With some extra prep time between the Big Ten title game and the Sugar Bowl, you can be sure that Ohio State will be hitting the film room hard leading up to their highly-anticipated rematch against Clemson — so we should do the same! The Buckeyes’ 22-10 victory over Northwestern in Indianapolis was certainly not their prettiest effort of the season, but they showed some things on tape — both good and bad — that could potentially translate to their College Football Playoff matchup.
The Silver Bullets had their lapses on Saturday, but for the most part they were solid, especially when it came to stopping the run. The Wildcats certainly aren't the most dynamic offense in the country, but they did enough things well to put stuff on film and help Ohio State figure out what they need to fix before taking on a much more powerful foe on New Years Day. Let’s check the tape.
Northwestern’s first drive — Touchdown
The Wildcats first play of the game was an inside zone run for 13 yards. Ohio State lined up in man coverage with a single-high safety in Josh Proctor, while Northwestern went three wide and put the tight end in motion who was shadowed by Justin Hilliard. Both Hilliard and Pete Werner fill their gaps, but for no apparent reason Tuf Borland crashes the right side of the offensive line.
The pulling guard is then able to eat up Hilliard and get in the way of Werner, and although Borland was able to get back into position, he completely whiffs on the tackle. Proctor takes a bad angle from his safety spot, and he too misses. It is actually defensive tackle Tommy Togiai who is able to chase Cam Porter down from behind despite being blocked to the ground.
A few plays later, Northwestern runs a designed QB keeper for Peyton Ramsey. Ohio State stuffs up the right side of the play with Borland and Hilliard, but Werner over pursues leaving the middle of the field open once Ramsey cuts it back. At this point it is Proctor’s play to make, but he took way too wide of an angle and is unable to change direction, resulting in another missed tackle and a huge gain.
On the very next play, Northwestern punches it in. They come out in the wildcat formation, motioning the receiver out to the left just to move the defense’s eyes — and it works to perfection. Porter takes one step to the left before cutting upfield, where Werner has already been knocked down and Proctor completely bit on the motion and is now way out of position. With Borland questionably engaging a blocker, there is nobody there to make the stop.
Northwestern’s third drive — Field Goal
On 3rd-and-7, Ohio State dials up a corner blitz with Marcus Williamson. This forces Proctor to come down from his safety spot and play man coverage on the tight end out of the backfield, while Werner drops back to cover the slot receiver. Strangely, the Buckeyes had Sevyn Banks giving 10 yards of cushion to his receiver on the outside, and without any safety help to his left, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman makes one move and is wide open for a 22-yard gain.
This is just an example of Northwestern once again taking advantage of soft coverage by Ohio State. Before the ball is snapped, Shaun Wade is already backpedaling away from his receiver. All Bryce Kirtz has to do here is run a simple curl route, and there is no way Wade will be able to change direction in time to get in front of the play.
Later in the drive, Ohio State finally realizes there isn't a chance in hell that Northwestern is going to throw out of the wildcat formation. The second Porter has the ball in his hands, all of the Buckeyes linebackers crash the line of scrimmage and blow up the play for no gain. It also helps that Haskell Garrett absolutely detonates the blocker in the backfield.
The next play, Ohio State gets it done once again — this time on a passing play. This is purely a one-man effort here, as Tyreke Smith bullies his man off the line of scrimmage and is in Ramsey’s face before he has time to set and throw. Williamson was right there for the tackle as well had the pass found its way towards the intended target.
Three great defensive plays in a row for the Buckeyes as they get the stop on third down. Ohio State blitzes six, but Northwestern counters with a screen pass. Antwuan Jackson recognizes it right away and quickly changes direction, while Proctor also comes down from his safety spot to try and blow it up. Jackson does enough to slow down John Raine, and Cormonate Hamilton finishes the job as they forced a 47-yard field goal.
Northwestern’s sixth drive — Interception
The Wildcats really looked to attack Ohio State’s linebackers in the passing game with motion and quick hitters over the middle. With Ramsey rolling out, they forced the Buckeyes to make a high-low decision with two guys running parallel crossers. Borland picks up the deep receiver up top, but Williamson gets caught in no mans land after passing his receiver off to Wade. With Borland’s back to the play, it’s an easy first down.
Ohio State bends but does not break, as Justin Hilliard intercepts Ramsey in the end zone. This is just straight man coverage, as Northwestern thought they could take advantage of a linebacker in one-on-one on the outside. Luckily for the Buckeyes, the former five-star prospect was up to the task, and makes one of the biggest defensive plays of the game.
Northwestern’s seventh drive — Punt
Without the strongest of passing games, Ohio State felt comfortable blitzing on 3rd-and-long scenarios. This was one of those times, as the Buckeyes sent six while playing straight man coverage across the board — including freshman Lathan Ransom matched up with the tight end. Tommy Togiai gets a hand on Ramsey to get him to stumble, and Borland comes in to finish the play for a sack.
Northwestern’s ninth drive — Interception
On a 2nd-and-5 play, Ohio State sends a simple four-man rush with Borland in as a QB spy. The Buckeyes dominate their blocks pretty much across the board, as Smith, Taron Vincent and Zach Harrison quickly collapse the pocket. Togiai nearly gets Ramsey with a dive at his feet, and Harrison chases him towards the sideline where Borland comes to seal the edge. Looking to just flip it out of bounds near his receiver, Proctor makes an excellent play along the sideline to pick it off.
Northwestern’s 10th drive — Fumble
The Wildcats tried to run a fake end around on a designed draw play for Ramsey. The motion worked well, as it drew Proctor down from his high safety spot. The running back and the tight end make key blocks to spring Ramsey, but the pulling guard misses Werner coming across the middle, who is able to get a hand in there and knock the ball free. Hilliard, who initially took a step towards the running back, was right there to fall on it as Ohio State recovered.
Northwestern’s final drive — Turnover on Downs
On third down, the Wildcats attempted to once again attack Ohio State’s soft coverage on the outside, but Banks was right in step with the receiver. Ramsey airmailed the throw anyway, but both Banks and Williamson were in position to make the play either way. The Buckeyes were comfortable sitting in more of a prevent style defense with a two-score lead late, and even still nobody was really open.
Forced to go for it on fourth down, Ransom makes a big play to shut down Northwestern’s offense one last time. Smith got great pressure on Ramsey once again, and after Borland was bumped off his man by the slot receiver, the safety came down and laid the boom to force an incompletion and a turnover on downs.