How can the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin? Three keys for Ohio State football's Big Ten opener

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio State Buckeyes enter Big Ten play this weekend when they host Wisconsin from the Big Ten West Division. The Buckeyes are coming off a 77-point performance against Toledo where Ohio State piled on the second-most yards of offense in program history.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin bounced back from a 17-14 loss in Week 2 to Washington State with a 66-7 win over New Mexico State.

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Ohio State saw stars Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming return against Toledo and received good news when star running back TreVeyon Henderson said he would be back soon for the Buckeyes.

So how can Ohio State beat the Badgers?

Here are three keys for No. 3 Ohio State against Wisconsin on Saturday:

Stuff Braelon Allen

Braelon Allen’s 829 yards after contact a year ago were the second-most in the Big Ten.

The focal point of Wisconsin’s offense is Allen, a bruising running back who broke out as a freshman last season. The challenge with bottling him up is his size at 6 feet 2 and 235 pounds, physical traits that have drawn comparisons to Ron Dayne, the Badgers’ former bulldozing rusher who won the Heisman Trophy two decades ago. Allen’s 829 yards after contact a year ago were the second-most in the Big Ten, according to data from Pro Football Focus. If Allen is contained, it’s tough to image Wisconsin putting up many points.

Continue the turnover party

The Buckeyes ended their two-week turnover drought by intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble in the second half against Toledo. There’s a chance that could continue against the Badgers. While quarterback Graham Mertz has shown signs of improvement to start this season, he was turnover-prone last fall. He threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) and lost four fumbles. Ohio State’s retooled defense under Jim Knowles has caused a lot of havoc in the backfield early on, pressure that could lead to some more takeaways.

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Miyan Williams (3) rushes upfield past Toledo Rockets linebacker Dyontae Johnson (2) during the first half of the NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

Replicate run success

Ohio State began its onslaught of points last week on the ground, success that opened up its passing game, but picking up rushing yards against Wisconsin won’t be as easy. Led by Keeanu Benton, a run-stuffing nose tackle, the Badgers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 consecutive games, a stretch that began in 2020. Three weeks into this season, their rush defense ranks No. 13 in the Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing 76 rushing yards per game.

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard talks with safety Scott Nelson (9) during their game Saturday, November 27, 2021 at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Minnesota beat Wisconsin 23-13.

Key matchup

Ryan Day vs. Jim Leonhard

Since Day first joined Ohio State as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017, the Buckeyes have torched Big Ten defenses, scoring 40 points or more at least once against 10 out of their 13 opponents in the conference. One of the three exceptions is Wisconsin. Jim Leonhard remains the architect of the Badgers’ defense, which has held the Buckeyes to an average of 33 points per game over their three meetings. Whichever shrewd play-caller gets the upper hand on Saturday will go a long way toward determining the result.

Key stat

18: Years since Wisconsin last defeated the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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