So it has come to this. Arguably the biggest game of the Buckeyes' season...is on October 6th. An away game against (no longer "Just") Northwestern. We've done every game preview imaginable, and our good buddies over at Sippin' On Purple have helped out. But now, it is nearly game day, and time to put the glitz of GameDay aside for action on the field. We'll give you five things to look/listen for while you're watching the game at your favorite bar, in front of your big-screen or listening to the dulcet tones of Paul Keels on the radio.
Please, Call Hall
Jordan Hall has been the team's best running back through the first quarter of the season. That is, until last week, when he got precisely one carry. The Northwestern defense doesn't have anyone physical like Chris Borland up front, but they do have stars in their secondary. Expect more running from Jordan Hall as he's quick enough to get past Northwestern's defenders and can juke a linebacker out of his shoes. Ohio State will need some speed as well as power in this week's game. I think Jordan Hall will get a lot more touches.
Improvement from Bradley Roby
The loss of Christian Bryant can't be overstated in how much it hurts the Buckeye defense. A week without him going up against the spread offense of Northwestern is expected to be pretty painful for the secondary, especially since they have two quarterbacks to prepare for with two different but equally effective skill sets. Without a true #1 receiver, Northwestern relies on matchups to gain their yards, sort of like the Saints offense. Tony Jones and Christian Jones are the main threats, so it's more than likely we'll see Roby on one of those two all game when the Bucks play man. Roby got torched last week, so he needs a big game this week. Expect him to be aggressive, jump routes in zone coverage, and make tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Leadership - who steps up?
Not to harp, but Christian Bryant's broken ankle robs Ohio State of not only an elite player on the field, but a defensive leader as well. When the chips are down for the Buckeyes, who is going to step up? Last year, the Bucks had John Simon and Zach Boren as defensive stalwarts and fiery leaders. Is Ryan Shazier that guy? Can Michael Bennett step up and take charge? What about CJ Barnett? Who steps up and gets everyone in the right place, especially new starter Corey (PGH) Brown? Brown is a senior, but has received relatively limited playing time over his career. Someone on the Buckeye defense will need to be a vocal leader if tough situations emerge (and they will).
Containing Kain Colter
Every day in practice, the Buckeyes see Braxton Miller. They are going to run headfirst into Braxton Miller Lite in Kain Colter. The defense will have to beat up the offensive line and the line will need to stay sound as they can expect a lot of screens, RB and QB draws and quick passes. This offense is more Cal than Wisconsin, and they have got to put more pressure on Colter and Trevor Simien than they did on statuesque Joel Stave, who put a hurtin' on the Buckeye secondary when pressure wasn't coming from Curtis Grant. They'll look to keep the Northwestern QBs in the pocket and keep their gap integrity sound.
Succeed on Third Down
Northwestern isn't great at third-down defense. They create their stops via turnovers and big plays rather than refusing to allow yards. Miller (or Guiton) cannot press against a strong secondary that features future NFLers Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose. If Ohio State can get into third and manageable situations and can get some physical running from Hyde, Miller, Hall and possibly Dontre Wilson, they're likely to convert and thus, likely to win.
Anything else you're looking out for? Share them in the comments below.