Badgers no match for No. 3 Ohio State, which moves the ball at will and smothers UW's offense from the opening minute

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The gap between Ohio State and Wisconsin remains yawning.

How wide?

The widest point of the Grand Canyon is 18 miles. Now double that and you begin to appreciate how thoroughly the third-ranked Buckeyes whipped UW Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

Ohio State moved the ball at will on the ground and through the air and scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and UW’s offense started woefully and was smothered for most of the night.

The result: Ohio State outclassed UW, 52-21, in front of a delirious crowd of 105,473.

"We got beat," UW coach Paul Chryst said. "We didn't get off to a good start...

"You can't hide from what happened. Right? You've got to own it and you've also got to own your response."

By the time Saturday’s mauling was over, the Buckeyes (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) appeared to be the best team in the Big Ten.

The Badgers? At 0-1 in the league and 2-2 overall they don’t appear to be the best team in the West Division.

That honor belongs to Minnesota (4-0, 1-0), which manhandled host Michigan State, 34-7, earlier Saturday.

Only three UW players came out for interviews after the 31-point loss. They were: captains Nick Herbig, Keeanu Benton and Graham Mertz.

"This is our idea to come up here," Herbig said. "Being captains of this football team, you've got to take full responsibility for this loss."

UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard before the game saluted the playmakers on Ohio State’s offense and the work of the Buckeyes’ staff in developing talent.

That talent was on display Saturday night.

Sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud came in completing 72.9% of his passes for an average of 313.7 yards per game, with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover scores a touchdown after being upended by Badgers cornerback Jay Shaw during the first quarter Saturday night.
Ohio State tight end Cade Stover scores a touchdown after being upended by Badgers cornerback Jay Shaw during the first quarter Saturday night.

Stroud completed his first eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns as the Buckeyes built a 21-0 lead with 3 minutes 55 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Stroud finished 17 of 27  for 281 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. He threw his first interception, on his 100th attempt of the season, but otherwise was fabulous.

The Buckeyes came in averaging 565.3 yards and 47.7 points per game. They finished the first half with 328 yards – 181 rushing and 147 passing – and a 31-7 lead.

Remember that Leonhard’s unit entered the night allowing 8.0 points and 246.0 yards per game.

"I don't know if it was necessarily communication issues," Chryst said of the defensive issues. "We had one (play) where we were in man (coverage) and we were so far off.

"A couple of those crossers they hit early, you'd like to have a little more depth from your linebacker."

Leonhard generally played a 2-4-5 scheme and the Buckeyes gave Stroud adequate time to look for open receivers and opened gaping lanes for hard-hitting tailbacks.

Tailbacks Miyan Williams (11 carries, 101 yards, two TDs) and TreVeyon Henderson (12-78) tore through UW’s defense in the first two quarters.

Henderson finished with 121 yards on 21 carries. Williams did not carry the ball after halftime.

The Buckeyes' offense generated 17 plays of at least 10 yards – 12 passes and five runs – in building a 45-7 lead and finished with 19 plays of at least 10 yards. That included 14 pass plays.

With starting tackles Riley Mahlman (leg) and Jack Nelson (illness) out, Bob Bostad had to reconfigure UW’s No. 1 offensive line.

Logan Brown started at left tackle in place of Nelson, Tyler Beach at left guard, Joe Tippmann at center, Tanor Bortolini at right guard and Trey Wedig at right tackle.

Bortolini and Wedig played well one week earlier against New Mexico State, after replacing Michael Furtney and Brown, respectively.

Quarterback Graham Mertz, who entered the night completing 71.0% of his passes for an average of 232.3 yards per game, threw an interception on his first attempt and rarely looked comfortable.

He finished the first half 6 of 12 for 49 yards, with the interception and one rushing touchdown. His final totals were: 11 of 20 for 94 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

The Buckeyes bottled up UW’s running game for most of the night.

