Ohio State’s 21-7 win at Northwestern on Saturday was an ugly, uninspired performance, and, despite the weather making passing difficult, the game was still orders of magnitude tougher than it needed to be for the Buckeyes. I’m convinced at this point that Ohio State is one of the few teams in the nation that can beat Ohio State, and it worked pretty hard at that in Evanston, Illinois on Saturday. Thankfully, it came up short.
My Grump-o-meter (patent pending) reading is based on a scale from 1-10, but the following things (and several more that were too numerous to name) were enough to drive that reading so high that it shattered into a million pieces. Now I’ve got a broken Grump-o-meter, which is just one more thing to be angry about.
Come Get Your Weather, Nerds
Wind and rain can be a great friend to an overmatched team, as it makes the opponents a bit more predictable if passing is hindered by such weather. That’s what the Buckeyes were faced with on Saturday, and it served as a hell of an equalizer. C.J. Stroud had issues with the wind, Ryan Day refused to alter his play calling to account for it, and it served as a bit of a motivational factor for the Wildcats. It was annoying.
One of the truly disappointing things about TreVeyon Henderson’s career to date — for both OSU fans and for Henderson himself, no doubt — is that he can’t seem to stay healthy for more than one or two games at a time. Running backs are rarely 100% once a season gets underway, but it’s difficult for Henderson to stay anywhere near that level for any notable period of time.
This may be more of a case of how things seem than how they are, but Henderson didn’t make the trip to Evanston, and after he started to get things going at Penn State it was a disappointing step backward, especially given the blustery weather. And his kind of burst is also exactly what the Buckeyes could have used against Northwestern. He was missed.
Going against the wind, it was imperative to stay ahead of the chains in the first quarter to set the tone. Miyan Williams ran for about seven yards on the first play from scrimmage, so of course Matthew Jones held a Northwestern defender, severely crippling the opening possession. The Buckeyes did not pick up the required 20 yards and punted to open the game. In fact, the Buckeyes struggled on third downs most of the day.
JK Johnson’s Struggles Spread to Run Game
Ohio State’s supposedly fixed defense got schooled on the second Northwestern series. The Wildcats looked tougher, stronger, and faster than the Buckeyes, which was on display when Evan Hull was met in the hole and dragged three OSU defenders for a first down. The Wildcats made the second drive pay off when Hull made one simple cut that completely baffled JK Johnson, giving the running back a free run to the end zone. Hull could literally only do two things there — run to the boundary, where Johnson could push him out, or cut inside. Johnson seemed perplexed by the second option.
Offensive Line Too Soft in Short Yardage
Running the ball in short yardage is about attitude and beating the man in front of you. Ohio State was not good at that last season, and although it has — at times — been better at it in 2022, it’s still a problem. If the Buckeyes can’t get a yard on consecutive runs against Northwestern, they’re getting out-efforted. One sequence looked ripe for an easy quarterback sneak, but instead the Buckeyes ran a slow-developing handoff to Williams that didn’t quite make it back to the line of scrimmage. The next appeared to be bounced outside by Williams because the hole was closed, but it still appeared to be off-tackle instead of straight ahead.
Dropping Like Flies
Ohio State’s receiving corps has been the best or, at the very least, among the best in the country for several years now. It’s weird to see them dropping passes. But between Julian Fleming, Emeka Egbuka, and tight end Cade Stover, five or six balls hit the ground that shouldn’t have on Saturday. Some of those drops were partially to blame for Ohio State struggling just to get the game tied by halftime. In that kind of weather, passes aren’t going to be as easy to catch, but these were in their hands. They weren’t always between the numbers, but they were catchable, and they are usually caught.
Weird, New Defensive Issues Surface
Ohio State gave up three consecutive third-down conversions on long-yardage situations on Northwestern’s first possession of the fourth quarter, and it was maddening. A defense that has excelled at getting off the field in 2022 somehow could not stop the extremely meh offense of the Wildcats from converting on third-and-7, third-and-9, and third-and-8 on three straight sets of downs. The game was very much still in doubt at that point, with the Buckeyes clinging to a 14-7 lead. Thankfully, the Wildcats’ drive stalled after a failed fourth-and-8 play at the OSU 36-yard line.
That wasn’t the only problem on the day. Hull and Cam Porter were able to find success in the wildcat formation when it was fairly obvious what was coming. The defense has been strong this season against the run, and somehow Northwestern gave the Buckeyes fits on an obvious rush look. The Buckeyes will likely see this again as a result.
Those are the things that enraged me on Saturday. At least the Buckeyes avoided sharing the fates of Alabama, Clemson, Illinois, Kansas State, and Tennessee, and it was nice to see Williams go over 100 yards again. It was incredible to see Stroud run for 79 yards.
What ticked you off on Saturday? Let me know in the comments below.
Next week: The Buckeyes return home to face the Hoosiers.