ANALYSIS: The good, bad and ugly from Ohio State’s imperfect win at Wisconsin

Ohio State improved to 8-0 Saturday night with a win at Wisconsin.

Much like — well, every other game this season — the Buckeyes did a lot of good things and some bad.

Let’s break it all down after some time to let the results breath:

1. This was the 2023 Ohio State offense to the extreme.

When they could get the ball to the really fast guys (Marvin Harrison Jr., TreVeyon Henderson, etc.), enough good things happened for them to score four times.

Otherwise, moving the ball was something of a struggle because the offensive line had some rough moments, and the quarterback did, too.

The biggest problem with being inconsistent is big mistakes are magnified, especially interceptions that end scoring threats.

2. The 24-10 win was also very representative for the Ohio State defense.

Wisconsin ran the ball somewhat effectively, but the Badgers could not take the top off the defense, and they were not nearly efficient enough passing to have a productive night overall.

That is a formula for success against many, many college football teams even after the passing revolution of the past two decades.

Wisconsin’s quarterback showed some moxie, but he was obviously somewhat limited. More importantly, Wisconsin’s receiving corps is below average, and that is a big problem if you want to run a pass-oriented offense.

(Aside: I think Luke Fickell is a very good coach who can succeed at the highest level, but I still think bringing in an Air Raid offensive coordinator was a very questionable decision. It certainly hurt them in the short term. We’ll see about long term.)

3. On the plus side, Kyle McCord has not been afraid to throw the ball to guys who aren’t completely wide open, a big thing for inexperienced quarterbacks to figure out.

The junior has mostly avoided big risks, although he has thrown some interceptable passes that weren’t intercepted. You’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelette. Overall, he’s taken the right approach.

However, he’s appeared to freeze up at times every week, and that has led to big mistakes.

The Penn State fumble return for a touchdown that didn’t count was a prime example, and so were the intentional groundings that ended a pair of Ohio State drives at Wisconsin. These are tough spots to be in for sure, but that’s life as a quarterback. Correct split-second decisions are the name of the game, and however cool he might be in the huddle or on the sideline, he’s appeared to panic at times on the field in ways that cost the team.

Is this another part of the development curve? To some extent, yes, but we are three quarters of the way into the season.

McCord will have to play better for Ohio State to reach its goals, but that is not exactly breaking news. This was just the first game where he made so many critical errors that actually had major consequences.

4. I’m more optimistic about McCord than the line.

The Badgers had nine tackles for loss, which is way too many, and 21% of the Ohio State runs were stopped for no gain or a loss.

The latter number is much higher than the season average of 14.7 (that ranked 41st in the country entering the weekend), but Ohio State’s 46% run success rate against a solid run defense was above average and notably better than its season average of 42.6.

Add in six explosive runs, Ohio State’s second-most on the season and the Buckeyes’ most against a Power 5 conference opponent, and that is a formula that can work even with some of the busts.

It also requires Henderson to be in uniform because he hits the hole fast enough to take advantage of creases before they close, and he can outrun the pursuit like few others.

This might have been the worst pass protection Ohio State has had, and it wasn’t exactly great before Saturday night.

5. So are we past the point of every game being a referendum on the season?

The Buckeyes could be what they are at this point: Great defense, great receivers, good running backs (when available), so-so offensive line, so-so quarterback.

(Strong defensive coordination/questionable offense...)

On the other, every game is an opportunity to get better, and how a team wins becomes much less important than just winning the later the season goes.

The quarterback had a bad night. His overall stats were OK, but did he just pay more for mistakes he was already making?

Development patterns are rarely linear, but the end of the season is approaching.

The Buckeyes ran for over 200 yards before removing sack yardage, so they much have been doing something right. There was a lot of sack yardage, though.

The weekly season referendums are of course natural, and they are subject to weekly intangibles like playing on the road at night against a team that is flawed but has enough guys to be dangerous (i.e., most teams in the Big Ten).

Then there is the expectation to not only win but dominate every opponent. Guess what? That’s not realistic (unless maybe you know all of the other team’s plays).

For proof, check out Penn State nearly losing at home to Indiana (which somehow scored 24 points despite barely having any semblance of an offense most of the season).

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