Braelon Allen finished with 165 yards on 23 carries. The bulk of his yardage came on a 75-yard touchdown run with 7:11 left.

Ohio State’s offense was sharp from the opening series as Stroud drove the Buckeyes 88 yards in just six plays for a 7-0 lead just 2:47 into the game.

Stroud hit 3 of 3 passes for 73 yards and Williams capped the drive with a 2-yard run.

UW committed the first costly mistake when Mertz threw behind Chimere Dike on the fifth play of the possession. Safety Tanner McCalister made an easy interception and gained 30 yards to the UW 16.

"Just a little miscommunication," Mertz said. "I'll own that one. I can buy a little more time and truly see how he is coming out of it. It was an option route. We've got to iron out those details."

Two plays later, Stroud rolled left and threw back right to tight end Cade Stover for a 13-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead just 6:06 into the game.

The Badgers went three and out on their next possession, with Mertz overthrowing Keontez Lewis on a deep route on third and 8.

To that point, both offenses had run eight plays. UW gained 14 yards; the Buckeyes gained 104.

Stroud went 4 for 4 for 40 yards and a touchdown on the Buckeyes’ third possession, a seven-play, 70-yard march.

Ohio State’s lead after one quarter was 21-0 and UW fans had to be thinking back to the 59-0 defeat the Badgers suffered at the hands of the Buckeyes in the 2014 Big Ten title game.

That was the last game for head coach Gary Andersen, who left for Oregon State before the Outback Bowl and was quickly replaced by Chryst.

The Buckeyes to that point in the game had 12 plays of at least 10 yards – eight passes and four runs – and had 210 yards on 19 plays, an average of 11.1 yards per play.

The Badgers? They managed just 23 yards on 11 plays, an average of 2.1 yards per play.

Ohio State made it four for four – four touchdowns on four possessions – with an eight-play, 67-yard drive. Williams capped the drive with a 4-yard run and the deficit was 28 points with 13:33 left in the half.

UW’s offense finally showed signs of life on its fourth possession of the game.

Mertz scrambled for 11 yards, found Skyler Bell for 26 yards to the Buckeyes’ 14 on third and 9 and capped the 72-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak with 8:31 left in the half to help cut the deficit to 28-7.

Could UW’s defense build off the drive and force Ohio State to punt for the first time?

No, though Leonhard’s unit at least stiffened at its 7 and forced the Buckeyes to settle for a 25-yard field goal and a 31-7 lead with 2:20 left in the half.

To that point, UW’s defense had allowed 13 plays of 10 yards or longer and 309 total yards on 35 plays, an average of 8.8 yards per play.

Safety John Torchio became the first player this season to pick off a pass from Stroud, on the sophomore’s 100th attempt in three-plus games.

That gave UW the ball at the Buckeyes’ 48 in the final minute but tight end Clay Cundiff suffered a gruesome left-leg injury on the next play and UW failed to score. Cundiff, who suffered a dislocated right ankle, broken fibula and torn ligament in the back of the foot last season against Iowa, was taken off the field on a cart Saturday night.

Chryst believes Cundiff suffered a broken leg.

UW punted on its first possession of the second half, gave up an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive capped by Stroud’s third touchdown pass of the game.

All that was left to be determined was the final margin of victory.

"They had a good game plan but we had a good game plan as well," Herbig said. "We were in position all game to make plays. I just felt we didn't execute as a defense...

"But you've got to hand it to them. They were the better team tonight."

The gap between the teams was evident from the opening quarter.

"To win games," Chryst said, "you've got to play good football."

Chryst's team didn't come close to that goal Saturday night.

"It's a team sport," Chryst said, "and we all got beat tonight."

More: Wisconsin Badgers replay: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State put on dominant display in Big Ten opener

More: With left tackle Jack Nelson out due to illness, Wisconsin's offensive line has to adjust again

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Badgers are no match for third-ranked Buckeyes in 52-21 loss