Here at the College Wires, we have the luxury of team experts across the Big Ten when conference game day rolls around.
This week, we spoke with Phil Harrison of Buckeyes Wire to get the context behind Ohio State’s 3-0 start to the season as well as his thoughts on this week’s matchup.
We went in-depth into different areas of this year’s Ohio State team, including the biggest early-season surprises for the Buckeyes. A question that has been circling around Badgers Twitter this week was also addressed: C.J. Stroud or Justin Fields, who scares you more?
Here is our full interview behind enemy lines with Phil Harrison:
What has been most surprising about the 2022 Ohio State Buckeyes so far, either good or bad?
Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) and Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) celebrate after connecting for a touchdown during Saturday’s NCAA Division I football game against the Toledo Rockets at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch
Phil: We answered that with our writers this week on Buckeyes Wire. I think the biggest surprise for many has been the play of Denzel Burke at cornerback, and not in a good way. He was fantastic as a freshman last season but has given up too many explosive plays in 1:1 situations on an otherwise much improved defense. That side of the ball will need him to get back to form if it has desires of going as far as many think the Buckeyes can.
Justin Fields or C.J. Stroud to win you one football game?
Dec 7, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) stiff arms Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Orr (54) during the first half in the 2019 Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Phil: Oh man, that’s a tough one. This is nothing against C.J. Stroud, and I might be proven wrong on this as he continues to develop and get into the NFL, but I’ll take Fields with his ability to make plays with his legs as well. He may not be quite as accurate as Stroud, but as an all-around, athletic threat, he’s just harder to defend against. So, if I’m looking for more options and a guy that can just go out on the playground and get things done when everything else breaks down, I’ll take Fields … for now.
Who has surpassed your expectations through three games?
Sat., Jan. 1, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day celebrates following the Buckeyes’ 48-45 victory against the Utah Utes in the 108th Rose Bowl Game.
Phil: Tommy Eichenberg at linebacker is quietly having an All-Big Ten/fringe All-American type early non-conference type of year. He leads the team in tackles and has been an aggressive playmaker. He has really excelled in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ scheme that’s freed him up to make plays. Aside from that, Michael Hall Jr on the defensive line has been a revelation. He’s been the most disruptive force on the inside of an already really good defensive line.
How did you feel about the Notre Dame win?
Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass during Saturday’s NCAA Division I football game against the Toledo Rockets at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch
Ncaa Football Toledo Rockets At Ohio State Buckeyes
Asher: Many tried to paint the win as a disappointing performance for the Buckeyes, but winning by double-digits against a storied program doesn’t seem like the worst thing ever.
Phil: Agree, and at some point you have to understand and give Ohio State credit for playing that caliber of a program out of the gate. There’s no doubt the offense sputtered more than expected against the Irish but I think a lot of that can be chalked up to all that goes with the unknowns of a first game. The way OSU won that game was encouraging with the toughness and grit that was missing at times last year. And remember, this is basically the same offense that put up a pinball score against a good Utah team in the Rose Bowl last year. That side of the ball with all the weapons will be just fine.
Where is the weakest point on the Ohio State defense right now?
Ohio State football players sing “Carmen Ohio” following a 66-17 win over the Maryland Terrapins in Saturday’s NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on October 9, 2021.
Phil: Without a doubt it appears to be on the outside in the passing game with 1:1 situations. With the new, aggressive scheme and overhaul on defense, there are plenty of opportunities to make a play with the 50/50 ball.
When big plays have been give up against Ohio State, it’s been that way. Graham Mertz is talented enough to put the ball where it needs to be, but that flies in the face of the way I think Wisconsin would want to win this game with ball control and a pounding running game. However, the Badgers do appear to be more varied in the passing game than in years past, so if there’s a season to do it, it would be this one.
With Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming back, what do you expect target share to look like in the WR’s room?
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba fends off Utah cornerback Micah Bernard as he races to the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, Calif.
Phil : With Marvin Harrison Jr having a breakout year, I expect that to continue. However, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is going to finally be fully healthy and provide a tough to handle one-two punch. They’ll both get plenty of targets, and I believe will be the top two receivers Stroud looks for.
However, Julian Fleming and Emeka Egbuka will get opportunities if there is an effort to bracket those two. I’d be surprised if Ohio State doesn’t try to take advantage of a thin Wisconsin secondary with Harrison and Smith-Njigba leading the way. Don’t forget about the emergence of Cade Stover at tight end either if the matchups work that way.
How do you beat the 2022 Ohio State Buckeyes?
Sep 17, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the New Mexico State Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Phil: You have to keep the Ohio State offense off the field, much the way Notre Dame did. Though the Buckeyes appear to be a bunch that can play with more grit and physicality than last season showed against Michigan and Oregon, it’s still the way to go.
Wisconsin has that ability, and if the Badgers can have success running the ball on first down and staying on schedule, it can then pick its spots to take shots downfield when the corners are left on islands in 1:1 situations. I think Wisconsin would be the identity I’d create to beat this OSU team. That doesn’t mean the Badgers will win — that’s easier said than done — but if they can execute the gameplan, look out.
Phil: I think the game is closer than Vegas and many of the national media believe. Wisconsin seems to always play Ohio State tough because the challenge is a unique one with the lunch pail mentality and physicality you just don’t see as much in today’s day and age of spread offenses and high flying scores. Still, I think the Buckeyes are the more talented team at home, so I give the edge to OSU with enough offense to pull this one out.
Score Prediction: Ohio State 34, Wisconsin 21