensive coordinator) is trying to rebuild the Scarlet Knights in a similar defense-first mold.
They are 3-1 after falling 27-10 to Iowa on Saturday night.
Whatever the physical test, Day knows the Buckeyes must be up to the task mentally after winning one of the games that was circled on the calendar before the season.
“Every single week you have to bring it,” Day said. “As good as this feels and as much as we want to celebrate this, we can’t spend too much time patting ourselves on the back after this thing, which is hard because it’s one heck of a win for us.
“To play like we did tonight, it was a lot of work. I’m very proud of our team. I’m proud of our players, proud of the way the defense came in and some of the guys stepped up. We saw a lot of good to go around in this game, but the tough thing is you don’t have too much time to talk about that. You have to be on to the next team. We’ll try to enjoy this the best we can tonight and a little bit tomorrow.”
Rutgers at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network, 1410