COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Though Ohio State’s matchup with Wisconsin this week is no longer a showdown of unbeaten top-10 teams, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day says that doesn’t change a thing.
The Badgers (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) suffered a shocking 24-23 loss to Illinois last Saturday after being favored by more than 30 points. The setback dropped Wisconsin to No. 13 and took the sheen off what would have been one the nation’s top games this week.
Day said the Badgers’ loss doesn’t make them any less skilled and dangerous or make the matchup any less intriguing. And the No. 3 Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0) won’t be preparing any differently for a clash of the nation’s two best defenses.
“They’ve got great players on each side of the ball, NFL players,” Day said. “Last week, it is what it is. It’s college football. You have to bring it every week. It’s the same thing with us. We have to bring it this week. It has to be our best game of the year.”
The Buckeyes will have to work to top what they’ve done already.
Ohio State has outscored seven opponents by a total of 348-56. That’s an average margin of almost 42 points. It is the first team since 1973 to start a season with seven wins by 20 points or more.
Quarterback Justin Fields is in the top 5 nationally in touchdown passes and has accounted for 30 touchdowns, second in the nation behind LSU’s Joe Burrow.
Tailback J.K. Dobbins is fourth nationally with 947 yards — 10 fewer than Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor became the fourth FBS player to reach the 5,000-yard rushing mark in his first three seasons. But he and the other Wisconsin runners struggled in critical situations last week. He had a fumble late in the game that killed a Badgers’ drive at the Illinois 19.
“They’re resilient,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said of his team. “And we have to turn the page fast.”
Wisconsin and Ohio State enter the game with the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses in the nation, respectively. Both are allowing under 4 yards per play and 10 points per game.
The Badgers had come into last Saturday’s contest with four shutouts, having allowed a total of four touchdowns and 29 points in six games. They had beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 86-0.
“I feel like we didn’t have the fire we had in previous games going in,” linebacker Zack Baun acknowledged.
Day and his team know what it’s like to slip up. Inexplicable losses to unranked Purdue last season and to Iowa in 2017 kept the Buckeyes on the outside looking in when the playoffs came around.
“You cannot let one get away,” Day said. “And this is going to be as hard as it gets. These guys are coming off a tough loss, they’re going to be more hungry coming in here.”
WHAT TO WATCH
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The nation’s top two defenses will be charged with stopping two of the nation’s best running backs.
Wisconsin’s top-ranked defense has given up just 2.18 rushing yards per carry, and Ohio State’s second-ranked unit 2.56.
Ohio State tailback J.K. Dobbins ranks fourth nationally with 947 yards — 10 fewer than Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor. Dobbins averages more than 7 yards a carry and Taylor a little over 6 yards, so something will have to give.
“It’s like him and his offense versus our defense, and me and our offense versus him and his defense,” Taylor said. “It’s a factor of who’s going to make some plays. The biggest thing that you understand is that we’re both competitors. You see him make a big play, and you want to make a big play. You see me make a big play, and he wants to make a big play. That’s the type of competitors that we are, so it’s going to be fun.”
Both quarterbacks likely will be running for their lives at times.
Ohio State is tied for second nationally with 29 sacks, and monster defensive end Chase Young is tied for most in the nation individually with 9.5.
Wisconsin has 27, with fine linebackers Chris Orr and Zack Baun accounting for a combined 14.5.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, amid his gaudy numbers and ground-game heroics, tends to give up sacks at times when he waits just a tick too long to try to make a play. But mostly he makes good decisions and few mistakes.
“He is very athletic,” Baun said. “He can make every throw on the field. He’s good at escaping the pocket and making plays.”
HE SAID IT
Taylor was asked how Wisconsin fans are supposed to react to the devastating Illinois loss: “Really, I would just have to tell them you should go look up the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 football schedule and you’ll see some more games listed there,” he said.
Day said this week that injured LB Baron Browning, who did not make the trip to Northwestern, is “looking good.” OT Josh Alabi is out, and DE Jonathan Cooper and WR Austin Mack are game-time decisions. Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal and FB Mason Stokke are questionable with concussion-related injuries.
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