Rapid reaction: Weather, Northwestern give Ohio State fits in 21-7 Buckeyes' victory
Ohio State could be forgiven for thinking everything was going against them Saturday at Northwestern.
Yes, the Buckeyes have (so far) run the gamut of the Big Ten, crushing everyone in their path. And the 1-7 Northwestern Wildcats seemed unlikely to break that pattern. But continuing injury issues, a brutal day of weather, a determined Northwestern defense, and an old school Wildcat offense made the day much more interesting than the Buckeyes (or pretty much anyone else) expected.
Ohio State held on in the second half, finally laying claim to a 21-7 victory over Northwestern that definitely didn’t earn many style points.
Ohio State was without running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba due to injury issues. Quarterback CJ Stroud was grounded for much of the day — both by Northwestern and by swirling winds whipping up to 50 mph. Stroud was under 100 passing yards well into the 4th quarter. In fact, he had more yards rushing (79) than passing (76) as mop-up time ensued in the final 4 minutes.
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The Buckeyes struggled on 3rd downs on offense, and watched Northwestern grind out a healthy advantage in time of possession against their defense.
Much of the first quarter — indeed much of the game — was a trade of punts.
After Ohio State’s second punt, Northwestern ripped off an 80-yard drive without ever reaching third down. The Wildcats finished the drive with a 16-yard rush by Evan Hull, who played for some chunks of the game as a Wildcat quarterback for a very conservative Northwestern offense. Hull topped 100 yards rushing, and his first quarter run and the extra point gave the Wildcats a 7-0 edge with 6:45 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State had just 47 total yards and 2 first downs in the first quarter.
After a short Northwestern punt in the second quarter, OSU finally got untracked, going 46 yards in 6 plays. Stroud converted a 4th-and-1 run during the drive, which finished on a 15-yard Emeka Egbuka run. Noah Ruggles’s extra point tied the game at 7 with 2:26 left in the first half. Stroud was just 6-for-16 for 46 yards in the first half and Ohio State was outgained by Northwestern 140-118.
The Buckeyes defense opened the second half with a 4th-and-1 stop on Hull at his own 45-yard line. From there, the Buckeyes took the lead, covering 45 yards in 6 plays, with Miyan Williams cracking a 27-yard run to give OSU the advantage. OSU led 14-7 with 8:44 to play in the third quarter.
Northwestern didn’t go away, opening the 4th quarter with a gutsy drive into Ohio State territory from the Northwestern 4-yard line. On a 4th-and-8 pass from the OSU 36, Northwestern QB Brendan Sullivan missed his intended receiver and turned the ball over with 9:41 to play.
Northwestern forced another punt, but the Buckeyes defense got a 3-and-out inside 7 minutes to play. On the ensuing drive, CJ Stroud broke a long run to all but seal the victory for the Buckeyes. It set up a TD that put OSU up 21-7, extending a long streak of games with at least 20 points.
Ohio State improved to 9-0 on the season, with a home game against Indiana coming next. Whether or how much the Buckeyes drop in the CFP rankings after the surprisingly competitive game will be worth watching. Northwestern fell to 1-8 on the year, and will play at Minnesota next week.