COLUMBUS — The Buckeyes scored seven touchdowns Saturday night in their 52-21 win over Wisconsin. While it was a productive 60 minutes over all, the first half was as good as the Ohio State offense has had this season, and that’s saying something considering the 42 points they had at halftime last week against Toledo.
The Buckeyes led 31-7 at after two quarters, outgaining the Badgers 328 yards to 96. For the game, OSU piled up 258 yards rushing and 285 yards passing, greedily averaging a weighty 7.7 yards per play.
Quarterback CJ Stroud and his crew could basically do whatever they wanted early on. If Wisconsin loaded the box, the Buckeyes could throw over it. If they backed off, then the ball was kept on the ground for an 8-yard run.
I’m not saying Buckeye head coach Ryan Day is a yo-yo master, but he had the entire state of Wisconsin on a string Saturday night.
He played with the Badgers’ emotions like a captor setting the stage for early-onset Stockholm Syndrome. Day kept them in the dark and would only allow a glimmer of light to come in when he was ready for more manipulation.
The Buckeyes’ first drive of the game lasted six played and went 88 yards, ending in a 2-yard touchdown run by tailback Miyan Williams. On the second play of the drive, Stroud found receiver Marvin Harrison for an 18-yard gain. Then he found tight end Cade Stover down the seam for 22 yards. Then running back TreVeyon Henderson went for 10 yards before Stroud found receiver Emeka Egbuka for a 33-yard catch-and-run down to the 2-yard line.
What Stroud never found, however, was a defender who could make a play on the football.
The Ohio State offense had the Badger defense guessing wrong more often than a confused psychic.
The Buckeyes started their second drive of the game markedly closer to paydirt than the first drive thanks to an interception and return by nickel back Tanner McCalister.
The second drive lasted all of two plays and 16 yards. It was capped when Stroud rolled left and threw back to the right, where a lonesome Cade Stover was waiting for a pass. He caught the ball and turned it upfield, eventually leaping into the end zone for a head-over-heels touchdown.
Stover waded through the defense like a caiman silently swimming toward its prey. And then he struck.
The Buckeyes’ third drive of the game went seven plays, and five of those plays went for more than 10 yards. The drive ended with Stover’s second touchdown catch of the day, but he never had to leave his feet for this one. Stroud ran a bootleg to the right, and then tucked the ball as if he was going to try to run for necessary two yards for the score. Once he tucked the ball, two defenders decided he was no longer a passing threat and they came tearing after him. Stroud then calmly laid the ball up in the air for Stover, who was lonelier than a hermit on Christmas.
Then there was the fourth drive. Eight plays, 67 yards, and it ended in another Miyan Williams touchdown. After an incompletion on first down, Williams carried the ball five of the next seven snaps, rushing for a total of 51 yards.
The Buckeyes were as balanced as twins on a see-saw. They ran when they wanted, threw when they wanted, and didn’t have time to care if any of it happened to bother Wisconsin.
Every formation was a siren song and every snap led to the rocks.
The Buckeyes’ fifth drive ended in a field goal, but it lasted over six minutes.
Before the Badgers even had time to look for their parents in the stands, they were down 31-7.
I’d say they didn’t know what hit them, but there were plenty of scoreboards showing the replays in case they were curious.
As Ohio State’s play caller, Ryan Day dished out punishment like a Blackjack dealer who has never lost a hand.
But none of this was a gamble.
It was preparation and execution.
It was precision.
And it may only be the beginning.