Post-Game Analysis: Ohio State
by Jonathan Hodges


Well, it was the one game that most NU fans knew would be the toughest of the year, and that showed as Ohio State clobbered the 'Cats by a final score of 45-10 at Ryan Field.  It was the Pryor and Wells show as those two took over the game with their tackle-breaking skills, and NU had virtually no answer.  On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes pretty much had the Northwestern offense figured out; contain Kafka's running game and don't worry at all about getting beat deep (NU's longest pass of the day was 24 yards).

Early on it was a close game, with both teams scoring a TD on their first offensive possessions (a Wells run for OSU and a Kafka run for NU), but after that the Ohio State D pretty much figured out what NU was throwing at it (Kafka ran on 10 of 13 plays during that drive).  The NU defense, which held up well in the first quarter, giving up only one TD and forcing a punt, quickly ran out of gas in the second period as OSU scored 17 straight points to take a lead it would keep the rest of the way.  It all started off on a Wells 55 yard TD run where NU's Gill seemed to have him pulled down in the backfield for a loss, only to break the tackle and take off for a score as he pushed Mabin's tackle attempt off near the goal line.  Pryor showed off similar acrobatics, converting seemingly every 3rd down and breaking tackles of his own to pick up some with his feet, including a 21 yard rush on 3rd and 17.  He also broke a tackle from Davie which would have been a sack for a big loss and tossed a nice TD pass to Robiskie in the end zone.  The OSU offense showed that when it's on, it is very tough to beat.  The Wildcats also didn't do themselves any favors, throwing a very questionable dime package with 2 down linemen in on 3rd downs, giving Pryor plenty of running room and time in the backfield.  While the DL got some good pressure and racked up 6 TFLs (including 1 sack), they couldn't consistenly shut down both OSU's running and passing games.

The 'Cats' offense, meanwhile, got things going strong early on thanks to some quality running from Kafka (who ran 10 times for 35 yards and a TD, NU's only paydirt on the day), but fizzled from there, going 8 of 15 on 3rd downs, throwing an INT, and losing 2 fumbles.  The first turnover, a Peterman fumble in NU territory, was especially disheartening as it set up an OSU FG, which put them ahead by 2 scores, and the Buckeyes never looked back.  Much of NU's offensive statistics were built in the 4th quarter in what was essentially garbage time (where OSU decided to run up the score, more on that later), as the 'Cats only had 3 drives into OSU territory after the opening scoring drive, and 2 of those ended in punts.  With NU not even threatening the downfield pass, OSU could stack the box and effectively spy Kafka; not that the Wildcats were in a position for him to run with the ball being down by 3 or more scores throughout the second half.

While the game was disappointing for NU fans, it was an expected result given the final scores of games from the past 3 seasons against OSU coupled with significant injuries on NU's squad.  It seemed like an opportunity to try and steal one from the Bucks, but to their credit, they came out focused and executed well the entire game, and gave themselves chances to show off their athleticism.  Now Northwestern must regroup and focus for their last road trip of the season as they head to Ann Arbor to face the rejuvenated Wolverines, who are fresh off of a strong 29-6 victory at Minnesota.

Player of the Game: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor (9 of 14 passing for 197 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs; 6 rushes for 33 yards)  The freshman phenom showed true progress on Saturday as he led the Buckeyes down the field time after time and was a big contributor to OSU's 8 of 13 3rd down conversions with his ability to scramble away from pressure and make big plays.  Most importantly, though, he made no mistakes as OSU did not turn the ball over all day, and that allowed OSU to show off Wells and their running game for much of the day.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- QB Mike Kafka (18 of 27 passing for 177 yards, 1 INT; 29 rushes for 83 yards, 1 TD)  Once again filling in for the injured CJ Bacher, Mike did everything that was asked of him against one of the toughest defenses in college football.  The one thing you can say is that Kafka is not afraid of taking a hit, as he tucked and ran numerous times, including a long rush of 26 yards.  While his passing game wasn't always great, and lacked a deep passing threat, he was still on target on most occasions.  His ability to do things with his feet gives NU some options for the remainder of this season and going into next year.
- P Stefan Demos (4 punts for 32.2 yards/punt, 2 inside 20, 2 returned for 4 yards total)  Once again, Demos continued his solid execution on punts and didn't allow OSU to get anything going on punt returns, as he nailed the Buckeyes deep in their own end twice.
- LB Nate Williams (12 tackles, 5 solo, 1.5 TFLs for -4 yards)  Against a talented OSU offense, Williams got into the gaps and made things happen, including a TFL on Wells where he shot up the middle and took down Beanie in the backfield.  As a sophomore filling in for the injured Arrington, he continues to step up in the face of adversity.

