Following a trip to State College last week, Ohio State will hit the road again this week, traveling to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. While last week the Buckeyes took on a Penn State team with just one loss, now they’ll be going up against a team with just one win on the season.
A game for the ages
Last week the Buckeyes faced their toughest test so far this season, trailing Penn State in the fourth quarter before reeling off 28 points during a seven minute span to secure their sixth straight win over the Nittany Lions. The victory was Ohio State’s second win over a ranked team this year, with the other coming in the season opener against a Notre Dame that was ranked fifth in the country at the time.
The win over Penn State can be attributed to the performance of defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau. The sophomore had one of the best defensive performances not only by an Ohio State player in a game, but by any defensive player in a college football game. Tuimoloau finished with two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, as well as two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Tuimoloau became the first FBS player in the 21st century to accumulate those stats in a game.
When it was all said and done, Tuimoloau’s efforts resulted in 21 Ohio State points. The defensive end was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the week, Walker Camp FBS Player of the Week, and the Maxwell Club’s Chuck Bednarik Player of the Week. In the victory, Tuimoloau showed exactly why he was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school.
The month ahead
Now as the calendar turns to November, Ohio State knows a showdown with Michigan is looming at the end of the month. Before the clash in Columbus with their rivals, the Buckeyes have three games against teams that frequent the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
First up is the Northwestern Wildcats, who have still not won a game on American soil this year. The only win for the Wildcats came over in Dublin in the season opener against Nebraska. Following the victory over the Cornhuskers, Northwestern has dropped games to the likes of Southern Illinois, Miami (OH), and Duke.
History against Northwestern
The last time Ohio State took on Northwestern was in the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. With Justin Fields dealing with a sprained thumb, Trey Sermon set a school record with 331 yards rushing in the game, leading Ohio State to a 22-10 win and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The last trip by the Buckeyes to Evanston came in 2019, with Fields throwing for four touchdowns in a 52-3 win. Ohio State is 64-14-1 against the Wildcats all-time, with a 29-6-1 record in games played in Evanston.
The bar is high
Just how high are the expectations for C.J. Stroud? The sophomore quarterback went 26-33 for 354 yards and a touchdown against Penn State, and there are some talking like the performance lost him a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Stroud now has thrown for 2,377 yards and 29 scores this year through eight games.
It’s understandable to see why some people thought the Penn State game hurt Stroud’s chances, especially with lowly foes Northwestern, Indiana, and Maryland up before the showdown with Michigan. While Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is likely the favorite for the prestigious award, Stroud should by no means be omitted from the conversation.
More big performances
One Buckeye offensive player that strengthened his case for an end of season award is Marvin Harrison Jr. The sophomore hauled in 10 passes for 185 yards against the Nittany Lions, with all 10 receptions resulting in first downs. Harrison now leads Ohio State with 48 receptions and 10 touchdown catches, and is five yards behind Emeka Egbuka’s team-leading 788 yards receiving. Egbuka had his least productive performance of the season against Penn State, catching six balls for 53 yards.
Along with Harrison, tight end Cade Stover had a huge game against the Nittany Lions. The six passes Stover caught were a career-high, while the 78 yards he amassed was his second-highest total of the season. The output was a great sign after Stover had caught just six passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns over the last three games.
Stroud and his receivers needed to be on top of their game last week since Ohio State wasn’t able to get much going on the ground. Following an early touchdown, Miyan Williams was forced to leave the game because of an injury on his second carry of the game. TreVeyon Henderson carried the football 16 times against the Nittany Lions, finishing with 78 yards and two scores. Those numbers were inflated by Henderson’s 41-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Henderson and Williams both have rushed for over 500 yards this year, scoring a combined 16 touchdowns on the ground.
Tommy and Tuimoloau
The star of the game for the Buckeyes was defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, who had one of the best defensive performances ever seen in a college football game. Tuimoloau was able to grab three turnovers in the game. Ohio State has now won 25 straight games where they have forced at least three turnovers in a game. The Buckeyes now have at least one interception in six straight games, which is their longest streak since 2019 when they picked off at least one pass in seven straight games.
Overshadowed by Tuimoloau’s performance was the 15 tackles Tommy Eichenberg recorded. The 15 stops were the second-most stops Eichenberg has had in a game as a Buckeyes. The linebacker’s career high came against Utah when he recorded a Rose Bowl record 17 tackles. Eichenberg is now 28 tackles away from being the first Ohio State linebacker since Raekwon McMillan to reach 100 tackles in a season.
Northwestern at a glance
Northwestern enters this game having lost seven straight games after a season-opening win over Nebraska in Ireland. The most recent of those losses came last week when they fell 33-13 to Iowa. Northwestern was put in a big hole after 30 minutes, heading into the halftime break down 20-0. The Wildcats weren’t able to get anything on the ground, rushing for just 18 yards in the loss.
