COLUMBUS – It quickly became clear Ohio State was better than Wisconsin. The only question was how much better.
No. 3 Ohio State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) dominated the Badgers 52-21 in its Big Ten football opener in what was supposed to be its biggest test so far this season.
It turned out to be not a whole lot different from OSU’s 77-21 win over Toledo a week earlier.
To say Ohio State came out strong at the beginning of the game would be a significant understatement of the damage the Buckeyes did early.
OSU led 21-0 after one quarter and was up 31-7 at halftime. It had 12 plays of 10 yards or more – eight passes and four runs – in the first quarter alone. It had eight first downs which required only one play in the first quarter.
Stroud hit hit first eight passes of the game. Miyan Williams had 101 yards rushing by halftime.
The Buckeyes did things Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) can only dream about doing. And they did the things Wisconsin usually does best much better than the Badgers did.
Ohio State looked like the best team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin looked like it might struggle to win the Big Ten’s West Division.
C.J. Stroud threw for 281 yards and five touchdowns. Emeka Egbuka caught 6 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Julian Fleming caught a touchdown pass for the second week in a row and tight end Cade Stover had two touchdown catches.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, a three-year starter, threw for only 94 yards against a Buckeyes defense that was missing two starting cornerbacks because of injuries.
Wisconsin has long been known for its physicality and its running game. But OSU was the team that dictated the action and had two 100-yard rushers in TreVeyon Henderson (21 carries for 121 yards) and Williams (11 carries for 101 yards).
“I think we’ve shown what we can do. Whether we do it every week, that’s on us. 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,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
“As good as this feels, as much as we want to celebrate it we can’t spend too much time patting ourselves on the back after it, which is hard because it was one heck of a win for us. There was a lot of good to go around in this game,” he said.
Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who had returned from an injury suffered in the season opener against Notre Dame last week against Toledo, did not play Saturday night.
“We decided to kind of shut him down for this game,” Day said. “We’ll kind of get him going on Tuesday and hopefully make some progress and get to see him play next week.”
Starting cornerbacks Cam Brown and Denzel Burke also sat out and were replaced by freshman Jyaire Brown and redshirt freshman Jakailin Johnson.
“We’re not expecting those things to be long term. But not having those guys and experience in there was a concern going into the game,” Day said about his veteran cornerbacks. “We told them (Brown and Johnson) before the game everybody on the team believed in them. They had no fear. They went out there and played and did a really good job.”
Ohio State had 539 yards total offense. Wisconsin had 296 total yards and 75 of those yards came on a touchdown run by Braelon Allen with seven minutes to play and OSU up 52-14.
Stroud hit his first eight passes but was 9 of his last 19. Day rejected the idea his quarterback had an off night and so did Stroud.
Day said, “I thought he was really good in a lot of spots. The touchdown pass to Emeka was off the charts. I thought some other balls were really good. I thought he played good and to throw five touchdown passes against Wisconsin is all right.”
Stroud said, “I’m never gonna play perfect. If people think I’m playing good, cool. If not, cool.”
Ohio State scored on the first series of the game when it went 88 yards in six plays, with the touchdown coming on a 2-yard run by Henderson.
Tanner McAlister’s interception ended Wisconsin’s first drive and set the Buckeyes’ up on the Badgers’ 16-yard line.
The lead quickly grew to 14-0 on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Stover, then to 21-0 when Stroud rolled out and connected with Stover again, this time on a 2-yard pass.
A 23-yard punt by Wisconsin’s Andy Vujnovich late in the first quarter gave OSU the ball at the Badgers’ 33-yard line.
A minute and a half into the second quarter Williams ended that possession with a 3-yard touchdown run to give Ohio State a 28-0 lead.
After a quarter and a half of futility, Wisconsin’s offense came up with a 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 28-7 on a 1-yard run by Mertz.
Noah Ruggles’ 25-yard field goal made it 31-7 at halftime. Ohio State had 328 yards of total offense in the first half and Wisconsin had 96.
In the third quarter, Stroud connected with Fleming for a 12-yard touchdown pass and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Egbuka to put OSU up 45-7.
In the fourth quarter, Stroud connected with Egbuka again, on a 32-yard touchdown pass, for OSU’s final score.