Run the ball and stop the run.
Ohio State and Wisconsin entered with that plan of attack in their October meeting, but with a 264-83 rushing advantage, only the Buckeyes were able to execute it.
In the rematch Saturday, it was Wisconsin that had their way with the line of scrimmage, as junior running back Jonathan Taylor and junior quarterback Jack Coan ran wild on the Ohio State defense and contained the Buckeyes’ rush attack.
To say it was a tale of two halves wouldn’t quite do it justice, as the Badgers put up 194 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the first half, but managed just six rushing yards in the second while Ohio State scored 27 unanswered points.
“I was a little nervous, yeah,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “We had a group of guys in that locker room who were barking at each other that they weren’t going to leave this place without a win. Then we all got together and said, ‘This is like life, it isn’t always going to work out the way you want it. The challenge was we were going to find out what was really made inside of us.’”
The nerves began early for Day.
Taylor, who was bottled up for 42 and 52 yards in his previous two games against the Buckeyes, was unleashed for 135 first-half yards and a touchdown.
The first indication that things wouldn’t play out according to the midseason blueprint for the Buckeyes came on Wisconsin’s opening drive.
Taylor took a handoff out of pistol on the fifth snap of the game, knifed up the middle of the field and skipped through the contact of multiple would-be Buckeye tacklers on his way to a 44-yard touchdown.
2018’s Doak Walker Award winner found more real estate on that run than he had in his past 120 minutes against the Buckeyes, and it wasn’t his last.
Ohio State kicked it back to Wisconsin after finally getting on the board late in the first half. With a handoff likely meant to run the clock out and head into halftime up a score on the Buckeyes, Taylor turned it into a 45-yard gash, setting up one of two rushing scores from Coan.
“Man, what a back. I’ve not seen many guys who have the combination that he has of size and
change of direction, body control, power,” Day said. “He’s a talented back.”
It was the threat of Taylor that set up Coan’s other score of the opening 30 minutes.
The Wisconsin passer faked a handoff to Taylor at the Ohio State 14-yard-line, which the entire Buckeye defense bit on, and strolled into the end zone unscathed.
But neither would sniff the end zone again. Taylor ran seven times for 13 yards in the second half, and Coan netted negative yardage on the ground.
“Halftime we went back in the locker room, you know, I just said there wasn’t no need for any yelling. It was the simple things that we just weren’t doing, like tackling, doing our jobs,” Ohio State junior defensive end Chase Young said. “I feel like the second half we made those corrections, I feel like you see what happened. We didn’t give up any points.”
Meanwhile, Ohio State junior running back J.K. Dobbins ran for 97 yards on 18 carries in the second half, and picked up 25 of the Buckeyes’ 69 yards on a third quarter drive that resulted in the first Ohio State lead of the game at 24-21.
On a fourth quarter drive, Dobbins ran the ball on 7-of-8 plays for Ohio State, gaining 45 yards and chewing up clock before junior kicker Blake Haubeil could extend the lead to 13.
“Man, three weeks in a row now, 172 yards rushing on 33 carries. Wow, he ran hard,” Day said. “The offensive line, that’s a good defense, they kept swinging and swinging and swinging.”
After a second half performance that appeared worthy of the nation’s No. 1 ranking –– and a first half that made it appear anything but –– Ohio State will have to keep swinging if it wants a spot in New Orleans come Jan. 13.