If the Big Ten showdown between No. 13 Wisconsin and third-ranked Ohio State on Saturday seems to have lost some of its luster, blame Illinois.
What would have been a top-six matchup was derailed last Saturday when the Illini, 30-point underdogs, shocked Wisconsin 24-23.
“They’re going to be more hungry than ever coming in,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said of the matchup at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
Quickly, the storyline changed from the winner of his matchup having the inside track to a College Football Playoff berth to a question of whether the Badgers can rebound against a team with the best average margin of victory in the nation (41.7 points).
Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten East) is the first conference team to start a season with seven consecutive wins by at least 20 points since 1973, when the Buckeyes opened with nine such wins.
“How do you want to be defined as a team?” Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor said. “When you’re winning, you have everybody on your side, everything is going well. Do you want to be defined as a team that lost and the season went downhill?
“Let that sting fuel you. Don’t let it tank the season.”
Wisconsin (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten West) might have been looking past Illinois, but no one accused the Buckeyes of doing the same when they went on the road Friday to dismantle Northwestern, 52-3.
Despite the Badgers’ loss, they’ll present the sternest challenge yet for Ohio State to date on both sides of the ball.
Taylor, third nationally in rushing with 136.7 yards per game, will challenge the No. 9 rush defense (92.7). Ohio State will counter with J.K Dobbins, averaging 135.3 yards a game, versus the country’s top rush defense (58.4).
The Badgers are first in scoring defense (7.6 points) and total defense (193.9 yards), while the Buckeyes are second in each category (8.0, 229.0) while offensively ranking No. 3 in scoring (49.7).
“I think it’s always a good benchmark to figure out where you’re at,” Day said. “(Wisconsin) is the No. 1 defense in the country, and we consider ourselves one of the best offenses in the country.”
Ball control may be a key for the Badgers, who are ranked first with 38:02 of possession per game. They want to keep Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields on the sideline.
The sophomore transfer from Georgia has 22 touchdown passes against one interception and has also rushed for eight TDs. He is fourth nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 190.2.
“He can hurt you in a number of different ways,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “Very good passer, and a good runner.”
Wisconsin will try to jump on the Buckeyes, who have scored seven points or fewer in the first quarter in five games.
Day joked that his wife, Nina, told him after the game, “Tough first quarter,” even though the Buckeyes scored four minutes into it.
“The standard’s pretty high around here,” he said.
OSU has outscored opponents 158-20 in the second quarter and led at the half by an average of 28.6 points.
–Field Level Media