In the week leading up to the Northwestern game, it was being built up as the biggest game in Northwestern history in some quarters. With ESPN's College Gameday pre-game show broadcasting from Northwestern's campus, and the return of Venric Mark, Northwestern was going to be jacked up and give Ohio State their best.
And they did. The Wildcats gave OSU some big punches, and had them staggered early on. But the Buckeyes came out at halftime, tightened their chinstraps, and answered the bell. And when it was all said and done, Urban Meyer is still undefeated as the Buckeyes coach, and once again, Ohio State took care of business while simultaneously keeping The Chase alive.
Your 'just give the ball to El Guapo' SMR follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Carlos Hyde, Minotaur: When word broke late that Jordan Hall had tweaked his knee and would not play, I wondered if Carlos Hyde would be in game shape to get over 20 carries. I guess it's safe to say that the answer to that was a definitive yes. In the third quarter, Ohio State found themselves down 10 points and they had missed a golden opportunity to score after a Braxton Miller fumble in the red zone. It was at that point that Hyde pretty much took over the game, running four times on Ohio State's six play scoring drive, and scoring the touchdown. After a Doran Grant interception deep in Northwestern territory, Hyde gained 13 of the 16 yards on the ensuing drive, and scored a touchdown. On what turned out to be the game winning drive, Hyde ran or caught the ball on four of the eight play scoring drive, again rushing for a touchdown. Hyde literally put Ohio State on his back on Saturday night at Ryan Field when Miller couldn't, and he delivered in a tour de force performance that will be remembered in Columbus for a long, long time. 26 carries for 168 yards rushing, 4 big catches for another 38 yards, and three second half touchdowns. Simply phenomenal job.
Philly Brown, WR: On a night when the trigger in Ohio State's passing attack was misfiring, one of the bullets was catching passes and doing some serious damage. He helped OSU get out of the blocks strong, catching two passes for 49 yards on the opening drive, and ended the evening catching six balls for 129 yards. Brown was the only receiver that was consistently open, and he made some big catches that helped OSU remain unbeaten.
The Offensive Line, all of them: One of the things that has frustrated me about Ohio State the last several years was that no matter how good the OSU playmakers were, the offensive line, for whatever reason, was subpar...to be kind. That seems to be a thing of the past. Taylor Decker, Marcus Hall, Cory Linsley, Andrew Norwell, and Jack Mewhort stonewalled Northwestern's rush all night, and opened up gaping holes for Hyde and Miller. I can't remember the last time the o-line was so good in both phases, and it was the main reason that Ohio State was able to stage a comeback win. Phenomenal performance, gentlemen.
Joey Bosa, DE: Bosa made a couple of big plays in the second half, to include dropping Venric Mark for a five yard loss on a key Northwestern drive late in the third quarter. OSU had closed to within three, and had gained momentum. Bosa's TFL put Northwestern in a 3rd and 16, and they eventually had to punt. OSU took the ensuing punt and went down the field to score, take the lead, and eventually win the game. He also scored a TD on a fumble during the last play of the game, costing gamblers who picked OSU not to cover $300 million. Ouch, and a LOLOL. This is why we don't gamble on sports, kids.
Curtis Grant, MLB: On a night where Ryan Shazier was fairly quiet, Grant stood out more than once. He had several nice tackles, and I thought that he played his best game and stood out on a night where the defense as a whole really, really struggled.
The Secondary. And I mean Lah De Doddy Everybody. Look, I get that you can't play man press coverage on every play, and I get that when you're playing a cover-1 or cover-2 zone, you're going to give up some yardage. And I also understand that if you're playing zone, the goal is to keep receivers in front of you and don't give up the big play. Other than a seriously great interception by Doran Grant, the entire secondary was a hot mess. Northwestern receivers were WIDE open all night, when tacklers converged they consistently whiffed and gave up a lot of yards after contact, and they were out of position all night. There is a ton of work that needs to be done in the secondary. Ton. Of. Work.
Braxton Miller, QB. Miller came on in the second half, but he had arguably his worst game in two seasons. He threw a pick, had what could have been a back breaking fumble in the red zone, and at one point it looked like Urban Meyer was going to replace him with Kenny Guiton. That seemed to send the message that Meyer wanted to get across, and Miller played mistake free football the rest of the game, but it was largely Carlos Hyde that cemented the comeback.
Buy: The lack of penalties for OSU. The mark of a good football team that wants to be elite is not shooting themselves in the foot. One penalty for 10 yards is definitely the sign of a well disciplined team that won't do anything to beat themselves, and it's refreshing change from the dozens and dozens of JB Shugarts false starts in recent seasons.
Sell: Northwestern got jobbed by the refs. The one thing that losers do is cry about getting screwed by the refs. On that fourth down call, Kain Colter fumbled the ball, and Northwestern shouldn't have had to rely on a referee's spot. Here's an idea--execute the play, don't fumble, and shut up about the referees. Also, don't get a punt blocked for a TD. Finish drives with TD's. You get the idea.
Buy: OSU special teams helped win this game. Drew Basil was 2/2 in field goals, and Cameron Johnston once again put all of his punts inside Northwestern's 20, to include one that was inside the one yard line. Bradley Roby's blocked punt and touchdown was a HUGE momentum swing for the Buckeyes, and helped them re-take the lead in the first quarter, and that play proved to be the difference. When you can flip field position like that consistently, or unexpectedly make a big play that turns in to instant points, you're not going to lose a lot of ball games.
Sell: The fake punt. Seriously, what the hell was that? I don't want to say that the OSU coaching staff was panicky, but it sure seemed like it. Admittedly, the Buckeyes had been punched in the mouth and were trailing 17-13, but for all that Northwestern had going for them, the Buckeyes were only down four. The defense wasn't stopping the 'Cats, and putting Northwestern on a short field once Johnston got stopped seemed like a recipe for disaster. A touchdown there might have really, really changed the momentum of the game, but the defense held to just a field goal, and he Buckeyes went to the locker room only down by seven, as opposed to 11.
Buy: Using Carlos Hyde as the main back. With Hall out, shuttling backs in and out wouldn't have been a bad strategy. Hyde has only played a couple games, there's a lot of depth at running back, and using guys like Rod Smith wouldn't have been a bad move. Yet Hyde was a BOSS, running for 168 yards and three second half scores.
Sell: Not utilizing Dontre Wilson. As awesome as it was to see Hyde just impose his will on Northwestern's defense, I thought the Buckeyes made a mistake in not getting the ball in to Wilson's hands when Miller was struggling in the first half. After the opening drive, the Buckeyes couldn't get much going on offense, and needed a spark. Why they didn't try to get Wilson involved by running a couple plays in the edge was a curious decision, much like not using Hall last weekend. Odd.
So the Buckeyes leave Chicago, having survived the biggest punch Northwestern could give them. Homecoming, national TV, ESPN hype machine on campus...and yet when it was all said and done half the crowd was sporting Scarlet, Carlos Hyde ran wild, and despite a +2 turnover advantage until the very last play, the Wildcats couldn't close the deal. Ohio State survives and moves on, and the debate will rage on as to whether or not Ohio State is an 'elite' team or not.
That will sort itself out. All I know, and all I care about, is that the Buckeyes are undefeated. Right now, that's all that matters.