Commentary: The Big Game
by Jonathan Hodges
Before the year began, many 'Cats fans circled a date on that calendar, which
was November 8th, when Ohio State was scheduled to roll into Evanston. Many
fans, myself included, expected Northwestern to be 7-2 or better heading into
that matchup, and that's the precise record that the Wildcats have heading into
the game against the Buckeyes. The game will be a sellout (as announced on WGN
Radio preceding the Minnesota game) and the atmosphere should be electric
heading into a matchup against a highly rated opponent.
If the situation
seems familiar, one only has to look back to 2000, when the Wildcats also headed
back to Evanston following a last-second road victory at Minnesota (the victory
right game) where they defeated Michigan in the 54-51 classic to propel NU to
its highest ever BCS ranking on the way to a co-Big Ten championship and a trip
to the Alamo Bowl. This season, NU has all but locked up a bowl berth with its
7-2 record and has 2 win-able games left on the calendar against Michigan (2-7)
and Illinois (5-4); but first, the Buckeyes.
One may consider the game
against Ohio State "unwinable," but then again one only has to look back at the
Minnesota game to see how Northwestern has responded to adversity this season.
Just a week ago, NU was reeling after an upset loss to Indiana (3-6), as the
'Cats lost both their starting RB, senior Tyrell Sutton (for the year) and their
starting QB, senior CJ Bacher, who had made 26 consecutive starts until this
past week, and that was just a week after losing senior starting MLB Malcom
Arrington. Things were looking grim for Northwestern, and some pessimists were
wondering if NU could even win another game this season. Yet the team responded
in a big way, putting together a complete game in all 3 phases of the game to
pull off the big road win against a solid Minnesota squad (7-2).
will be difficult for Northwestern to compete against Ohio State in the same way
that it defeated Minnesota; Ohio State's defense is very good (top 10 nationally
in both total defense and scoring defense), and don't think that the Buckeyes
will let NU's backup QB run for over 200 yards. But, hopefully Northwestern
will have CJ Bacher back healthy and can utilize both QBs as effective weapons
to move the ball against OSU. On offense, meanwhile, Ohio State hasn't exactly
been spectacular; while they have very talented dual-threat QB Pryor and
pro-caliber RB Wells, the Buckeyes are averaging just 24.6 points/game and
haven't exactly been explosive on that side of the ball. Overall, OSU is just a
solid, well-coached team that wins the games that it should and provides a tough
opponent for all (just ask Penn State, who squeaked by a couple weeks ago by a
final score of 13-6 in Columbus).
So, while Ohio State will be the big
favorite in this game, it will also be the "game of the year" for Northwestern
as they try to pull off an even bigger upset and match the highest win total by
a Wildcat squad this decade. The Wildcats of 2008 have shown the ability to do
things that other squad haven't been able to accomplish for decades (garnering
the longest winning streak (5) since 1996, beating all nonconference opponents
for the first time since 1963, starting the season 5-0 for the first time since
1962) and overcoming adversity with the help of backups and young, but talented,
players. This team, like the Big Ten championship squads in 1995, 1996, and
2000, hasn't lost consecutive games. There is no doubt that this is a special
year for Northwestern, and all 'Cats fans should be excited for this coming
Saturday in Evanston as NU looks to continue this season's success.
Previous jhodges commentary
is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com. His commentary
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