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Northwestern must rely on run game, Drake Anderson to put points on the board

The Wildcats quarterback situation is a mess, so it’s up to running back Drake Anderson to keep up with Ohio State

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your bye week. Now it’s back to business as usual as Ohio State prepares to face Northwestern in Evanston on Friday night.

The last time the Buckeyes saw the Wildcats was during their 45-24 victory in the Big Ten championship game last year, and it seems Northwestern hasn’t been able to bounce back. Currently, they are 1-4 overall and ranked sixth in the Big Ten West.

That’s neither here nor there. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is adamant that his team prepares for each opponent like they’re the No. 1 program in the country.

“If we start to look ahead or start to let our egos get in the way, then we’re in trouble,” Day said in his press conference on Monday.

He said when he was under Chip Kelly at New Hampshire—both as a player and assistant — Kelly would turn on Northwestern football film to teach them about spread offense.

A nice story, however Northwestern is No. 125 in total offense this year, while Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the country in total defense. Need I say more?

While their defense is definitely their strong suit, every team has their secret weapon on offense, and Northwestern’s offensive player to watch is redshirt freshman running back Drake Anderson.

Anderson is their secret weapon due to the fact that he wasn’t expected to see much playing time at all this season. After putting up decent numbers last year, sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser was expected to be their go-to guy. Instead, he injured his knee in Northwestern’s season opener against Stanford and sat out the following week against UNLV.

Bowser has since been cleared to play, however Anderson continues to receive the most touches. Through five games, the freshman has 366 rushing yards on 74 carries and three touchdowns.

Anderson broke out with 26 carries for 141 yards and a touchdown against UNLV in the Wildcats’ one and only win. Then, he ran for 91 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State.

He ran for 68 yards on 16 attempts and one touchdown against Wisconsin’s No. 1 ranked defense. Not to mention, Anderson’s potential is sky high. He is the son of Damien Anderson, Northwestern’s second-leading rusher in program history who came in fifth in the Heisman Trophy race in 2000.

Anderson is difficult to tackle, due to his shiftiness and speed. His receiving threat, however, like the rest of Northwestern’s offense, is minimal. The Wildcats have passed the ball 162 times for 702 yards and two passing touchdowns. Compare that to their 209 rushing attempts for 762 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns and you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

These numbers aren’t exactly surprising. Northwestern’s starting quarterback, senior TJ Green, was also injured in the season opener and, unlike Bowser, is out for the season. Their backup Hunter Johnson injured his knee against Wisconsin and sat out the following week against Nebraska. Next in line is junior QB Aidan Smith, who took every snap against the Huskers. He has completed 12 of 31 of his throws (38.7%), with one 15-yard touchdown pass, one rushing touchdown and three interceptions.

Johnson’s return for Friday night’s game is still up in the air, and while neither quarterback has turned any heads, if Johnson is cleared the Wildcats will definitely have a... better... chance of staying in the game against the Buckeyes. After all, the sophomore was rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class by 247Sports and No. 1 by ESPN, ahead of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm.

Alas, the past is the past, and two years later Johnson has simply not lived up to his rating. He has completed 48.3 percent of his passes for 367 yards, racking up one rushing touchdown, one 50-yard touchdown pass, and four interceptions.

Therefore, the Wildcats must rely on Anderson’s rushing talents to, quite literally, carry their offense, and, well, I don’t have to tell you what Ohio State can do to a one-trick pony.