Game Preview


Northwestern at Ohio State
Ohio Stadium
Saturday, Sept. 22.  Time: 2:30 pm CDT
TV: ESPN / ABC (ABC local; ESPN elsewhere)
WGN 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 accomplish.

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 seasons.

  • Attendance 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 under 18,000.
  • 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.
Injury Report:
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

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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