Ohio State football rolls, routs Wisconsin Badgers 52-21 in Big Ten opener
This was billed as a test of manhood for Ohio State.
Instead, it was men versus boys.
The No. 3 Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their first four drives while stifling Wisconsin's offense and rolled to a 52-21 victory Saturday night in front of 105,473 at Ohio Stadium.
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For a Buckeye team eager to prove its toughness, it was close to a perfect Big Ten opener. The Badgers' DNA is to play power football, but this was a mismatch from the start.
In taking a 28-0 lead, Ohio State (4-0) outgained Wisconsin 241-23. The Buckeyes played without injured starting cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Cam Brown on defense, but the Badgers (2-2) are not built to win through the air. Wisconsin did not try to exploit true freshman Jyaire Brown and redshirt freshman JK Johnson, who filled in.
Meanwhile, the absence of star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba because of a lingering hamstring issue affected the Buckeyes' offense not at all.
Quarterback C.J. Stroud was sharp at the start, and the offensive line continually opened gaping holes for running backs Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. Both running backs ran for more than 100 yards, with Henderson running for 121 yards in 21 carries and Williams 101 with two touchdowns in only 11 carries.
"This was a big-time game, and we wanted to start early and have fun," Stroud said. "We did that."
Wisconsin's star runner, Braelon Allen, gained a highly misleading 165 yards in 23 carries. He had only 36 yards at halftime, and 75 of his total came on a touchdown run against Buckeye backups in the fourth quarter.
Stroud finished 17 of 27 for 281 yards and five touchdowns.
The tone was set on the game's opening drive. Stroud completed passes to Marvin Harrison Jr. for 18 yards, Cade Stover for 22 and Emeka Egbuka for 33 to set up Williams' 2-yard touchdown run.
Ohio State safety Tanner McAlister intercepted Graham Mertz's first throw on Wisconsin's first possession and returned it 29 yards to the Badgers' 16.
Two plays later, Stover caught his first career touchdown pass, a 13-yarder on a nicely designed play in which Stroud rolled left and then threw to his right to the open tight end.
Stover scored his second touchdown on the next possession, following a three-and-out by OSU's defense. Henderson set up the score by gaining 26 yards on two carries to the Wisconsin 2.
To that point, Stroud was 8 for 8 for 126 yards.
Stroud finally threw an incompletion on the first play of Ohio State's next drive, which went 67 yards for another touchdown to make it 28-0. Williams did most of the heavy lifting, including a 21-yard run in which he bounced off several Badgers to set up his 3-yard scoring run.
At that point, the game resembled OSU's 59-0 bludgeoning of Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten championship.
But Wisconsin finally got its offense untracked for a 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, the only one of its first eight possessions to last more than five plays.
The Badgers then held Ohio State to a field goal on its next drive, and Stroud threw his first interception of the season on the following one when he overthrew Harrison and John Torchio picked it off.
Leading 31-7 at halftime, Ohio State went 72 yards for another touchdown, with Stroud and Julian Fleming connecting for a 31-yard gain and a 12-yard completion for the score.
Stroud's final two touchdowns to Egbuka, an 8-yard dart between two Badgers to make it 45-7 and then a 32-yarder.