Northwestern feels like an Iowa with defense. The Wildcats are in the middle of Pat Fitzgerald’s 17th season as head coach. While Northwestern made the Big Ten Championship Game in 2018 and 2020, they haven’t been able to build off that success. Following the success in the 2020 season, the Wildcats were 3-9 last year, and are now 1-7 heading into Saturday’s game.
After Ryan Hilinski started the season at quarterback, now Brendan Sullivan is taking the snaps for Northwestern. Relieving Hilinski in the 42-7 loss to Wisconsin, Sullivan has started the last two games for the Wildcats. Last week, Sullivan was 23-30 for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Hilinski and Sullivan have combined to throw for just under 2,000 yards, 10 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Where Northwestern was expected to be strongest this year is with their ability to run the football. Evan Hull is leading the Wildcats with 579 yards and three touchdowns this year. The Penn State transfer rushed for 1,009 yards and seven scores last year after Cam Porter was injured in preseason camp. Porter is back this year and has rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Porter ran for 61 yards and a touchdown in the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game loss to Ohio State.
Along with being Northwestern’s leading rusher, Hull is also leading the team with 45 catches. The 461 yards receiving Hull has is nine short of Malik Washington’s team-leading 470 yards. Washington has 43 catches on the season. After Washington and Hull, the only other Northwestern receiver with more than 20 catches is Donny Navarro III, who has 29 receptions.
Peter, Peter, defensive lineman eater
One matchup that will be fun to watch throughout the game is Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski against the Ohio State defensive ends. Skoronski is seen as a possible first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and leads and experienced line that has four lineman with more than 20 career starts. Skoronski has 28 career starts, while Vince Picozzi leads the group with 43 starts, and Ethan Wiederkehr has started 33 games in his career.
It should be no surprise that Northwestern has some talented linebackers since their head coach is one of the greatest linebackers in Big Ten history. Bryce Gallagher leads the team, and is second in the Big Ten, with 79 tackles this year. With his 12 tackles, interception, and forced fumble against Penn State earlier in the year, Gallagher became the first Northwestern player to record 10 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in a game since 2011.
Along with Gallagher, Xander Mueller has made some plays this year. The linebacker has 65 tackles, a couple sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. The junior has gotten better as the year has gone on, making at least 10 tackles in two of the last four games. Mueller’s best performance of the year came against Penn State when he was credited with a career-high 14 tackles. A couple weeks later, Mueller made 10 stops against Maryland.
Up against it
The Northwestern secondary will certainly be tested against the Ohio State passing attack. Jeremiah Lewis leads the defensive backs with 52 tackles and is tied with fellow defensive back Cameron Mitchell with four passes defensed this season. Mitchell does have an interception this year. which is one of just five interceptions that the Wildcats have grabbed this year. It’s hard to see Northwestern being able to pick off any passes on Saturday, especially with how few interceptions C.J. Stroud throws.
Unlike the linebackers and defensive backs, who have some experienced players, the defensive line of the Wildcats is pretty green. There is one exception in Adetominwa Adebawore, who has 33 career starts. Adebawore leads the team with four sacks on the season. As a team. Northwestern has 14 total sacks. Ryan Johnson and Xander Mueller both have two sacks this year, and are the only other Wildcats with at least two sacks this season.
There really is no reason why Ohio State shouldn’t win this game by more than 30 points. Northwestern is the worst team in the Big Ten and has struggled to score all season long. The Buckeyes have more talent on both sides of the football, and while there are some fans who think otherwise because they expect perfection from Ryan Day, Ohio State is a much better coached team.
This should look a lot like the wins over Arkansas State, Toledo, and Michigan State where the Buckeyes were able to toy with their opponents because of the huge gap in talent and coaching. Ohio State could use Saturday’s game as an opportunity to try and get their running game a little bit of confidence before the showdown with the Wolverines later in the month. The status of Miyan Williams is unknown, but if he isn’t able to go, it will allow TreVeyon Henderson to get some extra work. While Henderson had a big run in the fourth quarter last week, he struggled mightily up to that point against Penn State.
Really, the biggest resistance Ohio State will see on Saturday will because of themselves and mother nature. Sometimes after a big Buckeye victory, the come out of the gates a little sluggish the next week. Last week’s win against Penn State certainly fits that bill. Because of a possible hangover from the win, Ohio State could see their first couple drives not exactly click before they find their rhythm. After that it likely will be smooth sailing.
Also, there is rain and wind expected in the Chicago area for Saturday’s game. Northwestern is notorious for leaving the grass at Ryan Field high to try and slow down some of their quicker opponents. Along with the high grass, we could see a bit more slipping and sliding if the rain shows up as expected. Maybe those factors slow Ohio State down a little early on before the Buckeyes adjust to the elements and assert their dominance.
It’s obvious to see how much the Ohio State defense is improved from the last few years. After keeping opponents from putting many points on the scoreboard over the first few games, now we are seeing the defense create a bunch of turnovers. If the defense can keep taking the football away from their opponents, it is hard to see any team keeping pace with a team that is so good on both sides of the football. This game looks more like the 2019 contest in Evanston than the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game.