What to Work On:
- Deep passing game:  Northwestern's complete lack of a deep passing threat against OSU definitely showed as the Buckeyes' athletic defense could step 8 guys into the box and focus on containing Kafka's running game.  While OC McCall may not fully trust the reigns to Kafka in terms of throwing deep, the 'Cats must show some threat or else this trend will continue.
- OL Play:  Again, OSU's defense is a force to be reckoned with, but the OL had one of the more porous performances of the year, allowing the Bucks to rack up 7 TFLs, including 4 sacks.  While the line opened up a little more room for the shifty Stephan Simmons (14 carries for 34 yards - better than Conteh's total of 12 yards a week ago), they still weren't exactly giving lots of room for the NU offense to work.
- Tackling:  On two of OSU's biggest plays, the Wells 55 yard run and the Pryor tackle-breaking TD toss, Northwestern's D seemingly had the Buckeyes down for a loss, but couldn't finish the job.  Yes, Pryor and Wells are two talented guys who will undoubtedly head to the NFL in a short while, but the 'Cats had them stopped and didn't finish the job.  The D must shore this up before the final two games against Michigan and Illinois, who feature some talented offensive players of their own.
- Turnovers:  Once again, NU got burned by a negative turnover margin.  The -3 margin gives the 'Cats a total turnover margin of -11 in its three losses, compared to +8 in its seven wins.  While the turnovers didn't necessarily determine the outcome of the game (the final 2 turnovers came in the 4th quarter once OSU had the game in hand), the negative margin didn't give the 'Cats a chance to stage a comeback.

Random Observations:
- Running up the score:  Tressel, who is generally respected and typically shows good character on the field, most definitely ran up the score in the 4th quarter with the game well in hand.  First off, he calls a fake punt (which was converted for a first down on a run from the punter), which was followed by a pass to the end zone for a TD.  Then, with the clock winding down and up by 4 TDs, he continues to run plays; the clock was at approximately 40 seconds, and taking a knee would have ended the game.  Now, none of this excuses the Wildcat defense, which just didn't make the tackles that it needed to, but the calls were definitely borderline poor sportsmanship.
- Angry Buckeyes:  That loss back in 2004 must have upset Tressel and OSU a lot, as they have scored 40+ and allowed a maximum of 10 points in each of the 4 meetings following that NU win.  The Wildcats and Buckeyes do not play again until 2011.
- Penalties:  The two teams were a bit chippy at times, both racking up multiple personal fouls during the game.  OSU had 6 for 62 yards while NU uncharacteristically lacked discipline, racking up 7 penalties for 85 yards.  Between getting behind the chains on offense and giving the opponent free yards on defense, that many penalty yards does not give one the chance to win.
- Weather: With the forecast looking grim, the actual field conditions weren't that bad.  While it was relatively cold (at least colder than all games until now), the precipitation held off all day and the field was in great shape.  The weather also didn't keep the fans away, as the stands were full for the sellout (although the majority of fans appeared to be rooting for OSU).
- Bowl Picture: The bowl prospects for NU blurred a bit today, as NU's loss drops it to 7-3 on the year with tough tests against Michigan and Illinois remaining.  Iowa threw a wrench in things as it upset previously ranked #3 PSU (now 9-1) to bump its record to 6-4 with remaining (winable) contests against Purdue (3-7) and Minnesota (7-3).  Minnesota, meanwhile, looked bad at home against a rejuvenated Michigan (3-7) squad, who the 'Cats must travel to face next week.  And Illinois (5-5) is on the brink of disaster after dropping a nonconference game to Western Michigan.  Wisconsin (5-5) improved its prospects with a big win over Indiana (3-7).  Finally, Michigan State (9-2) continued to roll with a win over Purdue, as they now await Penn State in the final week of play, which will go a long way towards deciding the top of the Big Ten standings at the end of the year.  What does all this mean?  Well, NU could still end up anywhere from Tampa to Phoenix, and unless the 'Cats can finish off the regular season with 2 wins and gain some distance over Iowa and Minnesota (meaning they both will have to lose a game each; note that they play each other the last week of the Big Ten schedule), it will likely be the lower portion of that list.  With Illinois falling, though, the 'Cats could be in a position to eliminate them from bowl eligibility with a win in 2 weeks, assuming OSU takes care of business in Champaign next week (a big assumption considering last year's upset and a close game the previous season).

Final Thought:

The loss was tough to swallow for NU, but wasn't all that much of a surprise - Pryor and Wells showed why they were top flight recruits and will be in the NFL sooner rather than later.  Kafka had another gutsy performance but just couldn't pull another one out of his hat, especially with injuries continuing to pile up.  Once again, NU must "flush it" and focus on next week's matchup at Michigan, another tough one, but a win-able contest.  Bacher may very well be back for the game, which could give NU some opportunities to shake things up by plaing either him or Kafka.  Meanwhile, the defense must regroup and work on its tackling as it saw two potentially negative yardage plays get flipped around and go for TDs when they ballcarriers were not taken down.  Now in the final stretch, the 'Cats still have a chance to match their highest win total since 1996.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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