Despite loss, Badgers worthy opponent
Ohio State returned to Columbus early Saturday after doing what it had done all season — crushing its opponent.
The Buckeyes had every reason to expect their next opponent to do the same.
But less than 24 hours after Ohio State’s 52-3 rout at Northwestern, Wisconsin inexplicably and stunningly lost to Illinois 24-23.
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Goodbye to a matchup of top-six teams in the polls. Goodbye to a potential visit from ESPN’s GameDay crew, which instead will trek to South Dakota (though Fox will bring its version, including Urban Meyer, to Columbus).
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he watched the 30-point underdog Illini pull off the Big Ten’s biggest upset in terms of point spread since 1982 more as a fan than a coach. He said he didn’t have a rooting interest. Sure, Coach.
But defensive tackle Tommy Togiai acknowledged the truth.
“Probably everyone wanted them to come in undefeated,” he said.
"We can't worry about what this game means or doesn't mean (to the outside world)," Day said.
A loss as devastating as Wisconsin’s to Illinois can crush a team’s psyche or galvanize it. Day expects the latter from the Badgers (6-1), who fell from sixth to 13th in the polls.
“This is going to be as hard as it gets,” he said. “These guys are coming off a tough loss. They're going to be more hungry than ever coming in here. I read a few of the articles saying they have something to prove. It's going to take everything we have to win this thing.”
No. 3 Ohio State (7-0) is a two-touchdown favorite, the smallest point spread of the season for the Buckeyes. It’ll be a matchup of the two stingiest defenses in the country in terms of points allowed. Wisconsin has yielded only 7.6 points per game with four shutouts. Ohio State is second at 8.0.
Both offenses are star-studded. Ohio State has Heisman Trophy contender Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins. Wisconsin is led by running back Jonathan Taylor, arguably the best in the country.
“We know how good they are on both sides of the ball — all three phases,” Day said. “This is going to be our biggest challenge.”
All season, Buckeyes coaches have drummed into their players the importance of approaching each game like a one-game season. That has helped Ohio State avoid a letdown.
Wisconsin isn’t an opponent that requires artificial hype.
“Our guys, you could feel it (when) we all got together Sunday,” Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Greg Mattison said. “They all know this is as big as it gets right now. And there's great excitement.
“We have goals. Our players have worked extremely hard from the start of winter conditioning to this point. This is the next one, and we don't want anybody to take away from what they're trying to achieve. And so this is the next team. And they're a very good team.”