Northwestern at Ohio State
Saturday, Sept. 22. Time: 2:30 pm CDT
TV: ESPN / ABC (ABC local; ESPN elsewhere)
radio internet coverage.
Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Ohio State
by Jonathan Hodges
Northwestern (2-1, 0-0) starts Big Ten play with arguably its toughest
game of the year as it heads to Columbus to face #9 (Coaches) Ohio
State (3-0, 0-0). NU will be trying to rebound from its
disappointing home loss to Duke, while Ohio State is coming off of a
solid road win at Washington by a final score of 33-14. Ohio
State's offense has been steadily improving on the year, and its
running game really got moving in the second half of last week's game
in the hands of Chris "Beanie" Wells. NU, meanwhile, will be
trying to shore up a defense that has given up on average 14.7 points
and 248.7 yards in the first half of its games thus far.
Ohio State will be heavily favored in this game, particularly given the
fact that the game will be played in the 'shoe. As many dedicated
'Cats fans know, NU's last win in Columbus was a 14-10 victory in 1971
under Coach Agase (which was the last NU win over OSU until the 2004
victory in Evanston). The last time Northwestern faced the
Buckeyes to kick off the Big Ten schedule was back in 2004 when NU
upended (then #6) OSU 33-27. If Northwestern continues to play
like it did last week against Duke and even the previous week against
Nevada, OSU should be able to rack up the yards and points almost at
will - so a key to the game will be how the NU defense looks during
that first half. On offense, NU must avoid mistakes ( e.g.
turnovers and penalties, which hurt NU against Duke) and get an
effective run/pass mix, which Sutton's probable return should help
Overall, though, it will take a virtually perfect performance from
Northwestern, multiple blunders by OSU, and a perfect game plan in
order for NU to come out of this game a winner. Not to say that
it can't happen, but it is a lot to expect Northwestern to completely
turn around their gameplay in one week. Unfortunately, I expect a
big OSU win for the 3rd straight year, even though I would love to see
NU win in Columbus for the first time in my lifetime.
Line: Ohio State -22
Who Should Win:
Ohio State, easily. They should be able to run the ball
effectively with Wells, mix it up with some Boeckman passes (look for
OSU to pick on Battle's side of the field - most likely passes to Brian
Hartline), but not need to do anything too fancy to come out of the
game with the win. On defense, OSU will be very tough and with NU
having problems punching the ball in for a score last week things will
be daunting against one of the nation's top defenses this week.
Special teams, traditionally an Ohio State strong point (under
Tressel), will actually be pretty even given NU's recent emergence in
that aspect (especially in the kicking game).
What to Look For:
Don't look for OSU to get too fancy, especially on offense. They
will want to run the ball early and often - and Wells is the go to
guy. Boeckman has looked pretty steady for a first year starter
thus far and has some quality receivers in Robiskie and Hartline,
although only time will tell if that trio can be nearly as effective as
Smith/Ginn/Gonzalez were last year. The NU defense will have its
toughest test of the year - and thus far they have made 2 mediocre to
bad quarterbacks look outstanding (against Nevada and Duke). As
mentioned earlier, the key will be the first half of the game when the
NU defense has been torched so far this year - and getting into a hole
against Ohio State will give NU almost no chance for a win. The
biggest key is for Northwestern to generate pressure up front - which
means getting to the QB and stopping the run within a couple yards of
the LOS - something the 'Cats haven't been able to do this year.
The 'Cats need to be aggressive early - and that means blitzes.
And if a defender can break free they must get to the QB and bring him
down - another problem area for NU as we have watched QBs elude
pressure throughout the first 3 games of this year. If there is a
weak point on OSU, it is most likely the OL, so attacking that early is
important to NU's chances.
On offense, Northwestern must establish an effective run/pass
mix. Thus far this season NU seems to be heavily favoring the
passing game, partly because of NU getting in early holes against
Nevada and Duke, although during each of the first 3 games NU has come
out firing right off the bat. OSU has seen the results from NU's
first 3 games and will most definitely put pressure on Bacher so it is
up to McGee to put together a strategy to combat the pressure in order
to effectively move the ball and control time of possession.
Otherwise, NU will be facing a lot of sacks and 3-and-outs.
Sutton is expected to return after a leg injury sustained against
Nevada, and using him effectively both as a runner and receiver will be
key - especially on OSU blitzes. For NU to be effective the 'Cats
also need a big play, as sustaining a long 10+ play drive will be tough
against the OSU defense. Finally, NU's offense must protect the
ball and not provide easy field position for OSU - so far Northwestern
has been lucky with Duke giving the ball right back after the first INT
on the year and a second INT against Duke that was basically equivalent
to a punt.
Look for special teams play to be solid for both teams - given NU's
vast improvement in the kicking and punting game this year with
Villareal/Demos. NU has also done a great job in terms of
coverage teams and coupled with solid kicking NU has put opponents in
pretty unfavorable field position thus far this season - which gives
the defense a fighting chance. OSU has always had strong special
teams, though, and NU's return units (punt returns in particular) leave
a lot to be desired - and I would be surprised if NU found a way to
break through this game.
Upset Factor: The
only way NU has a shot is if it plays a "perfect" game and OSU has an
off-day. This IS the Big Ten opener for both teams and we all
remember what happened back in 2004 in the Big Ten opener against
OSU. Oh, and there is the fact that NU has somehow found a way to
bounce back from bad loses in every one of its recently successful
at the 'shoe will be about double what NU has seen in its first 3 games
at Ryan Field combined. The Duke game had an attendance of over
22,000, which was respectable - given NU's previous 2 games that were
- If Conteh is in the game, chances are it's a passing play (he's only run the ball 9 times for 21 yards this season).
- NU got off to a quick
start in its first 2 games, scoring a TD on the first drive of both
games. Against Duke, NU didn't score until its third drive.
- NU is tied nationally at 44th with +0.33 turnover margin/game.
- NU is 29th nationally in total offense with 451.33 ypg, but only 69th nationally in scoring offense with 25.67 ppg.
- Northwestern is one of 8 teams nationally not to have lost a fumble thus far.
- The 'Cats rank 105 nationally in punt returns (with only 3 returns for an average of only 3.67 yards per return).
- NU is tied at 110th nationally in sacks, averaging 0.67 sacks/game.
Eddie Simpson (LB): doubtful (ankle); not listed on depth chart; did not dress against Duke.
Tyrell Sutton (RB):
probably (leg); listed as starter on depth chart; did not dress against
Duke but Fitz has confirmed he will probably play this week.
Ramon Diaz (OL), Gerard Hamlett (DB), Andrew Brewer (WR): out for season.
Prediction: Northwestern 13 - Ohio State 41
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