The #4/3 Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) move their Prime Time show from Columbus, OH to Evanston, IL for another 8:00 PM kickoff. The opponents, the undefeated (4-0, 0-0) #16/15 Northwestern Wildcats. Yes, another night game against another ranked B1G team.
When I saw this game on the schedule, I was only mildly concerned about the outcome. And that was based on the 2004 night game debacle in Evanston, not on this year’s talent/performance. Northwestern will be a different challenge from Wisconsin, in that, despite what we saw on Saturday, the Wildcats bring a legitimate balanced offense into this game.
Northwestern has two legitimate quarterbacks in Kain Colter (27-35, 264 yds, 4TD, 2INT)/Trevor Siemian (47-70, 671, 3,2), two quality running backs in Venric Mark (if healthy)/Treyvon Green (101 YPG)and two quality receivers in Tony Jones/Christian Jones (39 Rec, 15 YPR, 5TD). Their offense is also a bit different from Wiscy’s in that rather than relying on raw power, Northwestern brings more speed and elusiveness to the field.
Last year’s all-everything running back Venric Mark appears to be healthy enough to be listed on the Wildcats depth chart as the starting running back for Saturday. This could be a Carlos Hyde situation where a player comes back to play in a big game after a 2-3 game layoff. Whether Venric Mark gets the every down workload remains to be seen, but I expect him to see spot duty in the backfield and to line up as kick/punt returner. Last year, Venric was 2nd team all-conference as a running back, and All-American as a punt returner, so look for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff to put him in positions to handle the ball, particularly in the open field.
Ohio State on Offense
This could be quite a challenge for Northwestern with Braxton Miller back at quarterback. Despite Braxton’s impressive passing display against Wisconsin, I thought his running game was only so-so. With 22 carries, he had too many attempts.
The Buckeyes have several RB’s that need to be ‘planned’ into the running attack, and this game is a good one for it. I’d like to see Jordan Hall get back into the game plan, as long as I’m talking about offensive flexibility. He isn’t as strong as Hyde, nor as fast as Wilson’ but he is quicker than Hyde and stronger than Wilson. There are plenty of talented RB’s at OSU, Braxton doesn’t need to be one of them. And, please, get the ball to these gentlemen on our left.
I don’t anticipate the Northwestern defense to be as physical as Wisconsin’s, so the Buckeye running backs should find some creases/lanes to run. Ohio State has the capability to assume various personalities to move the ball downfield, regardless who is quarterbacking, the ability to pass and and run when they need to.
|OSU – O||501||287||48.2|
|NW – D||426||119||23.8|
If Urban and Tom loosen the reins on this offense and don’t intentionally run Braxton more than 10-15 times, the Buckeyes will score high-30′s, low 40′s on Saturday. It is critically important, and I can’t emphasize it enough, that Miller take care of the ball. NO turnovers. The Wildcat defense is very opportunistic, having returned four (4) INT’s for touchdowns.
Ohio State on Defense
This is where the Buckeyes need to stay focused, especially with the loss of senior safety Christian Bryant. As mentioned in the Introduction, I don’t think that the Wildcats will run over you, but they are capable of running around and away from you.
Their offense is very balanced (250 yards rushing, 234 yards passing) per game. I would be unpleasantly surprised if the Wildcats approached those rushing numbers against Ohio State. The point is, however, that Northwestern has shown the capability to mix the play calling to suit their needs. Similarly to last week, the Silver Bullets need to shut down their opponent’s running game to make them easier to defend.
This is a game where the OSU defense needs to play well with proper alignment and sure tackling. I’m anticipating the Wildcats will try to get their playmakers in open space as soon and as often as possible, so correct defensive reads and technique are going to be important to muffle the Northwestern offense. The Wildcats are averaging a heady 41 points per game, but 7 of those have come on defensive scores.
|NW – O||483||250||41.3|
Here is another case where a stiff OSU defense faces a good running team. I expect similar results from last week. If Venric plays, the Wildcats will break 100 yards rushing for the game; if he doesn’t, they won’t.
This may be the only time that I address ‘Special Teams’ as a separate category, but I’m anticipating that Venric Mark will see the field on Saturday. As mentioned in the Introduction, he’s a returning All-American return man, and that recognition isn’t given out lightly. Last year, Venric Mark averaged 20 yards per kickoff return, and 19 yards per punt return, #2 in the country.
I think that the Buckeyes have a pretty good special team coach, and I’m assuming that he will game plan to neutralize young Mr. Mark.
Ohio state and Northwestern have had one common opponent, Cal. Both beat Cal handily, except Northwestern needed two pick-6′s to do it. In fact, Northwestern needed the benefit of two pick-6′s to Maine. So, how’s it going to shake out? The early line had OSU -5.5 now moved to -7, with the over/under at 59, so Certain Professionals are anticipating something along the lines of a 33-26 (or so) Ohio State win. I think that might be a little too close; I see a Buckeye win closer to a 10 point margin. The first quarter should be interesting football, so be in your seats early. The Wildcats will be fired up because a) it’s Ohio State, b) it’s a night game c) it has Game Day hype, and, d) they are also undefeated and believe they can win.
Ohio State will come out fast and furious, because they excel in the 1st quarter; they outscore their opponents 116-21 in the initial quarter. The Buckeyes will need to keep pressing the offense and just for something different, score in the 4th quarter. Of Ohio State’s 241 points season-to-date, only 10 have come in the 4th quarter.
The game is scheduled for an 8:00 PM EST kickoff, so make sure you are well rested. Television coverage is through ABC. I know, Brent & Herbie again.
Please join us at tBBC for live in-game chat approximately 30 minutes before kickoff. We look forward to seeing you.