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Ohio State’s new normal may have surfaced in win over Northwestern

Remember that time Todd Boeckman went Tom Brady on the Wildcats?

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Following an unexpected rise to national contender status after the first month of the season, we may be finally seeing the inevitable regression to the mean for Ohio State, which was the nation’s youngest team entering the season. (Cue Springsteen.)

After averaging 57 points per game and allowing just total 37 points in blowout victories over Bowling Green, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Rutgers, the Buckeyes have since fallen back to Earth. Crawl before you can walk, or something.

Ohio State pulled away late from a game Indiana team at home before squeaking out an overtime win at Wisconsin. The second-half collapse at Penn State followed, and now an ugly home escape against a definitely-good-but-not-great Northwestern team represents the latest indication that the Buckeyes were punching above their weight in September. Methinks it’s not an unreasonable thought that the occasionally-glorious, occasionally-maddening play is the new normal—which makes sense given the big batch of talented-but-extremely-green players seeing extensive action for the first time.

In any case, let’s rank things! (Adorable human-dog interactions sold separately.)

1. Todd Boeckman

The last time Northwestern traveled to Columbus, the visitors were lit up by the immortal Todd Boeckman, who logged more touchdown passes (four, a career-best) than incompletions (three) during the Buckeyes’ 58-7 dunking-on of the Wildcats. Boeckman averaged nearly 13 yards per attempt and connected with Brian Robiskie for three touchdowns.

In fact, Ohio State’s offense was so dominant that day—the unit was responsible for 38 of the Buckeyes’ 45 (!) first-half points — that both Rob Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton received reps. Talk about a trip down memory lane.

2. Ohio State’s first-half offense

It was a distant memory by the end of the game, but the Buckeyes actually racked up 17 points on their first three drives on Saturday, a nice change of pace from last week’s unraveling in Happy Valley. Seven of the nine plays on Ohio State’s initial advancement— the first time the Buckeyes notched seven points on their first drive all season —were of the aerial variety, and the drive featured a few new wrinkles: an end-around to Parris Campbell, a bubble screen, and backup tackle Brandon Bowen as a blocking tight end.

Another positive development was the coaching staff lessening the load on Barrett, who did not log his first carry until the Buckeyes’ 24th offensive play. (Barrett finished with 13 carries, his lowest total in a month). Ohio State also showcased its ability to put points on the board with varying levels of success on first and second down, as evidenced by its first two touchdown drives:

First TD drive: 9 plays, 94 yards, 2:56 elapsed, 0 third down conversions.

Second TD drive: 15 plays, 80 yards, 8:34 elapsed, 4 third downs conversions.

3. Catfish Gerald

This remains a weekly source of humor in the LGHL newsroom.

4. Austin Carr and Clayton Thorson

Carr, Northwestern’s senior wideout/thespian, entered Saturday as the Big Ten’s leader in catches, yards, and touchdown receptions. At half, Carr had five catches for a game-best 66 yards, including a pair of 3rd-and-8 conversions to revive the Wildcats first TD march. He finished with eight receptions for 158 yards. The hype was real.

As for Thorson, the sophomore QB piled up 300 yards of offense and was the main reason why Northwestern converted eight of its 16 third downs. Thorson just may be the best QB in the Big Ten West.

5. Ohio State’s second-half offense

Technically, the problems began prior to the half with consecutive punts, but after intermission the Buckeyes’ first three drives resulted in Cam Johnston leg booms.

Ohio State did save its best for last, going 63 yards in six plays early in the fourth quarter to break a 17-all deadlock with a three-yard TD plunge by Curtis Samuel. After the Wildcats drove the field but had to settle for a field goal, the Buckeyes were tasked with running out the clock, and did so thanks to a pair of massive third down conversions on a throw-and-catch from Barrett to Noah Brown and a 35-yard run by Barrett on a 3rd-and-10 with under a minute left.

However, the same lack of explosive plays and general inconsistency that has plagued the unit for a month returned for the last half-plus of the game. Hard-hitting analysis: the Buckeyes’ offense is what it is at this point, so keep your Tums in arms’ reach. (Run the dang jet sweep, Urban!)

6. Curtis Samuel, running back

Samuel tallied just one carry in the first half after managing two totes at Penn State. The junior finished with seven carries.

I give up.

7. Michigan State

Someone is 0-5 — I repeat, oh-and-five — in Big Ten play. Yikes.