Talk about two teams heading in different directions. Ohio State moved to 8-0 this weekend with a come-from-behind win over Penn State in a game that was far closer than the 44-31 final score would indicate. Northwestern, on the other hand, is just 1-7 on the year, with their only win of the season coming in the opener against Nebraska in Ireland. That being said, it makes quite a bit of sense that the Buckeyes would be massive favorites in this game, as they should be in their next three games before the highly anticipated finale against Michigan.
As mentioned, Ohio State managed to defeat the Nittany Lions on Saturday by double-digits despite playing three terrible quarters of football. Head coach Ryan Day had perhaps his worst game as a play-caller to date, as the Buckeyes ran nothing but bubble screens and predictable run plays for the majority of the afternoon. Things turned around in a major way in the fourth quarter, and trailing 21-16 with a little over nine minutes to go, Ohio State managed to rattle off 28 points in the final frame to pull away with another nail-biter against Penn State. Even with the awful game plan, C.J. Stroud finished passing for 354 yards and a touchdown, while Marvin Harrison Jr. stole the show with 10 catches for 185 yards.
Defensively, this will forever be known as the J.T. Tuimoloau Game. The former five-star defensive end put together one of the greatest individual performances on that side of the ball that we’ve ever seen. Tuimoloau intercepted a pair of passes — one on a diving play in the first quarter and another a pick-six of Sean Clifford to ice the game in the fourth quarter — while tipping a third pass that led to an interception by Zach Harrison. He also had a sack fumble, which he recovered himself. While they let up a couple of big plays that led to scores, the defense played pretty well overall in this one, albeit with some things that need to be cleaned up moving forward.
On the flip side, Northwestern is coming off its seventh-straight loss, this one a 33-13 loss at the hands of Iowa. Having seen the Hawkeyes play football a little over a week ago, letting that team put up 33 points — all of which were actually on offense — is purely indefensible, no pun intended. Pat Fitzgerald’s teams have always been known for their defense, but this years unit is not good, allowing almost 29 points per game to rank 85th in the country in that department. I mean, they let Spencer Petras throw for 220 yards and score two touchdowns. I think that says enough on its own.
As bad as the defense has been, the offense is even worse, ranking 120th of 131 FBS teams with just 17.9 points per game. Quarterback Ryan Hilinksi has been inefficient, completing under 58% of his passes with six touchdowns and six interceptions through six games, while no rushers have averaged more than 4.3 yards per carry. The team’s best offensive player by far has been Evan Hull, who has over 1,000 yards from scrimmage on the year — 579 yards rushing, 461 yards receiving with five total TDs. Outside of Hull and Malik Washington, the only wide receiver on the team with more than 250 yards this season, there really isn’t a ton going on with this offense.
After being battle tested against Penn State, Ohio State should have a much easier time taking care of this Northwestern team. The Buckeyes have some pretty notable injury issues, including Miyan Williams and of course Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was once again out against the Nittany Lions. I wouldn’t expect that to play much of a factor in this one, but then again those noon kicks in Evanston (11:00 a.m. local time) can sometimes sneak up on you and lead to less-than-desirable performances. Ohio State knows it has to take care of business, even against the lesser teams on its schedule, so I still expect the Buckeyes to roll here.
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