With question marks surrounding the playoff hopes of the No. 6 Ohio State football team following a loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes were able to earn a 24-20 victory against Northwestern. However, Buckeyes fans might still be feeling uneasy with the performance put out on Saturday.
With a relatively easy opponent at home on the schedule following a two-game stretch on the road, OSU was looking to capitalize and bounce back in convincing fashion. But it took the Buckeyes most of the game to put away the Wildcats.
Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett enjoyed a much more stout pocket than in weeks past, but still struggled to connect with his wide receivers. Overall, Barrett finished the day 21 for 32 with 223 yards, but connected with wide receivers on less than half of those completions.
Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber played an integral part in the win for the Buckeyes, picking up a pair of touchdowns after failing to score against Penn State and Wisconsin. He finished the day with 14 carries for 87 yards.
On defense, a potent offensive attack for the Wildcats kept pace with OSU, matching the Buckeyes step for step throughout the contest. Anytime Urban Meyer and company found a way to break open a lead, Northwestern came firing right back.
“It’s great to be home and get a W, a hard-fought W against a good team that had a lot of momentum,” Meyer said. “A lot of respect for Coach Fitzgerald.”
The biggest proverbial thorn in the side of OSU was the ability of the Wildcats to pick up third downs, namely in long yardage scenarios. Northwestern finished the game eight for 16 on third-down conversions.
The Buckeyes scored a touchdown on their first offensive drive of the game for the first time this season. The offense got the ball on its own 6-yard line, and moved the ball with ease down the field, spreading it out to four different players.
After that, things reverted back to the way they were against Penn State, as OSU failed to string together plays. Although the pocket held for Barrett throughout the contest, there was little in terms of down-the-field passes and long, gashing runs.
After receiving just 10 touches compared to last week, the involvement of junior H-back Curtis Samuel was a hot topic. Meyer said following the team’s loss last Saturday the Buckeyes did not get the ball to their No. 1 playmaker enough, and needed to fix that.
Samuel’s workload increased to 14 touches, and he delivered in a big way. He picked up 99 total yards, and even found the end zone on a dive up the middle.
“I love the way he runs the ball,” Meyer said.
Wildcats’ redshirt sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson averaged more than 240 yards per game passing coming into the contest. Against an OSU secondary that surrendered multiple chunk plays in the past few weeks, the Illinois native had a field day, hooking up with senior wide receiver Austin Carr eight times for 158 yards.
“We had a gameplan going into the game of doing and we didn’t necessarily get it communicated properly on the field,” redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said.
The Big Ten’s leading rushing, Northwestern junior running back Justin Jackson, had a relatively slow game. Rushing the ball 17 times for 76 yards, Jackson did not make any game-changing plays that propelled the Wildcats.
OSU’s defense enjoyed an effective pass rush, putting pressure on Thorson for most of the game. Redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis picked up a sack, while the rest of the unit flushed the Northwestern quarterback from the pocket on multiple occasions.
In a do-or-die kind of scenario, OSU found its back against the wall early in the fourth quarter with the game knotted at 17. The Silver Bullets stood tall, forcing a three-and-out from Northwestern, resulting in punt that gave the Buckeyes good field position.
“I feel like this is one of the better teams in the Big Ten,” redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to come out here and just walk a walk. We knew it was going to be a dogfight this whole week.”
OSU finally took advantage, moving the ball down the field with ease and scoring on a Samuel touchdown run from in close. The play was set-up by a 34-yard reception for redshirt freshman K.J. Hill.
The second-year receiver said even with the scrutiny his unit has received, things remain the same in the wide receivers room while the team stays hard at work.
“It (hasn’t) been nothing new,” Hill said. “We’ve just been trying to work hard and get everyone off our back really. That’s all we can do is try and get better each and every day in practice.”
Hill’s involvement came after redshirt sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell was injured while blocking on a run play. Campbell got rolled up, and appeared to hurt his ankle on the play. He did not return.
Northwestern’s final offensive drive pushed the Buckeyes all the way to the south end zone student section. A key holding call against the Wildcats and stout coverage limited the damage, as OSU only surrendered a field goal.
From there, OSU chewed the clock before a 35-yard rush and a powerful Weber run effectively sealed the game for the Buckeyes.
OSU returns home next Saturday to face No. 7 Nebraska in Ohio Stadium at 8 p.m.