When Ohio State plays under the Friday Night Lights this week against Northwestern (8:30 ET, FS1), the scarlet and gray will face a familiar theme in the Big Ten: A stout pass defense.

The Wildcats (1-4) are struggling in several areas this season and don’t much resemble the NU team that won the Big Ten West Division last season and challenged OSU for nearly four full quarters in the 2018 league title game.

But Northwestern, ranked 109th in the country in pass defense last season, is 14th this season at 176 yards allowed per game, taking a big leap forward in that category.

That figure is only sixth on the B1G, an indication of how much talent there is roaming around the conference’s secondaries in 2019 (OSU is third in the country and the Buckeyes’ next opponent after this weekend, Wisconsin, leads the nation).

That DBs vs. WRs battle gives us the matchup to watch this week.

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Northwestern’s pass defense vs. OSU’s receivers

Defensive back Travis Whitlock leads the Wildcats in tackles with 37 through five games.

The next three players on that list for NU are linebackers — Chris Bergin (33 tackles), Blake Gallagher (29) and Paddy Fisher (28) — and of course that unit contributes in pass coverage as well.

The Wildcats have not allowed more than 233 yards passing in a game all season and that figure came in the opener against Stanford when the Cardinal still had quarterback K.J. Costello. He has since missed time with a hand injury.

OSU responds with some fast, physical receivers and that physicality might be where the Buckeyes hold an edge. The biggest Northwestern defensive back on the roster is 6-foot-1, 205-pound JR Pace, who has 16 tackles and an interception this season (Fisher is the only other NU player with an interception in 2019, as the team has just two).

The Buckeyes will match up with the likes of 6-4, 200-pound senior Binjimen Victor and 6-2, 215-pound senior Austin Mack.

K.J. Hill (pictured) also has pretty decent size at 6-0, 195 and leads the Buckeyes in receptions this season with 27. He is also tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with four, matching Chris Olave.

Victor leads the team in receiving yards with 348.

None of the OSU receivers have spectacular stats but that’s partly because the Buckeyes run the ball so well, partly because they have usually been so far ahead in games that they have not had to throw much (they have amassed 279 rushing attempts to 158 passing attempts) and partly because quarterback Justin Fields has been so adept at distributing the ball.

That is another area where the Buckeyes are expected to have an advantage in Friday’s B1G Championship Game rematch — there are 10 players with receiving touchdowns on the team through six games. Receivers, running backs, tight ends, any of them might be called upon to catch a pass.

Northwestern has long prided itself on defense — that is coach Pat Fitzgerald’s background, after all — and the Wildcats will pose a challenge, especially when OSU puts the ball in the air.

It’s a test the Buckeyes should pass (pardon the pun) but it’s the matchup most worth watching this Friday in Evanston.